Hello, Middle School–Again!

The first day of school sets the tone for the entire school year–and maybe that’s true.

Maybe it’s not. 

Like so many things in life, it really depends on who you are and what kind of teacher you aspire to be.

Me? I’d like to be Willy Wonka.


OK, maybe not–there’s really too much life-endangering hazards going on there. Still, there’s also a takeaway that experience is a great teacher.

What do students need on the first day of school? They need to know that I am looking out for them, that I know they’re worried about their social image and what to do and where to go.

So the first thing students see after I greet them at the door is this projected onto my whiteboard:

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As students enter the room, I give them a Star Wars flash card. Identical cards are taped onto various desks around the room. Immediately students a) have a purpose and b) know that I like at least one cool thing.

As they look around the room and begin to count the unicorns, maybe they realize that I like two cool things.

As students settle in to where they need to be, assured that s/he is in the right place by the card in the hand matching the one on the desk, the bell rings to signal the beginning of class.

This is the next thing students see:

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“But wait!” I hear a voice cry out from across the Internet void. “What about attendance? What about rules? WHAT ABOUT THE SYLLABUS?”


I take roll by head-count the first day, and also by holding a sign that says, “Welcome to Period 2, Spanish 1!” as I stand at the door. If I’m short, I will actually take roll by name. But it’s not the most important thing, and it causes a lot of anxiety for students.

And–it’s boring.

The above activity introduces students from the first five minutes of the very first class to what this class is all about–collaboration and peer partnership. Students are encouraged to talk to their elbow partner to make a guess. I set a timer on my phone and give them one minute. This is also part of our daily routine; timers are used for everything to regulate how much time is spent on any given activity.

Students relax, talk, and point to the image on the screen. After one minute, the timer rings and the class falls silent. I ask for volunteers to guess how many faces are on the screen, and for those bold enough to raise their hand I mentally remember their guess.

Then we begin.

There are roughly 11-13 faces included in this photo, depending on if you include animals as having faces. (By class consensus, we usually do.) The group(s) who had the closest guess receive Jolly Ranchers, and now the students learn a second valuable lesson.
Participation is rewarded.

Next we get into the nuts-and-bolts of our first day’s lesson. I have an agenda, and we cover classroom rules by showing this Android video: Android: Rock, Paper, Scissors.

The video is 1:31 minutes long and covers everything from bullying, throwing things, loyalty, and the power of friendship. Really, what else is there? I ask a few softball questions like, “Who would you rather be?” and “What else could you do in that moment?”

And then we move on.

Next I introduce myself and my family with some verb phrases the students will learn and use repeatedly for the next…well, forever.

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I explain the costumes as part of TPRS and hint that the teacher stories to come will be beyond their wildest dreams. (For the most part, this is actually true.)

There are more slides about my daughter (la chica) and my son (el chico), an activity identifying chicas and chicos in the classroom, and then another slide about my dog and cats.

Finally, we wrap up by filling out an index card that will serve the student as a cheat sheet for the first two weeks of Spanish. Students are encouraged to talk to their partners as they fill these out and to practice, “Me llamo_____.”

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The very, very last two minutes of class I tell students to pack up. I pass out my syllabus but first I ask, “I need to know; can y’all read?”

These are 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Of course they can. Therefore, I tell them, I am not going to read the syllabus to them. There is an audible sigh of relief. No student wants to sit through yet another class period hearing how many times they will be allowed to use the restroom and what the dire consequences of late homework will be.

I don’t even give homework, so that’s not a concern of mine. And restroom breaks are freely given until someone seems to abuse the privilege. Which is pretty rare, actually. Let’s face it–middle school kids want to go to the bathroom to get out of class, unless they REALLY need to pee. If class is fun and engaging, they stay.

While I’m passing out my syllabus, I have a Brain Break video playing, something short and easy like Simon’s Cat. It has zero educational value, but it’s literally a break for students’ brains. They’ve absorbed a lot this period and, most importantly, started down the path to trusting me that I will ensure that our classroom is safe, equitable, and engaging.

And that’s how we begin our foreign language journey–together, but not the same.


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