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Don’t Make the 1st Days of School BORING-A$$-S**T!

Don’t Make the 1st Days of School BORING-A$$-S**T!

Back when I was a widdle boy starting my career in 2004, I spent my first day with students telling them a super ultra fast spiel on who I was (name, age, ethnicity, etc), what they’ll be learning, and how much fun we were going to have.  Immediately afterwards, I spent the rest of the period and next couple of days going over the class syllabus, class rules, procedures, lab safety, etc.  In retrospect, that wasn’t the smartest move to make because I had promised the kids fun, and then went immediately into BORING-A$$-S**T!


Of course, it’s important to  go over those things, but there are ways to make them easier pills to swallow, and maybe even fun.  So, here’s how the first day of school goes for me.

      1. Kids walk in and find their seats.  I already have a seating chart created for each class period using the district’s provided online attendance and seating chart tool.  On each table, is a piece of paper showing the seating assignments for the students.  I tell them as they enter class my name and to find their assigned seat by looking for their names on the pieces of paper on each table.   I prefer not to let kids choose where they want to sit because some of the really talkative ones will inevitably gather close to each other and talk up a storm, which is the wrong tone to set on day 1.  Assigning seats lets me show the kids who calls the shots from the get-go in a non-threatening way.  Also, it helps me take roll quickly once the bell rings to start class.  I just have to look for an empty seat to know who is absent.  If there are some kids still standing, then they’re either in the wrong class or newly assigned, in which  case I take care of them right away.  However, if I let them choose their own seats, I wouldn’t know who didn’t belong or who was just recently assigned to my class.  Having the seating chart takes out a lot of the guesswork.  Anyway, this process of finding their seats usually gets done before the bell to start class even rings.  A few kids might need a little help, but it’s pretty quick to ask for their names and locate their seats.
      1. I tell the kids my name again along with the room number to double check and make sure everyone is in the right place.  I then give them a quick low-down on the cool stuff that they’ll be learning, like time travel, black holes, superheroes, multiverse theory, space-time, etc.  No, these topics are not explicitly part of the NGSS, but I use them to trick the kids into learning the standards that are part of the NGSS.  You gotta hook ’em right away.  I’ve been able to figure out over the years what the kids love to learn about through trial and error.  If you don’t teach middle school science as I do, you’ll have to come up with topics that’ll hook the kids.  You just need a handful to entice their interests.  While I’m doing this, I am passing out the class syllabus.  I can multitask a little.  Total time: 5-ish minutes
      1. With the class syllabus in each student’s hands, I briefly go over a few items on it, but I DON’T READ THE WHOLE THING to the kids like I used to.  Click here to view my 2017 edition of the class syllabus.
        • To explain the meaning of “Treat others the way THEY like to be treated”, I’ll tell a story of how Major League Baseball players frequently pat each other on the butt as a form of positive reinforcement.  Many of them don’t mind and even like this practice.  Now, some of my students are on a baseball team.  Let’s say they’re in my classroom and I’ve just given the BEST lesson they’ve ever heard.  At the end of class, they come up to me and tell me, “Mr. Vo, that was just an absolutely wonderful lesson!” I’d respond, “Well, thank you.  I’m glad you enj….” And before I can finish the sentence, the student pats me on the butt and says, “Yeah!  GO GET IT, VO!!!”  I make sure to exaggerate the slapping gesture as I tell the story and, predictably, the students erupt in uncontrollable laughter!  Once the laughter dies down a bit, I tell them that if they, as individuals, are on a baseball team and are cool with this form of encouragement on the diamond, then good for them.  However, not everyone else is cool with it.  There is a certain time, place, AND person for that sort of behavior, but I am not that sort of person and there will never be the right time for it at school.  That’s what I mean by “treat others the way THEY  like to be treated.”  See what I did there?  I took BORING-A$$-S**T, made it hilarious for the kids, and got my point across.  Total time: 5-ish minutes
          via GIPHY
        • Next, I’ll skim over the Behavior Intervention Plan just so the kids understand what constitutes a verbal warning, class isolation, and time-out.  I also like to point out that when I call home, it’s not to punish them, but rather to find out if everything’s okay so that either I or their families/guardians can help them.  Experience has taught me that students misbehave because they have a need that is not being fulfilled.  If we can find out what that need is and provide it, whatever bad behavior they exhibit will correct itself.  I end this part by telling them that even though I just met them, I love them all.  They’ve been assigned to me, which makes them MY kids.  I’ll help them however I can. A lot of kids don’t hear this enough.  Most will never admit it, but they like (and some NEED) to hear that they’re loved.  If you tell them you love them on the very 1st day, you’ll probably be the only one who does.  And while we’re on the subject, tell them you love them often throughout the school year.  You know you do anyway, so why not tell them?  I mean, if you don’t love kids, then why the hell would you be a teacher in the first place???  Like, really?  Anyhoo, total time: 5-ish minutesvia GIPHY
        • Lastly, I point out from the syllabus that late work will be accepted for full credit until the end of the semester.  I know some kids need extra time for their work, and now they’ll have it.  I do tell them not to procrastinate though because the work will just build up and they won’t be able to catch up if they try to get it all done at the end of the semester.  Once I’m done going over these parts, I tell the kids to read the rest on their own and then have their parents sign it.  As a whole, the syllabus is BORING-A$$-S**T, so I don’t spend too much time on it.  If you look at my class syllabus, you’ll notice I skipped a lot of stuff.  That’s the way it should be.  Raise your hand if you’re as baffled as I am at those people who put up a PowerPoint presentation and just read from it.  Seriously?  Point out the important stuff.  The rest the kids can read on their own.  Total time = 3-ish minutes
      1. At this point, I tell the kids about two class procedures.  Just two.  Remember, we don’t want to kill them with boredom.
        • The first procedure is the attention sound effects I play from my phone through a bluetooth speaker to get the kids quiet and attentive.  The app I use is called “100s of Buttons and Sounds“.  It’s free to use and has all kinds of sound effects to choose from.  You can make a favorites list so the sounds you want are always easily accessible.  The only downside to the app is that it has a butt-load of ads.  You’ve been warned.  If you’re an Android user, you can download the app by clicking here.  iPhone users can click here.  I play the “gong” sound as my signal for the kids to stop what they’re doing and to be quiet and attentive for me.  I also play the “psychotic” sound to let the kids know they’re driving me crazy and I’m about to go psycho on them.  There are several other sound effects I use just for fun like the “Baby-cry” or “Rubber-Ducky” when the kids are whining.  Regardless of which one you use, they all have the same effect: getting the kids quiet without you having to yell at them.  After I’ve explained the sounds’ meanings, I have the kids practice responding appropriately to the sounds by telling them to look at the person next to them and just say “Wobble, wobble, wobble” over and over until I play the sound, at which point the kids get quiet.  I then make sure to tell them that the sound effects are my “nice, funny” way of asking them to please be quiet and pay attention.  If they don’t settle down after I have played these sounds, they are, in effect, asking me to be mean to them.  Therefore, they should respond appropriately to the sound effects so I don’t have to do mean things like yell at them, call home, give them timeouts or detentions, etc.  Although this is a procedure and can qualify as BORING-A$$-S**T, the sounds themselves are silly and the kids can’t help but smile and laugh, so it ends up being a good time for everybody.  Total time: 8-ish minutes, but the kids will try to drag it out by asking you to play a bunch of other sounds.  That’s a good thing though because it means they’re having fun.

        • The other procedure to point out for the day is the daily agenda posted up on the whiteboard.  I keep this from getting boring by making it quick and dirty.  I point out that the agenda portion of the whiteboard is split up into multiple sections and are labeled corresponding to each day of the school week.  All the students have to do to find out what they’re doing for the day (or what they may have missed if they were absent), is look for the day of the week they’re interested in and read what’s there.  Also, there’s another section with the day’s/week’s Essential Question (EQ), which gives them an idea of what they’re supposed to get out of the day’s/week’s lesson(s).  That’s it.  Total time: 3-ish minutes.
      1. After taking roughly 25 minutes to get all the above out of the way, I tell the kids that it is now time for the best part of their day: learning all about ME!  ME, ME, ME, ME, ME!!!  At this point, I give the kids a couple of minutes to pack up everything and then just sit back and enjoy the “Introducing Mr. Vo” PowerPoint presentation full of pictures and all sorts of details about their new favorite teacher.  Click here to download the 2017 edition of the PowerPoint.  They are, of course, enthralled by my life story because I have lived and continue to live a hell of a life.  I tell them:
        • about my family’s rise from nothing (my mother literally arrived in America barefoot and pregnant) to great success
        • about the death of my father when I was just a toddler
        • about my mother’s fight to raise 3 kids in a foreign country with no work experience, no English language comprehension, little education, and no husband
        • about my struggles with academics from grade school through graduate school despite having a literal genius father and gifted siblings
        • about how, for years, my mother told me I was stupid as a dog and fat as a pig
        • about how the love of my life shot me down three times before finally saying yes to a first date
        • about overcoming my small stature (I’m 5′ 2.5″) to excel in the martial arts
        • about my constant battle with weight loss/gain and physical fitness
        • about my fears of failing as a father for my amazing son and daughter

I’m telling you, the kids are so taken by my story that it takes up the rest of the period, plus about a quarter of the next day’s class to get through the whole thing.  There’s something about struggle that resonates with kids (and even adults).  Perhaps it’s because about 80% of the students in my district are classified as low SES (socioeconomic status).  Their families are very familiar with struggle and they respect someone who has struggled as well.  Maybe it’s because they like to see the underdog (ME!) win.  Look at how many successful movies there are about underdogs achieving what everyone else thought was impossible.  Whatever the case, the students are captivated by the hardships I’ve overcome and, in some instances, continue to endure.

Now, I’m well aware you may live a very different life than me.  If you had it much tougher than me growing up–good!  Tell the kids all about it.  They’ll eat it up and it’ll earn you some street cred.  However, even if you were blessed with a fairy tale upbringing, you had to have struggled at some point.  Tell your students about it.  As Angela Lee, one of the greatest school counselors I have ever worked, once told me, “Everyone has a story.  EVERYONE.”  Don’t be afraid to share with your students that you were abused, suffer(ed) from mental health issues, are overwhelmed by life, etc.  I have and continue to tell my students about those aspects of my life.  They will respect you for opening up to them, AND they’ll be more likely to open up to you later on.  It doesn’t even have to be your struggle.  If you’ve helped someone claw and climb their way out of a deep hole, share that story with the kids (without giving away that person’s identity).  I had a student admit to me back in April of 2018 that she suffered from depression immediately after I spoke to the entire class about how I was trying to help out a loved one through depression.  My point is, stories of struggle and eventual success are captivating to the kids.  Tell them as many of these stories as you can, whether they’re yours or somebody else’s.


So, that’s the first day (and change) of school.  The BORING-A$$-S**T is kept to a minimum, the kids are entertained, and I still managed to squeeze in some class rules and procedures.  I’ll spend the next several days and weeks giving the kids opportunities to get to know each other, and presenting more rules and procedures as they come up.

  • Getting to know each other: Just before presenting the last several slides of the “Introducing Mr. Vo” PowerPoint, I tell the kids to pay attention to how I answer the questions because they will be answering the same questions about themselves later on.  Once the presentation is done, I pass out the “lab coat activity.”  I go over the PowerPoint instructions that go along with it, then pass out the scissors so the kids can start working (You don’t want to give the kids tools like scissors until you’re done with instruction because they’ll start playing with them and possibly mess things up before you’re done telling them what to do).  As they work, I remind them to think about how I answered the same questions on the “Introducing Mr. Vo” presentation if they get stuck.  The kids work for the remainder of the period and I’ll give them some time in class the next day to finish.  On the third day of school, once the alloted time to work on the lab coat activity has ended, the kids will have to finish it for homework at that point.  I then give the kids a “Find someone who…” activity.  There are tons of them online, but one of the ones I use can be downloaded by clicking here.  The worksheet contains a bunch of descriptions for people.  The students spend the period looking around for peers who match one of the descriptions and write down their name next to it.  I tell the students they have to say “Hi, my name’s Whatever Whatevs,” and then shake hands with whomever they come across BEFORE they can ask the person which descriptions they match up with.  It’s a fun activity, the kids get to move about the room, and you and I can just relax for a bit.  We still have to monitor the kids and lend a hand on occasion, but at least we don’t have to talk much.  In the future, I’d like to try out an activity called “All About Me Selfie” project as well as “Talk and Walk” game.  Click here to read about those and other activities.


  • Gradual intro of procedures: There are tons of procedures the kids should learn at the beginning of the school year.  They have to know how to go about going to the restroom, use certain supplies, set up their science notebook, turn in notebooks, pass out papers and supplies, put away backpacks, when it’s okay to get out of their seats, etc.  But you can’t just give them all the rules and procedures at once because they’ll forget them.  Better to present them when they’re needed.  For example, I don’t talk about restroom procedures until someone asks to go.  When they do, I tell them to hold on for a moment, find a good spot to pause whatever lesson I was in the middle of, then go over the entire restroom protocol.  I tell the kids all about the restroom log I keep, how to fill out the hall pass, how much time they have before they must return (which is doubled or even tripled if they tell me they need to take a massive dump), and that no one gets to go the first or last 10 minutes of class unless it’s an emergency which I’ll make a note of in the log to monitor whether the student has frequent “emergencies”.  The kids will be far more likely to remember the procedures when they are taught at the moment or just before they need to actually use the protocols.  The knowledge will be fresh in their minds when they must apply it.

LORDS OF KOBOL, this was a long one.  If you’re a newbie, I hope this post relieves some of the stress about what to do in the first few days of school.  If you’re a veteran, I hope this post gives you some new ideas (and reasons) for making the beginning of the school year an exciting one.  Try it.  If you make it even better or you’ve got another way of masking the stench of BORING-A$$-S**T, please comment away!


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