Prior to my second year of teaching, I came across an idea I just had to try. First, I obtained a class list of my first graders’ names and phone numbers. I went home and called every family, introducing myself to the parents and telling them that I was tentatively scheduled to be their child’s teacher this year. I used the word “tentatively” to cover myself and the school in case any last minute enrollment changes were made.
Since I knew I’d be setting up the classroom during the week before school started, I invited each family to stop by to meet me in person. About ten of my 32 students accepted this offer. With these ten, I was able to learn their names, talk with them briefly, and get a sense of who they were. I greatly enjoyed and appreciated this one-on-one time. In addition, these students were much more relaxed and comfortable on the first day of school.
I then found the previous year’s Kindergarten class pictures in the yearbook. By matching the names on my list to the faces in the yearbook, I learned the names of the rest of my returning students. In addition, I was only expecting two new students, one boy and one girl. So, I quickly learned their names. On the night before school started, I made a simple nametag for each student and arranged the tags on a table by the front door of the classroom.
That next morning I was ready. I stood at the door eager to welcome my new students. While I was praying that none of them had gotten haircuts over the summer, they began to arrive. I greeted all the students by name, handed them a nametag, and invited them to sit down on the rug.
Standing outside on the yard, a number of parents watched the whole thing, wondering how I could possibly know the names of people I had never met. The students, themselves, were equally baffled. I felt fantastic. Before the school year was barely three minutes old, I had created a very favorable first impression and made a major deposit in what well-known author Stephen Covey refers to as the “Emotional Bank Accounts” of my students and parents.
This proactive gesture had set the tone I wanted. For teachers, being proactive increases our credibility, strengthens our voice, and reaffirms our position of leadership. Making the effort to learn the names of my incoming students also created a sense of optimism and positivity among students and their families. Making this effort is especially valuable for children who have never before had successful school experiences. When their teachers communicate in an enthusiastic, upbeat tone, these kids will sense that this year may be different. They will know that they are in a new place with a new attitude, and they will feed off this optimism.
Begin the year with some sort of powerful, dramatic initiative. If you are unable to obtain a class list before the start of the year, do something the first day. Write a short, personalized note to each student, call each parent after school expressing how much you are looking forward to the year ahead, shoot each family an e-mail, or send a postcard through the mail. Just do something. The more novel, the better. A thoughtful gesture on your part will be remembered. As the old saying goes, we only have one chance to make a first impression.
Steve Reifman is a National Board Certified elementary school teacher, writer, and speaker in Santa Monica, CA. Steve is the author of several resource books for educators, including Changing Kids’ Lives One Quote at a Time and Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8. He is also the creator of the Chase Manning Mystery Series for children 8-12 years of age. Each book in the series features a single-day, real-time thriller that occurs on an elementary school campus. You can find weekly Teaching Tips, blog posts, and other valuable resources and strategies for teaching the whole child at http://stevereifman.com. You can follow Steve on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/stevereifman.