The guide to getting through your first day as a teacher

 

How do I manage my first class?

 

It was the 5th January 2018 when I received the phone call I had been waiting a lifetime to hear, I officially had my own class as a graduate teacher. Deciding at the age of 6 that I was going to be a teacher, I spent the following years being involved in schools and learning anything I could from my parents, who have now been teaching for over 20 years.

 

I enjoyed my 4 years of study at university, with every exam, lecture and assignment bringing me one step closer to my goal -  to be able to call myself a teacher. Although I had a lot of knowledge and experience behind me, nothing can really prepare you for your first day with your own class. 

 

As the phone call ended the excitement was instantaneous but, not long after the nerves set in. The thought ‘how do I even manage my first class?’ popped into my head and I wasn’t really sure what the right answer was. While there may not be one right answer, these are my 3 main suggestions for any new graduate teacher when they open their classroom door to a brand-new group of little mates. 

 

ORGANISATION- oh the tissues!

 

While the idea seems clichéd, being organised will affect how you feel as you open your door to your new students and their parents on that first morning. The smallest but best piece of advice that I got 20 minutes before opening my doors was, “Make sure you have somewhere for them to put their tissues”.

 

Your students will arrive on their first morning with excitement, nerves and multiple bags which will most likely be overflowing with supplies. While I’m sure your classroom will be nicely set up with your activities for the day organised, I would recommend having pre-determined, designated areas for students to put their new supplies. This will help keep your organisation on point while you greet every student and parent individually. 

 

After 5 minutes of welcomes, you will be wishing you could split yourself into at least 5 people just to survive the morning! Oh, and that’s not to mention that your face will be sore from smiling. 

 

Ensuring you have somewhere for students to put their tissues is essential on your first day. A cute sign saying ‘Tissues’ on the mat will allow students to find a home for their multiple tissue boxes, without their parents having to ask where to put them. Of course, a system that works best for your classroom and your space is ideal, so try and think ahead about how and where your supplies will be stored and tie this in to your organisation for the morning. 

 

I remember being so thankful for this quick tip from my colleague, as once 2 tissue boxes had landed next to my hand-written sign on the mat, I didn’t have to waste any more time saying “Place your tissue boxes on the mat”. 

 

LAUGHTER – mostly at yourself

 

Opening my door on the first day of the year I was just 23 years old. Some of you may be older and some of you may be younger but, this is how as a 23-year-old one of my first conversations with my students played out. 

 

After I finished shoving parents out the door of my year 4/5 class (some who may have been slightly concerned about leaving their precious babies with a young and baby faced graduate) I sat all the kids down on the mat. I remember telling them a bit about the classroom, its features and briefly highlighting some of routines we would be following. I then started to tell them a bit about me, how I was so excited to be their teacher and that I was very enthusiastic about the year ahead. Silently they all sat looking at me, all 30 of their faces staring up at me and for a moment I felt as though I was a suspect on trial. I asked somewhat tentatively if they had any questions or anything they wanted to ask me. It might not have been the first question asked but, it was definitely close behind and it is still something I tell people as a sort of running joke to this day. One of my fresh-faced girls raised her hand and asked so beautifully, “How YOUNG are you?”. 

 

Young, not old. I don’t think I’ve ever really heard anyone ask for someone’s age that way before. It took me by surprise. Up until that moment I had been composed, warm and friendly while trying to carry an air of professionalism (that was probably wasted on my 10-year-old students). After the question had been asked I couldn’t help but laugh! I decided to be honest with them and told them I was 23. The girl who asked the question seemed satisfied with that answer but the class descended into “You’re the same age as my Aunty”, “How long have you been teaching?”, “Is this your first EVER class”. 

 

The so called ‘composure’ that I had up until that moment was gone. However, I didn’t want it back. I started engaging with my students on a personal level, answering questions they were interested in and starting to build those important relationships on day 1. 

 

You have to be free to laugh at yourself, whether it be at an adorable student question, a slip up of words, dropping something or heaven forbid tripping over, you just have to laugh. Your students instantly connect with this and see you as someone who can laugh at themselves. They start to see you as a person, rather than just their teacher and trust me when I say this will be very useful when dealing with some of your students, as relationships really are key!

KNOW WHO YOU ARE – as a teacher & as a person

When you walk into your first day as a first year as a teacher, you bring along a mountain of teaching experience. You have been immersed in the education system for at least the time you were at school and then you have been exposed to teaching through your practicums and university experiences. You are not an empty vessel. You are a passionate educator ready to make a difference in the lives of your new students.

 

But WHO exactly are you? Take some time before you start your first day to get a real understanding of what sort of teacher you want to be. While the idyllic Miss Honey comes to mind, you don’t have to be dripping in sweetness to be a good teacher. These are some of the small things I’d decided I would do as a teacher before I started that first day;

 

  • Bend down to their level. Take the time to bend down and talk to my students as equals. Our school had the moto of Mutual Respect which I endeavoured to embody from day 1.

  • Use their names as much as possible, which meant learning(?) them as quickly as possible. This shows respect to them and helps you start to build that relationship quicker with your students. I had name tags on their desks and on their t-shirts in order to double the chance of getting their names right!

  • Take an interest; in ballet, in soccer, in Pokémon, in games you’ve never heard of. Ask questions, seek clarification and try to learn as much about your students as possible. While they embark on their ‘back to school’ or ‘getting to know you’ activities, walk around and just ‘chat’ to your students. This is means you need to be organised so you have nothing to do while they’re working other than engage with them. 

  • Laughing; you may think it is one of my favourite pastimes. However, some of my fondest memories with my student are the jokes we had, the good times we shared and the couple of laughing fits we enjoyed. Make a joke, listen to them and if they’re trying to be funny, laugh. It will make you feel good as it calms and relaxes you and it will start to set the scene for the ‘dynamic’ of your classroom. 

  • Be calm. I decided early in my journey that I wouldn’t raise my voice at my students. I’m not saying that in a whole year that I didn’t have to, but I came into school that day adamant I would not be a teacher who spent all their time shouting at their kids. Lowering your voice and speaking to your students with mutual respect will generally have a much better response. Furthermore, the calmer you are the more you will be able to stop, wait and wait some more if you need to. The ‘wait time’ can be your greatest tool. While behaviours may not show on that first day of school, if you start your year by demonstrating your ability to sit and wait for attention, your students will quickly follow. 

 

When you push open that classroom door on your first morning, I hope that these suggestions are with you as a way to guide your intentions that day. They are the underpinning ideas of how I carried myself into my first day and through my first year as a graduate teacher. While the nerves may be through the roof, know that you are not alone. You are prepared for this moment and after years of hard work and challenges, you are exactly what you are supposed to be. A teacher. 

 

Good luck on your first day! I would love to hear if you found any of these tips useful, if so comment below. If you’d like to join my journey as a graduate teacher make sure you follow me on Instagram @teachingtreasures

This Guest Post was written by Miss Johns, a Primary education teacher from Perth, Western Australia who is "Passionate about all things teaching". You can follow her Graduate Teacher journey on Instagram.

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