Rachel Perugini Education, Life in the Classroom

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Every year before the first day of school, the nightmares start. Usually it is some version of me in front of my classroom, which is filled with too many students, unable to get anyone’s attention. In the worst of these dreams, my principal does a surprise first day observation.

Luckily, the first day is never like that. On my first day, the students were on their best behavior, pencils were in abundance, and I had the most patience I will ever have this year. But the first day this year reminded me that there were lots of other firsts happening that day.

The first day to make a good impression. For me, it is all about getting to know my students and showing them that I care, building those relationships. I am pretty good with names, so the first day is filled with putting faces to the new names on my roster and showing students I am going to remember who they are. I made mistakes, but I think the kids see I am trying and appreciate it. I practice over and over again until they’re solidified in my brain for the next day.

The first day to make a new impression. For students who had a rough previous year, this is their first chance to turn over a new leaf, to be a different person. You can see it when they sit there on that first day, on their best behavior, hoping this year will be different. I have heard stories about some of the students sitting in my room, and I know their potential to be troublemakers. That first day is their chance to start again, and I hope that I give them that chance when they walk in my door.

The first day to set expectations. I think more and more teachers are ditching the first day syllabus dump to build relationships and establish class routines. It is a concept so important that tons of books have been written on setting up those parameters. I use the first day to show students what class feels like, where we turn work in, and my expectations for group work and participation. Getting students into those routines helps make for a smooth start to the year.

The first day to figure out a career. I am hosting my first student teacher since changing schools and it threw me back to my first day of student teaching; the nerves and excitement all mingling together. I am excited to start the first day with my student teacher, so she will get to see how the year gets shaped. Hopefully I can help her see that teaching is a career worth pursuing.

The first day of school is an exciting, sometimes anxiety filled day for teachers and students alike, and it is an important day for starting the year off right. But don’t worry if your lesson doesn’t go perfectly, if you get blank stares from your students, if you mess everything up. You have 179 more days to get it right.


I am originally from Pennsylvania where I earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Shippensburg University. In 2012, I moved to Arizona to teach on the Navajo Reservation; I liked the state so much I decided to stay. I taught language arts, reading, and journalism for three years at Many Farms High School. During that time, I earned a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction for Reading. In 2015, I moved to Flagstaff where I currently teach 10th and 11th grade English. I have been an avid reader all my life, so I love that my job gives me that chance to read amazing books with my students all day long.

Comments 4

  1. Donnie Dicus

    I love your ideas around the first day to make a good impression. I used to do an activity with my 3rd graders in which I would ask them to write a few sentences about who they were last year and what school was like. I then ask them to share who they would like to be out loud and what they would like for this year. After that, if what they wrote and what they said did not match, they would throw away what they wrote. I wanted them to know this was a fresh start and they could be whoever they wanted to be this year.

  2. Jaime Festa-Daigle

    There is something so special about the first day of school. I am pretty amazed at all the energy that surrounds it, whether it is the first day of kinder or the first day of 12th grade. I suppose it is because there is generall nerves, excitement, joy, and a little anxiousness had by everyone – teachers, staff, administrators, kids, parents, everyone! Although I don’t think I could survive in that nervous state, it would be awesome to keep up that energy all year long.

  3. Kyle Bragg


    I really enjoyed this piece. It’s so relatable, as most teachers have that anxiety leading up to the first day, regardless of how long they have been teaching.

    I like how you discussed making a good first impression and wanting to establish relationships. This will students with buy-in, leading to greater academic achievements throughout the year.

    I’m looking forward to reading more from you. Thanks for sharing!


  4. Caitlin Corrigan

    I remember the back to school nightmares! I never dreamed of surprise observations, though. Mine were usually about my students standing on the desks and not listening to me. They bothered me so much my first few years teaching. I would wake up traumatized, even though they were not realistic at all (2nd graders were definitely not going to be taller than me!). Now, if the nightmares start I find them funny. I guess somewhere along the way I learned what to do if my students decide to stand on the desks and not listen to me, ha! Thanks for sharing!

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