There will be many of you reading this who are about to undertake their first year in Teaching, perhaps after a successful student year, or even a successful probationary year. Many more of us have been through that ‘about to go back to work’ summer feeling many times. For some it is a bright new opportunity for new things and better possibilities; for others a feeling of dread prevails. Meeting a new class for the first time is one of the most never-wracking experiences and it never really goes away. Experienced or not, every class is a new one, with pitfalls and possibilities. So, here are some of things I would suggest.
First of all, and you should try to do this for every lesson, stand at your door and welcome your students as they enter. You may want to line them up; you may allow them to wander in; but be there. It’s an age-old piece of advice and a case of common sense but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t happen. You will be tempted not to do this at times because you are busy getting the lessons ready. But always be standing at the door. A smile is contagious. You will be presenting yourself to them in a particular manner, as much as the other way around. Being at the door allows you to negate any corridor indiscipline; it allows you to speak to every student who walks into your class, say hello, morning, afternoon, whatever and insist on a response. And I would insist on a response. It is only manners.
So, they’re in the classroom and sitting down. You’ve managed to persuade them to take off jackets and get pens/ pencils at the ready. What about a seating plan? Well, bottom line is that you’d be mad not to have a seating plan. You don’t know them, they don’t know you. You may have one hundred and fifty names to learn at the beginning of term. Having them on a plan is the easiest way, I’ve found. However, despite the temptation, don’t do it on the first day. Perhaps not even on the second or even the third. I usually leave it until the end of the first week. The ones liable to disrupt your lesson will have had more than enough time to make themselves known. You will have a clearer idea of where you want students to sit. And, more importantly, if you change things once and stick to it, you will be making a clear statement. You are the boss. Making a seating plan after a day or two and then changing it suggests a weakness. By all means change seating for particular tasks but have a default seating plan.
Should you have class rules? Of course you should. Again, you’d be mad not to. But what form do they take and how do you compile them? If you think about it, the class sitting in front of you may have written class rules in every lesson that day. How bored of it will they be? How original will they be? How much will they know the game and tell you what you want to hear instead of compiling an effective set of rules to which you will all adhere? Hmm. Unlikely isn’t it? Again, leave the rules for a day or two. Or why not ask them to come up with five rules as their first homework task? Use this as the basis for lesson two. What is a good rule and what isn’t? Then, you come up with a collaborative set of rules which maybe, just maybe, will stick. Try it.
So where do you go from here? Ideas for a first lesson may take a whole new post but remember that you are there to extend their learning beyond their potential. Much time can be wasted assessing students when you first meet them. That evidence should already be there from their previous teachers. Spend time carefully looking through previous work.. Extend students from the beginning. Your time with them is limited so set high standards from day one. Our job is to set a bar high and work with and encourage them to reach beyond that. You’ve come this far. But this is only the beginning.