This is a familiar debate in schools, and of course the right answer is both. Yet, if you don't teach the children first, you'll make no headway with the curriculum. What this means is that you can't jump right into the curriculum without building a relationship with the children.
A little boy in the back of the room didn't follow directions during the third day of school. I watched him carefully to notice what he was doing. I noticed that he was clearly uncomfortable and distracted. I didn't ask him to move as I knew that would upset him, but I did move a child near him as I knew that child would not mind. That calmed the child down. Later I talked to the child about his discomfort--we came up with some strategies.
On another occasion during the first week of school two girls who wanted to work with each other were unable to get anything done. I wondered about that, and for the next challenge, I changed the groupings. Both girls were more successful.
In neither case, did I have to scold, reprimand, or have a consequence. That would not be right so early in the year when I hardly know the students, and they hardly know me. Instead, I chose to let some things go as I tried to figure out what the students needed.
I've slowed down the way I start the year a lot. I'm doing that because of what I've read related to cultural proficiency and building strong teacher-student relationships. It's the key to a good year of teaching, and when we forget that, and rush too fast into the curriculum, we deny both the students and ourselves the chance for that successful relationship, the kind that leads to a successful year of teaching and learning.
So if the year is starting with a lot of problems, it may be because you have to back up and focus on learning about the learners first, developing a good repertoire, and then moving into the curriculum. That's the advice Ruth Charney gave us so long ago in her great book, Teaching Children to Care, and that's the advice Emdin's book, For White Folks. . .reiterates. Onward.