Considerations before the first day of school

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In many parts of the world the end of August marks the return to the classroom. Teachers are busy preparing materials, plans and their physical classrooms to be ready for the students when the schools open their doors. Parents and students are equally busy prepping at home – shopping for supplies, making final arrangements to schedule drop off and pick up as well as organising after school activities.

While some people might be wishing for even longer holidays, most people in my experience are excited to start the new school year. There is so much potential in the start of a new academic year! There will be new students to welcome and settle in and many familiar faces to greet again. New books will be cracked open for the first time and brand new pens will be broken in.

And then there are the new arrivals who might be excited and scared of the start of the school year in equal measure. They might have just landed in the new country they will now be living and studying in, or, if they’re lucky, they might have had the chance to settle in a little. Regardless though, they will set foot in the school without knowing anybody at all. Sure, they will make new friends, but it’s a challenge when they can’t communicate in the language of the school. Yes, teachers and admin staff are preparing for their arrival (hopefully!), but being a new student and new to English (in my context) can still feel like a lonely place. So how can the EAL team help them? Here are some tried and tested ideas that might make a positive difference.

  • Contact the families before the start of the school year and try to find out as much as you can about the students. This might take the form of a questionnaire sent home in the mother tongue (or English if there is someone in the family who can help) or a phone call with the guardians and the student. Make sure that the questions focus on the learner and that you get as much useful info as you can. I usually ask about languages spoken/understood, level of confidence with reading and writing (for younger learners mostly), previous experience with learning English, favourite subjects in their previous schools, hobbies, etc.
  • Send home some information that can help the learners prepare for their first day. I use a New Arrivals Handbook that I designed for our school written in child friendly language. It’s in English so we send it to the contact person who we know is able to communicate in the language. This includes specific information about the school and the class(es) that the new learner will join. There is information in it about important times during the day, who their class teacher is and where they will have to go on their first day. They also learn about rules regarding uniforms, meals, play time, etc. There is also a section dedicated to what learning is like in our school as many of the new arrivals come from countries where classroom expectations are different. I’ve also included a section on EAL specifically to let the learners and their families know what to expect and who they can contact. Last but not least, there is an FAQ page and a reminder that asking questions is not only ok but encouraged.
  • Be on call on the morning of the first day if you can. I know this isn’t always possible but it’s good to have a dedicated EAL teacher available on the first morning so that the new students can get to know them and learn that they are there to help them.
  • Talk to the class teacher about who their buddies should be. Selecting buddies is a complex process and first languages is only one aspect to be looked at but it’s important nonetheless. If there aren’t any other learners with the same mother tongue, pick the teacher’s brain about personalities and choose someone who will have the necessary patience and maturity to help the new arrival.
  • Try to catch up with the parents/guardians in the first few days. They are likely to be dropping off and picking up the new students so try to be around and introduce yourself. This way when you contact them later, they will know who you are and they will know that you are their first port of call when it comes to English. These personal relationships can help you and the learner in the long run.

For more ideas on welcoming back students (especially if they’ve been learning online), click here.

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