What Should I Do on the First Day of School?

First day jitters are not reserved for our students. Teacher first day jitters are on a whole different level. Those jitters may slowly grow until you’re in full-blown panic attack mode. This anxiety over the first day doesn’t just pop up because you don’t know what you are doing. You probably have amazing plans on how your room will run, schedules, routines, work tasks, data – the ideas are all there. But the big question is – how do you get there? What do you do on that first day when the routines aren’t there yet? What’s fun and exciting but not overwhelming? What’s structured enough to give our learners the support that they need but not overly structured that you feel like you are starting the year in the middle of October? It’s confusing!

Check out my tips on planning for the first day of school! … and no, it’s not serving chocolate chip cookies… read on 😉

You may be searching pinterest for the best “first day of school ideas” and while yes, I agree that those interactive scavenger hunts, search the room, interview your classmate, and other adorable and engaging social skill based activities are fun as heck – they aren’t fun as heck for our kids. Social skills are work for many of our kiddos. Actually – scratch that – social skills are HARD work for many of our kiddos. So while you might think they will love finding out how many people went on vacation over summer break that activity is literally hell on wheels for our guys. Unstructured play time and group activities on top of a stressful major change in schedule (showing up at school on day 1) is not going to go well.
I like to equate showing up in a classroom as traveling to a foreign country. Our students don’t know the language, they don’t know the social norms, and they are just not picking up that everyone is driving on the opposite side of the road. Have you ever traveled aboard and found yourself eating at McDonalds or ordering a super non-native cheeseburger. It’s not that your not adventurous or willing to try new things but that little taste of home makes you instantly feel better, more comfortable, and lessen your anxiety. So make your students as comfortable as possible – especially if they are brand new to you or brand new to the school. Reach out to the parents before and make sure to have some of their favorite foods, toys, or activities prepped. Let them bring in their personal iPad or a few favorite toys. Help them feel at home!
All of those beautiful schedules and visuals that you spent all summer slaving over – start teaching those bad boys right away. Jump right in. Those aren’t optional. They are here to help and the sooner your students learn how to use the visuals and schedules – the sooner they will be helpful. Remember, schedules and visuals aren’t magic pills that students naturally know how to use. We have to teach them how to utilize these strategies. So get started! 🙂
So let’s say you first day came and went and it was literally the worst. And not like “the worst” like people say when the barista gets your starbucks order wrong. Like actually written in your diary as the worst day of your life. You questioned your job choice, life choice, forgot your name, and walked to your car after work in a silent sob. My dear friend, I feel you. I promise it will get better. If you work at it, stay consistent with the strategies we talked about all summer, and learn from those bad days – it will get better. A bad first day does not mean you are a bad teacher. It does not mean you will have a bad year. You have nowhere to go but up! 🙂
So let me share some true life tales from the frontline. My first year teaching I was pretty much deer-in-headlights terrified. My first day came and went and I wasn’t one of those nightmares of worst first day ever. It was actually really good. It was actually great. I felt like god’s gift to special ed teachers as I strutted to my car after work. “Burnout?” I thought. “Who could possibly get sick of this? This job is amazing.”  I’m shaking my heard at my young naive self. That calm first day is known as a honeymoon period. And that honeymoon period ended approximately 90 seconds into day 2. I left the 2nd day of my teaching career with actual shit on my face and no more tears left to cry. It got better. It got way better. But my cocky first day bliss made hitting the pavement on day 2 way worse. So even if things are smooth sailing, keep using your visuals, teaching routines, and keep your emotional guard up.
Above absolutely everything – your goal is make your classroom and you reinforcing to your student. You are a chocolate chip cookie. Because, really, who doesn’t like a chocolate chip cookie? Strive to make your class a place your student wants to be. Strive to make your praise something your student wants to get. Adding structure, familiar items, routines etc. will help you get to chocolate chip cookie status.


  1. Hi Sasha- This is sensible advice that matters, because you’ve “been there and done that.” I don’t know why more readers don’t seek out info from people like you who have real experience, instead of people who simply regurgitate what they read somewhere else.

    I write for a blog that covers play therapy for autistic children. We recently featured an article with back-to-school tips for parents:


    I thought you and your readers might enjoy it. It approaches the same topic from another perspective.

  2. I have been teaching for a long while and I still remember my first few days as well!

    Thanks for presenting an honest (and after the fact humorous) look and practical strategies.

  3. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for reading, Maria! Have a great school year!

  5. I am a first year teacher who will have 3 autistic students Of the thre two of them are non verbal and aggressive. The other is high functioning and most likely will be in his classroom most of the day. The two on the other hand will be with me in the self contained classroom. I am feeling overwhelmed because even though they are in 3-4th grade level it is hard for me to know what they are capable of doing. I’ve read iep’s and behavioral plans and i’ve sat through and observed both of these students during their summer school. They literally only have done discreet trials and when i did observe one of the boys in a group setting he was unable to sit and flopped all over the place and became loud. So where do I begin? Should i have a calendar routine (i think that’s important), and i know i will need to incorporate movement breaks throughout the day. I almost just can’t wait to get the first few days over with just to be able to create a schedule. I don’t feel like i can do anything till i can ibserve what they can do for themselves. Ugh ?
    A Scared SPED

  6. I so get it! The unknown is scary and everything will be clearer once you have a few days with them. A good goal for the first few days can be to determine reinforcers for your students. Get a wide variety of toys, activities, etc and spend time observing what they play with. Track how many minutes they engage with each item, let them be alone with different toys to see what they prefer, start to establish yourself as a reinforcer by creating rapport and pairing yourself with those items. Once you have that valuable information, then you can start to see what work they can accomplish while working for those items. Good luck! You will do great!!

  7. Thank you for “keeping it real,” and sharing your stories with us! Definitely striving to be the chocolate chip cookie every day!

  8. In the first segment you said what’s fun for the other students might not be fun with our autism students: treasure hunts, search the room etc. , activities that I was looking at to start the first days of school ! so what other alternatives would you suggest ?

    • I would reach out to families or other staff in the school (e.g., previous teacher, clinicians, paras) that know them and find out their interests!

  9. Love this, Sasha. Thanks for sharing! This is the real life experiences teachers need to hear.


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