First Day of Class for a First Year Teacher… Oh, the Fear!
It’s the first day of school, and I walked into the campus that I’ve known for the past twelve years back when I was a freshman in high school. I look down at my semi-professional clothing, knowing that I would look horrible in a suit, so I opted for a nice black shirt and a pair of black slacks. I even had on make-up, which I never put on. I must have asked my mom how I look, if I look like a teacher enough, for over a dozen times before I left the house.
I walked into the classroom where I had… oh, who was it… must’ve been Dr. Pohlmann, my English teacher who now teach two classes down the hall from my own, ten years ago, and started turning on the computer. I wanted everything to be perfect. Double-checking to see if I have everything I wanted, I waited eagerly with a touch of fear for my first period – the fifth period – to walk into the room. I know this is where it really start – where I will try to build a program while surviving as a classroom teacher for the first time in my life.
No amount of classes can prepare you for that very first day of class. Whether you are teaching at a brand new school you’ve never been to before your interview, or the school you graduated, the nervousness and the fear would always be there. And to some extent, I think the students can pick up on that very easily. But don’t worry – they’re equally nervous. When my fifth period walked into the room, I saw fearful and speculative eyes, even from the older students who currently dominates the school. Is this teacher nice? What is this class about? Can I get an easy A?
There are a lot of different classroom management techniques out there, as I’m sure your credential professor had told you, and they probably gave you one that they swore is the best-working strategy. But there aren’t any proven ones, at least in my opinion. You simply have to try out strategies that appeal most to you, and somehow make it a complete unit.
For this post, I’m going to list some practical things I feel might be helpful for all of you who have never taught before and going into your very first classroom, whether as an intern or a student teacher.
Not everyone is born a performer, but as a teacher, you just have to be like one. I was lucky to have been a performing musician (and no, not glorified like Yo-Yo Ma, but I’ve had my share of the limelight, heh) since I was in middle school, so standing in front of a small group of students isn’t too difficult for me. However, if you are not comfortable with speaking in front of a crowd, you have to practice before you start.
A couple of suggestion would be to take a couple of public speaking class in addition to your credential requirement. You can also try karaoke-ing at a bar or a public place. Or practice talking loudly to a group of friends and slowly increase the amount of listeners. I treat my listeners as if I’m only talking to one person at a time, but just that I turn my focus around constantly so I can look at everybody as I talk. It takes a while to get used to, even for someone who’s used to being on stage, but you’ll get the hang of it. Make sure you puff up your chest, raise your voice louder, and act as if you know everything in the world.
I can’t stress this tip enough, and this is something I need to work on in the future. Before you start teaching, devise a plan based on your situation (or, if you are student teaching, use your best guess as to what your room situation would be) so that you can organize homework, files, and whatnots, and retrieve them quickly. Here are a couple of methods I’ve seen that I will try out next year:
- Twin pocket portfolios. Put the roster print-out in one pocket and then put all of the to-be-graded work into the portfolio. Use sticky notes and tape to the pocket front for notes. Use one portfolio per class. Great use if the class is medium sized (18-25)
- File storage boxes + file folders. Have each student decorate a file folder, and use hanging folders to organize the classes. You can use it alphabetically or by group, however you want. Use the individual folder to return homework and put in absent work. You need to train students to get used to the routine, but once you and the students make this a habit, it’ll flow much easier. Great use for medium-large sized class (30+).
- Desktop inbox crates. Have them labeled and put on a long desk at a set place in your classroom (if you have access). Have the students turn-in their homework in there as they walk in. Or use them for pick-up pile. Make sure they are labeled clearly and close to traffic so students can get the flow easy. Good for medium-large sized class (30+).
Aside from that, you also need to keep your files easy to retrieve and store away. If you are student teaching, you just have to find a way, either with file boxes or binders it’s up to you. The one problem that troubles everyone in this career is keeping everything organized, and if you are not an organized person to begin with, it’s always helpful to have a game plan. Map it out or write out your plan on how to keep every file organized – attendance, handouts, absent works, material, assignments (in and out), and administration notes/papers. If you can keep these organized, you would save yourself a lot of headache and aspirins down the line.
Rules and Procedures
As all professors will tell you, you need rules and procedures set down the first week of the class. This is definitely true, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Generally, it takes kids 2 weeks to get the procedures down solid, so if you feel the procedures you imagined to be great turned out to be a disaster, there’s no mistake of admitting it didn’t work and quickly change it. Your students will thank you.
Make sure that when you set (or change) rules/procedures, you adhere to it constantly and consistently, otherwise students will do whatever they want after seeing your inconsistencies. If you are a student teacher, it gets worse, because students often would feel that you are not their teacher, and therefore there’s no need to respect you. Remind them constantly with authoritative but gentle voice. This simply means that you ask them to do it, and do not stop until they obey. I’m sure your professor will instruct you about that.
Rules and procedures to think about are generally….
- Bathroom pass
- Homework turn-in/pick-up
- Clean-up of classroom
- Routines (warm-up, exit slips, whatnots)
Know the terrain. If you know your classroom assignment ahead of time, do yourself a favor and time yourself walking from your classroom to the bathroom (boy’s and girl’s both) and back. Do that several times at several pace, so you will know the average time it takes for students to go to the bathroom. This will help you see who is going to the bathroom, and who is going to socialize or use their cellphone or making out with their boyfriend/girlfriend.
Arrive early. If you have handouts to copy, know how fast your xerox machine is. Even for a powerful one, I would say it’ll take about 10-15 minutes for you to xerox double-side, collated and stapled paper, and more if your machine is slow. Generally, 30-45 minutes early is always safe, because you would be able to finish your copying, get to your classroom and get everything setup before students start walking in. If you have a lot of copies, an hour would be safe.
Smile professionally. I’ve heard some teachers believe “no smiling before Christmas”, ut that to me is just ridiculous. You’re a teacher, not a warden. You should establish that you ARE the teacher, and that students should follow your rules and expectations, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t a human being. It will create a harmonious community within your classroom, and make your life a lot easier.
After babbling all these, I hope I have provided you with some real-life tips and tricks that will help you in addition to what your professor tells you in the teaching credential program. These are experience that I got from my own teaching, as well as from what I heard from my colleagues and classmates. I will continue update this post if I receive any questions in the comments. Good luck to your first day of class as a first-year teacher!