Establish Your Rules Immediately
You've already learned that you must create and photocopy a list of your classroom rules before your students arrive for the first day of instruction. Then, on that all-important day, you must distribute the rules to every student, with instructions to return the tear-off section, signed and dated, by a particular due date.
But before you move on to academic instruction, take sufficient time to discuss your classroom rules with your students. Don't worry about the kids being bored — they understand that they'll have to sit through “the rule stuff” sometime during the first day; and they'll probably be a bit confused if you fail to discuss what you expect of them regarding behavior and work habits.
On the other hand, don't drone on by reading verbatim from your list. You might be tempted to read your rules word for word because otherwise, you strongly suspect many of the kids will never read the stuff. That may be true, but your rules are so crucial to the smooth functioning of your class that you can't take chances that the kids will zone out. Instead, paraphrase in a clear, conversational manner. Convey the spirit of each regulation by explaining the rationale behind each one. After all, when your kids bring back their signed tear-offs, they're supposed to be affirming that they and their parents have read the material and will abide by it.
The English word “discipline” is actually related to three original Latin words: disclere, a verb meaning “to acquire understanding”; disciplina, a noun meaning “the imparting of understanding”; and discipulus, a noun meaning “a person who acquires understanding.” Therefore, discipline can be defined as teaching kids to understand what's expected of them.
What you're trying to do on the first day is to make sure the kids understand the rules. Also, you're setting an overall tone by immediately establishing the importance of your rules and explaining the unpleasant consequences awaiting rule breakers. True, you're not running a prison camp, but you're not running a circus, either. You're running a classroom, where students must be able to learn in a safe, orderly, and reasonably tranquil environment. You don't have to whip the spirit out of your kids, but you do have to ensure that your kids work hard, listen carefully, and gain as much education as possible. None of these laudable goals will be achieved if your kids are dancing on their desks. Establish your classroom rules immediately and stick to them for the entire year. That way you'll have fewer challenges from potential misbehavers, because they'll understand from the beginning that you won't tolerate time-wasting nonsense.