Share Your Advice for the First Day of School

Hi AOE readers! Today I’m hoping you will help me inspire all of the brand new art teachers who are ready to start their very first days this fall. In the comments section, I’m asking you to share your first day worries, stories and triumphs. Here’s my first day story…

I remember waking up in kind of a haze. Of course, I hadn’t been able to sleep very well the night before and as I got dressed in my carefully chosen back-to-school outfit, a million thoughts were running through my head.

As excited as I was about meeting the students and trying out my first lesson, doubt and dread soon began to creep into my brain. I began to think about every possible thing that could go wrong that day, starting at the very beginning.

“What if my car doesn’t start? I only have one car! If my car doesn’t start, I can’t even start my first day! I’m definitely getting fired.”

“What if the kids are wild? Someone is probably going to start screaming or running around or throwing things right in the middle of my teaching! What will I do?!”

I don’t know if anyone else has experienced my last worry, but it was very scary and very real,  “What if the kids don’t like me?”

After taking some deep breaths, I was able to drive to school in my (fully functioning) car. I walked into my classroom, laid out the supplies for my lesson and nervously waited for my first class to arrive.

This is when something totally hilarious happened. After the first classroom teacher dropped off her class, I was sitting with the students in a circle on the carpet and I remember wondering, “Where is the teacher? Shouldn’t we be starting class already?” immediately followed by, “Oh my gosh, I am the teacher.” I took a deep breath and introduced myself.

From then on, the day went fairly smoothly. Was I nervous? You bet, but I quickly fell into a rhythm as I presented my lessons. The kids were great, my lessons went well and a little girl even told me, “Mrs. Heyn, I love you!” Ha!

I now realize that my thoughts that first morning did not represent my reality. The truth was that my student teaching experiences had been wonderful, veteran teachers had complimented me on my classroom management skills, and I had materials prepped for the entire first month of school. I was ready, but I let myself get caught up in my own untrue stories.

So, my advice to new teachers is this: Honor the hard work you’ve put in preparing for this day. Even if you feel nervous, remind yourself that you are ready.  Below is a short exercise you can use to get through some of the first day jitters called “Examining the Evidence.”

Here’s how it goes.

1. Write down a negative thought you have about the first day of school.

Example: I won’t know what to do if someone interrupts my teaching.

2. Next, examine the actual evidence you have of this statement. Chances are, you will be able to list a few things that actually have happened that contradict your thought.

Example: During student teaching, when Johnny was shouting from the back of the class, I used 1-2-3 Magic and he stopped on number 2. OR When I was introducing my lesson about VanGogh and Lisa couldn’t stop bothering Jenny, I switched her seat, which solved the problem.


What is the one piece of advice you would give to new teachers on their first day of school?

Do you have any hilarious/frustrating/enlightening stories to tell about YOUR first day?

Amanda Heyn

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • erica

    As my GPS is taking me down the streets with couches in on the porches, pawn shops and children waiting for buses with no parents, I realize I’m lost. I stop at a little bodega and ask for directions (I’d only been here a few times before to set up my classroom and had no idea where I ended up!) It was a little sketchy and I’m sure they were thinking who is this young girl all dressed up at 7:30 in the morning? When I finally got there and saw a few kids trickling in I started to feel like I was on the set of that movie with Michelle Pfieffer (dangerous minds I think) except I was no Michelle Pfieffer, base was blaring from cars, kids excited to see each other after summer, and looking at me like I was imported from some alien land. I sort of was. I always thought the boarding school I went to was a little weird to say the least, but if this was what public school was it was really weird! I made it up to my classroom of the middle school and closed the door. I arranged the pencils on kids desks, collected them, maybe they should be passed out, maybe the paper should be ready? Maybe I should write my name on the board? Maybe I should look over my schedule one more time. By the time my first class arrived, I decided saying less was more. They already had enough to look at seeing this young preppy girl pretending to be a teacher. So I decided to let them look. They all sat in their chairs pretty orderly. I took note of where they choose to sit, so I could make sure to break up any groups next week. But for the moment, I just introduced myself. When I introduced myself as an artist you could tell they were excited at first then skeptical. I knew bringing in my art wouldn’t convince them anymore of it, or further my reputation with them, so that first week, I googled lettering styles and wrote all of their names in some type of graffiti lettering that I stole off the internet! That gained their attention for a minute so I could teach some art:) 

    • What a great story, Erica! Thanks for sharing. I can totally relate to the millions of questions running through your head. That still happens to me sometimes when I’m trying a lesson for the first time. :)

      • Vivian

        Yes! I too have been nervous presenting new material. I’m so glad the nervousness has calmed though. My confidence has grown in front of a group and well, practice helps! Good Luck New Teachers, All Teachers with your first day!

  • Cathy

    I think if anything, just go in prepared to teach just  a simple lesson. Doing so provides the students with a “feel” of how you are going to teach, plus keeping it simple eases the stress for you as a new teacher. But first of all, do the introduction of yourself (keep it short) and definitely go over classroom rules and expectations. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes….they will happen during that first week. Be able to “laugh” a little and share with your students that you did make an error. Students love knowing that their teachers aren’t perfect. Each year I myself have the “first day jitters” (although they are a little less than my first day of teaching). What helps me also is that not only am I suffering from “jitters” but also my students are a little nervous and jittery as well. If we can share that together, then it gets things off to a good start.

    • I love what you said about being able to laugh at yourself. It’s so true. It’s nice for the kids to see you’re human! 

  • I don’t remember much from my first day of teaching, but I do remember taking my picture by the front door, just like you would do as a kid. I go by the motto “fake it until you make it” and for your first week of teaching, I would say this still applies. Even if you aren’t 100% sure, act like it, and the students will follow. They will pick up on your confidence. Put as much as you can onto a power point regarding rules/procedures so that you don’t forget anything.

    One funny thing I do remember is what a kid said to me about a month into my first year of teaching. He said, “My dad told me that teachers make ____ per day, is that true?” I think I replied with something generic to change the subject. Then he said “But you are an art teacher, so you probably make less, right?” 


    • Oh my gosh! One time during a clay lesson, I was telling the kids I thought Mike Rowe should come and film Dirty Jobs at our school because we were going to get so messy. A student looked at me and said, ” Being an art teacher isn’t a job!” I was like, “What do you think I do all day?” I guess I’m glad he thinks my job is fun…?

  • Vicky Siegel

    A little piece of advice…if you see your students once a week, remember what you wear! :)  I had a little girl ask me once if that was the only outfit I had!  Apparently I wore the same thing 2 Thursdays in a row!  So… those little ones really do listen to every word and watch your every outfit!!

    • Funny! When I was pregnant I also had a little girl tell me I wore that outfit last art class. It was one of three things that still fit, so I swallow my pride. hehe. Fashion Police.

      • Hah. I’ve had the same “Why do you always wear that shirt?” experience too. But at my school, we’re on a rotating schedule that is different every week! There’s no way I’m keeping up with that. I’d need a whole different planner!

  • Artmuse67

    My advice would be to plan plan plan! I had a veteran teacher tell me once “honey, if you don’t have a plan for them, they’ll certainly have a plan for you!”  My first day I always do some type of simple activity that integrate the most important classroom rules.  The first official project I do is always a 2D drawing/design  based one this way everyone eases into the school year slowly and steadily, including me! :)

    • I like that advice your colleague gave you! Even 3 minutes of unplanned time can feel like an eternity with a group of 1st graders, so true!

      • I also ease in with 2D. You’re right, it’s nice for everyone! 

  • Vicky Siegel

    This year I am having all students create a zentangle project for their first project/square1art project. I made booklets to look at. First graders will make a large flower, introduce Georgia O’Keefe, and color petals and border in Roy G. biv order with marker. Seconds will create a bird, 3rds will create a fish, and 4ths will create an animal of their choice. (Our 5ths are in the middle school.). Second, 3rds, and 4ths will use liquid watercolor. I am hoping the zentangles will lead to greater sketchbook ideas all year, too.

  • Janine
    • Wow, Janine! You are brave and inspiring! I love that you connect the first day to a service project. I do art on the first day, but this makes me think I should be more adventurous.  

    • sepa49

      You have inspired me to think about changing my approach to the first day of school, especially with my upper grades. I love the idea of diving right into a project, even if it is messy. Thinking “outside the box” sublimely lets the students know your goals and expectations. It also provides a vehicle of communication between students and teacher.

  • Laura

    I was very nervous, and I had my list of students, and had been coming in for weeks setting up, and once my first class of fifth graders came in, I hopped up onto one of my long counters and said hello to them all. I realized right there and then that they were nervous too! I was new to them, they didn’t know what to expect with me. In my opinion I am a very approachable person…mid twenties, I look young, I have a big smile on my face…but to them I could be the scariest meanest teacher in the world, they don’t know. And here I am, afraid of a bunch of 10 year olds. I jumped right into basic teacher stuff…attendance, pronouncing names, class rules, where everything is, etc.

    • Whitney

      Great point, “here I am afraid of a bunch of 10 year olds”. I need to remember this in 4 more days when I look at my 6th, 7th and 8th graders again! It’s my 8th year teaching but I still get nervous. I think when you stop being nervous a little, you stop caring as much why your there (for the students of course), then teaching becomes an actual “job” and not a “calling or passion”. I need to just “jump” right into it and stop stressing! Thanks! I love this site because I’m actually hearing from other art teachers who just “get” me or our side of teaching.

  • Susan Yennerell

    So far so good…have had 3 days of teaching 1st – 5th. We have had a blast going over all the parts, pieces & places within the artroom role playing. I have the whole artroom numbered into different areas. Each student pulls a card with a corresponding area number. Within those areas they get to explore…seeing, touching for a few minutes. After 5 minutes we discuss each area and even role play the shoulds and shouldn’t. Its been a joyful (and quick) 40 minutes with each. Plus its the only time students can wear their smocks on their heads…breaking the ice for us all. I love my job!

  • Pingback: 20 Tips For Your 1st (or 10th!) School Year | The Art of Ed()

  • Chrissy Franklin

    School won’t begin until Aug 23rd, but I still wake up every morning nervously running over scenarios and ideas in my mind. I’m excited and terrified all at once. Will they like me? Will they like my lessons? Will I make a difference in their lives?
    I feel like a kid all over again, anxiously imagining what the year has in store for me. Reading these comments makes me realize that I’m not alone in these feelings. It’s both comforting and inspiring. Thanks everyone!

  • Mrs_Kudlicki

    My best advice, especially for high school art teachers is to have at least the first three weeks of lessons completely worked out. Sure it means taking time from the pool now, but later it will help you stay ahead of the wave. For my AP classes I’m trying to have everything for the first semester solid since those courses are tightly scheduled. Even for the little guys, knowing where you want to begin and end helps so much. I know friends of mind who teach elementary usually have a theme for the year. It might be colors where all the other projects are taught using color. It might be shapes where 2D and 3D are deals with shapes and forms. How ever you decide to organize your classes, remember you get to determine the direction.

  • Sherry St John

    I have taught art for 28 years, but still can’t sleep the night before the first day of school. I believe that the most important thing to establish the first six weeks are essential agreements/ rules, routines ( practice line basics, attention getters, transitions, passing out supplies, clean up and end of the day procedures) As I get older, trying to learn every child’s name (1,200 students) gets to be more difficult, but I am going to start with a smart board message, greeting, name games and then launch into each child’s Hope and dream for the school year with an emphasis on art. I use the “RESPONSIVE CLASSROOM” model for building classroom communities. We usually do a collaborative hopes and dreams project to start the year. Each child gets a post- it note or index card for their Hope and dream sketch. We also do a art room scavenger hunt with the circles that they need to color in with particular art mediums that they have to find as a group. I either got the scavenger hunt from Art of Ed or Pinterest.

  • ElizTownsend

    I think the students have responded the most positively on the first day when I do begin it with a simple art project right off the bat to whet their appetites for art…rather then the way I used to begin in the early teaching days, with a list of rules and expectations. If time permits after clean up the first day, I may introduce one or two rules (and continue with one or two thereafter for each session); that way students are more likely to remember them.

  • Heidi Guembel

    Every year I start with a collaborative project for the first week. Students work on giant murals with one theme. Last year it was “under the sea”. The children work in groups on rolled out white paper. Books are provided that have colorful pictures of all kinds of fish and sea life.
    While each group works with crayons and markers I call one group up at a time to the white board to draw an ocean mural up there. Students LOVE to draw on the board! The next class draws on the same murals. At the end of the week I have enough large murals to display in the hallway. Each mural is labeled by class and they stay up for Back to School Night!
    This year…the rain forest!