What should new teachers do on the first day in class? Here are important teaching tips and ideas to ensure a good start to a successful academic year, starting with that all-important first impression, setting the tone, establishing the class rules and teaching method.
How to create the perfect first impression and how to prepare the students for a successful year of learning.
First impressions always count
On the first day of class students too are nervous coming to class and instinctively teachers want to make them feel comfortable, but this is also your only chance to set the expectations for what they have to do for the rest of the year, so it’s very important to start well.
Mindset – don’t be the clown!
Many teachers want to be the fun teacher, the cool teacher, they want students to interact, laugh and be one happy family, when in fact, they should start thinking of it as what is the best possible way for these students to learn and in an environment that’s controlled.
There’s a difference between having an entertaining class and being entertainment! You can have fun activities; you can do fun things; you can have interesting content, but you shouldn’t be the focus of that. You shouldn’t be the clown dancing around, making kids laugh, making jokes, trying to get a rise out of him that’s not your job. You could have a fun personality, I’m not saying be boring, but don’t make that this at the base of where you’re working from.
Dominate the space from the start
Don’t hide (sit) in the corner when the students enter. I prefer standing in the middle of the cars waiting for the students to come in. Many teachers greet the students at the door individually and that’s fine but don’t get into a personal discussion with students when they enter.
Don’t give them any personal information, leave that to later so that they can actually ask questions such as: “How old are you? Do you have a boyfriend? Are you married? How many kids do you have?”
This way you tell the students: “This is my space and you have to respect it!”
As soon as they’re in, I give them the instruction to sit down; or wait till they are quiet and then speak. It depends on where you’re teaching and what the standards are at the school.
How to set rules and routine
So, I like to start my classes off by telling the students exactly what will happen in the lesson for the day; it helps them to mentally prepare for each stage of the lesson.
If it’s my first class with new students, I will follow the next four steps:
- Self-introduction: I will first briefly introduce myself;
- Subject: I will talk about the subject that we will be covering.
- Rules and routines: I will set my classroom management strategy by giving the basic rules and routines and then individually ask them to repeat it.
- Icebreaker: Then we do a fun activity.
Condition students to wait
Tell the students to think of any questions they want to ask you, but tell them to keep that question until later when you will give them an opportunity to ask it. And in return, you will also ask each of them a question too. That way you are conditioning the students to wait to ask questions.
A big problem I see in many classrooms is where the teacher gets bombarded by questions and they’re trying to answer students, but by telling them there’s a time and a place for everything, you are training them to be good students. The very important point is showing them that you are the leader: “I will decide when we do what and they will fall in line.” So, this is your very first step of actually conditioning the students for good behaviour.
The importance of eye-contact
Make eye contact with each student for a couple of seconds while you’re talking. One of the mistakes many teachers make is that once they make eye contact with the student, then they avert their eyes so that the student doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It is a mistake because you think “I don’t want the student to be uncomfortable,” when actually the signal it sends is: “This teacher is afraid of even making eye contact with me.”
Establishing your base and making eye contact, keeping it until the student looks away, shows that you’re the leader in the classroom. “I’m not scared to look into your eyes; I’m not afraid to make eye contact with you, this is my space.”
You will be surprised to know that the students’ parents pick up on these signals; these leadership signals. A lot of people will say it comes down to experience, which is true, but you can learn these leadership qualities. These are all small adjustments that you can make and they will see you as a strong leader and also a teacher that they respect.
So, maintain eye contact until they look away and keep a strong (upright) body position, feet apart.
Set the expectations
Next, let the students know what your expectations are. Tell them, “As teacher I expect you to do this and this,” and show them how to do that. Tell them what the rules are and what routines you will follow in class. Every classroom should have routines, what do you do them to do when they walk in. If they’re doing an activity and you want them to stop, you can say: “Okay everyone, I will countdown 3-2-1 and then once I do that, I expect you to be quiet.”
Set those expectations clear and early on. It’s very difficult to start routines halfway through the year. Start it from the beginning, from the first day of class. Set your expectations high and you can always lower it later.
Set rules with wisdom, not emotion
One thing I really want to talk about is don’t be afraid to be stricter than you would normally be. So set the rules and if the students don’t obey the rules, these are the consequences.
Don’t get emotional about rules (never shout!); tell the students what they did wrong, so this is what will happen for breaking the rule.
I teach at a university, so the students are adults. I only have three rules: “Rule number one: Don’t be shy!” I expect them to be ‘conversation machines‘ – to talk and be open, especially in Korea where a lot of students are very nervous. So I will say, “Remember the rule of the class: We can’t be shy!”
The second one is to respect everyone around you and the third rule is to listen when someone else is talking.
Reinforce correct behavior
So, if I have somebody that does something wrong, I can just say: “Listen, you’re supposed to respect your friend, remember that’s the rule.” Or, if I’m speaking and someone else speaks at the same time, I say: “Listen, rule number 3, remember we agreed to it when one person is speaking here to listen.”
What I would do is, I would immediately point at students and ask them to repeat the rules or the routines, asking them: “What is rule number1?” “What’s rule number 2?” and “What is rule number 3?“
Why do I do this? Once again, I am reinforcing the behavior I want to see. I’m showing them that I’m the one in charge, I’m going to ask them questions and I want them to give me answers. You’re establishing your leadership in the classroom. You asking students one by one: “What is the answer?” And if they do make a mistake, you say “Okay, who can help them?” By doing that you will start feeling more powerful and they will also follow what you’re saying.
Class game or activity
I used to play the “M&M” game on my first day of school. I would buy a pack of M&M chocolate candies and would give them to a group of three or four students. Then I would say, “Okay, pick an M&M. If it’s blue, talk about family. If it’s red, talk about your favourite food. If it’s yellow, talk about your favourite place or whatever.” They then have to talk on that topic for about 30 seconds and then can eat the M&M and then it’s the next person. M&M’s are getting expensive for big classes, so I’ve changed the game to pair interviews.
Let student’s talk about each other
Pair interviews are very effective because students are too shy to talk about themselves, but will do their best to describe their friend in a good way. So, students have to interview their partners and write down all the answers, interesting things about them, their hobbies whatever it may be and then have to introduce their partner to the class.
The students always try and find something interesting to say about their partners. I will ask the students a follow-up question. Then they get to ask me a personal question. In this way I get to know my students and they get to know me too and everybody practice interviewing each other.
Okay, so let’s do a quick recap.
Number 1, remember to be the teacher, don’t be a clown. There’s a difference between having an entertaining class and being entertainment for the class.
Number 2, tell them what will happen today. Explain the schedule so that they know where we’re at. “This is what we doing next.”
Number 3, introduce yourself briefly, saving most information for the question time during the class activity.
Number 4, have strong body language; don’t be afraid to make eye contact and maintain it. Take up space, this is your area, they are the visitors.
Number 5, set your expectations clearly tell the students what the routines and class rules are.
Number 6, do an activity that introduces students.
Okay, so this should get you through that first day of class. One last thing: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.