The much anticipated or dreaded first day of school seems to be the same for students no matter what gender or  grade-level from kindergarten through college, even beyond.

Each person, students and teachers, opens the closet or dresser drawer hoping to find that perfect outfit, often feeling that no outfit is really right for the first day back to school, even after having spent countless hours shopping for this day.

Having taught elementary school and currently teaching college, it’s exactly the same. Few sleep well the night before. Most feel that I have to look just right, have the right accessories and make the right impression whether it be for the good looking guy in English class or for my new students.

Students have done their investigations into who their teachers are and many teachers have done the same detective work once the class lists were distributed. Each of us is out to figure out who the other is, what they will expect and what can be expected.

Instead of worrying so much about whether you have the right outfit, the perfect shoes, the coolest new backpack, I urge each one of you to focus on the opportunity before you, the opportunity this year to be the best you. As a student, realize that you can be whoever you want to be. It’s a new year with new teachers, an opportunity to start fresh.

If last year wasn’t so great, make this one better. Promise yourself that you will share your ideas, ask for help when it’s needed and stand up for your beliefs. Pursue your dreams; find what excites you. Be open to learning.  Explore an interest previously left unexplored.  Learn a new instrument; try out for a new team. Join a club. Be open to new relationships. Make new friends. Find a teacher that you can trust and allow that teacher to help you achieve your goals. Realize that this is a new year; you’re a year older and this year can be anything you want it to be. You are in control, for better or worse.

For teachers, understand the importance of being yourself for unless you are great at acting, you won’t be able to pretend to be someone you aren’t for very long. Why would you want to have to pretend to be someone you’re not, anyhow? If we want our students to be confident, then we have to exude the same.

Remember to smile. Students don’t need to fear you, just to respect you.

studentsDon’t underestimate the need to get to know your students, what motivates them, their interests, who they really are. Spend time uncovering this information as it truly is invaluable. Don’t forget to utilize this information to the benefit of your students. Engage the mind, the body, and the soul.  Integrate last night’s big game into your lesson, make reference to pop culture, connect to what your students already know.

Infuse technology. Don’t loathe it. I’ve seen students who can’t seem to pay attention in class spend hours intrigued by the latest video game. Why? The game provides a challenge, excitement, reward, new levels. Instead of giving up, students push to excel. Make your lessons just as exciting. We want to ignite the same perseverance and passion in our classrooms. Hold the highest of expectations for every one of your students. Forget what you might have heard or even seen in the past.

Allow today to be a fresh start for you and your students.  Be a role model, a mentor, a tour guide, encouraging students to explore the unknown, stopping to enjoy the successes, to celebrate the ah-ha moments, and to recognize the progress your students are making.

Teach as you hoped to have been taught. Don’t treat students equally; treat them with equity.

Provide each student what he needs to be successful. Focus on your students’ strengths while working to remediate their weaknesses. Help students to learn from their mistakes and from each other. Don’t be afraid to learn from your students either. With an open-mind, you will learn a lot.

Each year is an opportunity to do better than the last for both student and teacher. Each of us needs to take risks, understand that few, if any, are perfect and to view each day as an opportunity to learn and to grow. So relax, it’s a new year, the first day. Enjoy it. No one really remembers your outfit anyhow! 

studentsLauren Bosworth McFadden is an Assistant Professor in the College of Education and Human Services at Seton Hall University. Her research focuses on programs and tools that engage and improve educational outcomes for both pre-service and in-service teachers as well as their students grades K–8.