first day of class and class management

The first days of class were last week, but I've been immensely, breathlessly busy.

Anyway, what should happen on the first day of class? As a young teacher, I spent the whole first day on procedure, explaining class expectations and rules, getting to know students, etc. And at some point I realized two things:
  1. High school students should know how to behave in a school classroom at this point. Assuming otherwise is insulting and doesn't hold my students responsible for their behavior.
  2. I want to get to know my students, and have them get to know each other, in a real context, not an abstract activity involving a bingo game.
My current strategy is to quickly go through the class list, doing a quick language survey -- what they speak at home, what level of English study they've done if new to the school -- and a quick check of how to pronounce names. I quickly go through the units we'll study with some enthusiasm, cover any classroom procedure issues likely to come up in the next week, and a word about behavior: that I expect that they know how to behave in school. All of that takes ten minutes. And then off we go.

My grade 9 class is starting a unit on Life and Death, reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich and various carpe diem poems. I asked them if they had a day to live, what would they do? Then we watched part of a speech by Steve Jobs, starting at the 9:00 mark:
Then I asked, 'What's stopping you from doing most of the things on your list today?' The discussion was fantastic.

My grade 10s will be reading Catcher in the Rye, so I played 'Institutionalized' by Suicidal Tendencies:
Again, it drove a quick-write and discussion on teen angst and relationships with parents that set up the reading perfectly. 

In both cases, we drove toward something compelling, combining media and our own discussion. I got to know them on a personal level, not just their name and where they went this summer. That's the tone I want to set for the class: that this will be an interesting place to be, and that interest will define the class management, not the other way around.