Like Teacher, Like Student: First Day Surveys.

Towards the end of the first day of class, I ask all of my students the following survey questions:

  • Tell me about your name.
  • Where are you from? How do you feel about it?
  • How do you like to express yourself?
  • What’s a book that has made an impression on you? Why?
  • How can I help you this year?
  • Anything else I need to know?

Before they dive in, I read my own answers to this survey aloud. I tweak my answers every year (especially for that last question, there’s always some new random factoid to share.) I’m not going to post the whole thing here, but I share plenty of details, both serious and whimsical. Especially key is my answer to Question #5, which sets up an important class expectation:

I guess I’ll turn this around and say how you, my students, can help me: 

Give up your stereotypes and be your best self.

At some time or another you have had a teacher–or maybe many teachers–who have judged your character. Teachers who labeled you dumb/quiet/loud/angry/rude/hopeless, and you could never shake it. I promise never to judge you this way, and I will always work to bring out your best self in my class — even when you’re struggling or having a bad day. Of course, if I don’t use labels, then there are no labels to hide behind! So get ready to redefine yourself.

I realize I’m a little late to the party, posting a first day activity in October. What brought me to it now, though, is that these surveys continue to be a resource for me all through the year. I read through them the first week, and I take notes on any crucial details that students shared, as well as learn their names through their stories about them. But with a full course load, many of the details don’t stick the first time around. Here’s some things that I look for when revisiting the surveys later in the year:

  • What did the reluctant readers say for the book that made an impression on them? How could this information inform my approach with them?
  • Are there any books in our curriculum that get mentioned a lot? Why?
  • For students who are struggling: What was their advice for how can I help them?
  • For students who are excelling: Same thing as above.
  • What patterns are out there? Does this reflect a similarity in the students, or our teaching? Or both?

Of all of my responsibilities as a public school teacher, one of the ones that weighs on me the most is that I’m expected to have meaningful interactions with my students every day. The ideal in my mind is a personal conversation or exchange — but with 120 students, that’s not possible on a daily basis. The first-day survey gives me a valuable starting point that I can always return to.

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