It's almost time for Meet the Teacher night, Open House, orientation, Welcome Back to School Night - whatever you call it where you are. If you have not had the pleasure of partaking in this ritual this is traditionally when students and their families come to the school to find out who their new teacher is for the year, where their classroom is located, who’s in their class, and maybe tour the school if they are completely new to the building. It’s your first introduction to the kids and families that attend, and first impressions are important. They set the tone for sure.
But this is the problem with Open House Night, Back to School, Meet the Teacher Night…it’s held the first few days that teachers are back in the building. As in... when you are required to report back and have to be in the building, because chances are, you have made a trip or two out to your classroom to start setting up before you had to - we're going to go more into that in a sec. I’ll be real with you, I’ve been out twice - once for two hours, then yesterday for about a hour and a half, just to start setting things up, wiping things down. Make sure, by the way you check out last week’s podcast, where I went into the essentials of classroom set up.
Want to listen to this message instead of read? You can hear the audio version in my podcast or click the Mp3 below.
So, what is the problem? The problem is that you more than likely have to work outside of your contract hours to get ready for back to school and to get ready for Open House. Or, at least you feel like you need to, because chances are your first hours back in the building when you have to report are going to be filled with meetings...which is unfortunate.
So, this is my big, grand piece of advice for Meet the Teacher Night…it doesn’t have to be perfect. Let go of that idea now.
...Or completely ready - your classroom, that is. Especially if you are in the very cruddy situation where your Open House is scheduled the first night you go back! I know that’s possible. But…and this veers away from back to school…there’s got to be a better way. We have to stop expecting and accepting that teachers are going to work for free. Now, if you have reached a point in your teaching career where you DON’T go in before you have to, that’s great! And I know when you’re new, there’s isn’t a lot of room around it, but that can be said for anything new you take on in life (you should be getting paid for it though).
And here I go cracking on InstraCrud again, but social media paints a false narrative of what back to school night is all about. Bright colors! Picture perfect classrooms! All the cute, amazing, perfectly charming stations. NO! It’s not!
Let me tell you what it’s about and what needs to be your endgame. Meet the Teacher night is about kids getting to find out who their teacher is for the new year and who is in their class.
That is what they care about. That is why they are there. Parents want to see who there kid’s teacher will be, take child to classroom, meet the teacher and introduce themselves (although sometimes they don’t choose to, which is fine. They may just want to see where their child’s classroom is and get the necessities for back to school).
I say this to caution you that it is not necessary to over stimulate parents with bells and whistles for back to school night. Your good first impression will not come from how perfectly coordinated your rooms is. In fact, I think it’s good for parents to see things that still need to be done, so they can see that there is no magic wand, that setting up for a new school year is hard work!
Also, put it in perspective. Your students are coming back from a summer of different experiences - some good, some not so great. So are your students’ parents. Back to School time is stressful for a lot of families. You want them to learn about you, your classroom, and what they need to know and complete to get started in your grade or subject for the year. You’ve got all year to wow them with your teaching - and, there’s a lot of teaching to be done. Save your energy and pace yourself - keep the main thing the main thing for Open House.
So the things that I would steer away from, or maybe NOT rank in high importance for Meet the Teacher…
A word of caution if you plan to give your students a treat or present as a Meet the Teacher Night gift…please think twice before you make it food related.
I know - I see it everywhere, the cute bags of crackers that say “You’re o-FISH-ially in my class or “Do-NUT worry, it’s going to be a great year!” The intentions are good, but…allergies. You don’t know your class yet more than likely, and you don’t know who can have certain foods, who can’t be in a room with particular food items…and I don’t just mean peanuts. There’s gluten, food coloring, dairy…to me, the food treat could backfire in so many ways that you innocently wouldn’t think of. I would stick to giving them a pencil, an eraser, if you want to give them something tangible. I would not do food. You also don’t want to have your first interactions with parents be them disgruntled about a food item that causes their child to be allergic.
You also can just not do a gift. It’s totally not necessary. I had years where I did it, and I had year where they just got a letter from last year’s fifth grader talking about what my classroom was like. They were more excited about the letter.
(It’s a little late to have last year’s class write this year’s a letter, but I will discuss that at a latter date.)
Another thing that’s very popular now is having stations or scavenger hunts as part of your Open House, and I get the scavenger hunt for students who are new to the school, but as stated previously, back to school is stressful for many families. They want to meet you, they want to know what they need, what they need to fill out, and maybe fill you in on somethings about their child. They’ve got some more summering to do before the kids go back on the first day. It doesn’t have to be a big production or be complicated. Like I said, you’ve got all year to wow them with your creativity.
So...what does matter? Here are some Meet the Teacher Night ideas that I consider essential and necessary for having a productive and positive experience that set things in motion for the rest of the school year.
Of all the ideas I could give you, the simplest is this - Have a place for your students to sit by Meet the Teacher night.
As mentioned last week, get their desks or seats at tables situated alphabetically- you can change it up in a week when they have revealed their true selves! Have a place for them to sit, and have extra seats ready in case you get a student placed in your room during Open House - stranger things have happened!
What should be at that seat? If you want to do a treat, that’s great. But what you really need...
You want to have a Meet the Teacher Letter, geared for the students, to introduce yourself.
You may choose to have two letters, one for the students, and then one for parents that goes more in-depth. Another alternative is to have a brochure, with basically the same information, just a little more condensed (it’s also an option to send something out ahead of time in a brochure to your students, if you have their addresses and if your school if paying the postage). These are both products I have in my TPT store - both the newsletter and the brochure for Open House Night…
But that’s not all!
Go ahead - the forms are going to be coming in left and right - and get parents to fill out or take home and fill out as much paperwork as you can.
You want to get this part out of the way as soon as possible because it takes a lot of organizing, you might as well do it on Open House. Some teachers like to set up stations around the room where parents go and fill out the form and turn it in a tray at that station. And that’s fine, because the forms are then kind of organized for you.
But some information parents may not have on them at the moment, or they don’t feel comfortable filling it out in front of others…or they aren’t good with following directions around the room to go to all the stations.
I put the forms on my students desks, kept adding to the stack on each desk if we got things from the office, then right before Open House, I’d tuck the forms into the file folder that I had one their desk. That way when students came in with their parents, there was the folder at their desk with everything they needed in it. They could fill it out there and give it back to me, take it with them, whatever worked for them. It also was convenient to have it in a folder for when I got a new student - just give them or their parent/guardian the folder with everything they needed to complete.
What forms should be in this folder? Some of that will be determined by your school/district, but (not a form) I did have a student information sheet, separate from an emergency card that I could have on hand to know about who was in my class and any issues I should know about right away. Other forms were transportation, allergies, volunteering, supply list was on my parent letter, transportation…
In fact, I have taken all the essential forms that you need for back to school Open House Night and have created the Back to School Forms and Letters Kit. It is everything you need that your school and district doesn’t give you that you need to get the info you need at the beginning of the year - and beyond. There are also class rosters in this kit, checklists, pre-made letters for conferences and field trips - it is meant to make your entire year run smoothly, not just back to school night.
At some point, you want to have a presentation that is either automatically going through the slides or that you personally share with parents - depending on how your Meet the Teacher night is organized.
I’ve also go a resource for that - its a Back to School Presentation with 60 different slide options. You don’t need 60 slides - I just gave you as many options as I could think of for your teaching situation - but the best thing is you just need to choose the slides you need, enter the info…and boom, you’re ready. In fact, I would keep your presentation just to the things that are most important. Just what you want them to remember right now - because going into everything you teach or do for the entire year, when they’ve got things to do between now and the first day, they aren’t gong to remember it. Stick to things that are most important for the first days of school.
And...if you are looking for an all in one, all the things you need to get through Open House night and beyond - I have packaged all of my resources in a Back to School Editable Bundle - everything for Meet the Teacher Night, all the essentials, again, these are linked in the show notes and available through my store Next Chapter Press on TPT.
Another thing to consider...if your school or district provides parents with a recommended supply list prior to Meet the Teacher Night and you anticipate students bringing supplies with them, think about where you want them to put these supplies - especially the ones that are intended to be communal. For example - disinfecting wipes, tissues, notebook paper - have boxes or designated area where these supplies if brought in can be placed.
At some point on Open House night, you will be interacting with the kids, your new class, and their families. That’s what it’s all about, getting to know each other, with no bells and whistles, just talking to each other as human beings. It’s a chance, maybe your only chance, for parents to see you as a human being - a person whose on the other end of the phone, email, note home. The only thing you can do is be your authentic self. If you are naturally more reserved, you don’t have to act out of character just to feel like you’re impressing them. If you are louder and more extroverted, do you, boo - don’t hide who you really are! We ALL have to learn get on with people who are different than us - and there’s nothing wrong with who you are. Or who they are, for that matter.
You do want to at least make an attempt to greet and speak to everyone who wants to be spoken to.
(Some people are going to get in, get out - that’s okay. Don’t take it personal, because it’s not). There is going to be someone who Just. Won’t. Stop. Talking. While there are kids that need to have the 411 before they are in your room and I’m as you are too appreciative of the parents that come forward and provide that information instead of SURPRISE - you can’t have your time monopolized when you there to meet everyone.
So this is an easy parent communication fix. Let someone finish their sentence. And say, “I’m sorry, could you repeat your name?” After they do so, Use their name and say “Mrs. Smith (if it’s that) thank you. This really helps me and I can tell there is more that we could discuss. Could you (choose what you prefer - phone call, meeting, email) me some more information so that we can discuss this more confidentially?” Emphasis on the confidential, because some parents loose sight of this, that there are other kids are parents (and therefore ears) at Meet the Teacher night that can hear what they are saying. Get that information, or show where in your meet the teacher letter where your contact info is, and thank them profusely. Then move on to your next parent.
Let's review, because this was long but important:
Do provide them with the necessary info about your room. A meet the teacher letter to students and to parents that they can take with them. All the forms so you can begin collecting all the info needed to liftoff on this new year.
You will interact and speak with your students and families for the first time - be yourself. More around the room. Make eye contact and be proud of you. Listen sincerely. But don’t let your time be monopolized, because some info can be shared confidentially at another time.
Meet the Teacher night is just the first of many memorable moments you’ll have this school year. There will be hiccups. It won’t be InstaPerfect. But you are capable, and you can find joy in this profession and school year. Stay focused on the organization and establishing how your classroom is going to run, and things will fall into place.
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