It’s your first ever day of teaching and your opportunity to make a positive, impactful, and encouraging impression on your learners. It is your chance to introduce yourself, set the tone of your classroom for the year, and create a sense of excitement in your class. You are keen to make it a positive experience for everyone involved, however, as a new teacher, new to a school or class, naturally, preparing for the first day of class makes you nervous.
The definition of rapport in the Oxford Dictionary is to build a “close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.” This is your goal to ensure that you set your first teaching day off to a good start for everyone.
Welcome every one of your learners individually as they enter the classroom and then introduce yourself to the whole class once everyone is settled. Share with the group a little bit about yourself, what they should call you, and write on the board, so they learn quickly how to spell your name. Above all stay positive and maintain a sense of excitement for what you have planned for the year ahead. Your learners will sense if you feel nervous, so try to relax however they will also be anxious too, so let your personality shine, be genuine and show your learners how excited you are to be there.
Invite the learners to share information about themselves, you could do this as a group however it’s often easier to invite them to work in pairs or groups, allowing time for them to settle and connect. Games and icebreakers are always great fun, getting your learners up and moving around the room helps create fun and energy in your classroom. There are some great activities available such as Innovative Teaching Ideas for your first class.
Establish a routine and structure for your learners so they know what to expect and spend time arranging the seating in the room in groups. This will help the learners feel more prepared in various situations. Create empowerment and ownership by inviting the learners to set their own rules in the classroom, within your boundaries, obviously. By creating the expectations together your learners then are more likely to buy into them if their voice is heard. Pick volunteers to write on the board, the class list of expectations or “norms” and these can be displayed throughout the year as a reminder.
Similar to expectations, a key part of ensuring your class runs smoothly is setting transitions, and how they should work when you refer to different activities such as independent work, pair or partner work, or group work. Encourage the learners to practice what these all mean, as funny as it sounds, this a great opportunity to get them up and moving around.
Plans need to be made and classroom management is key to ensuring you can conduct your class throughout the year for each one of your learners longer term success.
As simple as it sounds, please smile! Your learners are likely to be as nervous as you on their first day of a new year and teacher. Greet them with a smile and help relieve some of their fears. You may feel anxious on the inside, however, make sure you’re smiling on the outside. It helps your learners feel more welcome, and surprisingly will make you feel more comfortable and at ease with your learners. In fact, smiling may even help create a positive image and encourage others to smile in return. No clowning or juggling acts are required, however genuine smiles project confidence and warmth. Celebrate if they are confident enough to speak up and share in the new group and show empathy if you need to draw out a contribution from a quieter individual within the class. Smiling creates a warm environment and learning should be fun so try to give off positive vibes—if you smile, your learners will be smiling too!
Presentation is everything and that includes what you’re wearing. Pick an outfit that is appropriate for your school’s dress code, respectful to the local cultural setting however suitable for your classroom. You should be comfortable, as you will be on your feet most of the day, especially if it is warm.
What you wear should also reflect who you are. Formal attire can give the impression that you are confident however overly formal dress can make you appear unapproachable. If you are teaching younger learners, a tailored suit may not be appropriate. Try to find something less formal, this sends a message to your learners that you are approachable, relaxed, and ready to teach.
Finally, if you do decide to wear something new, wear it around the house for a day so that you feel comfortable on your first day.
Besides greeting your learners personally, you should also be welcoming your learners into a learning environment that is warm, friendly, shows your personality, invites creativity from learners, and encourages exploration and learning. This can be achieved through displays, wall posters, decorations, notices and information on the topics you will be teaching.
Teaching younger learners? You can decorate boards with bright colours, flowers made from their handprints, large letters, numbers or key curriculum messages and themes. If you are teaching older learners, an introduction board about the content they will be learning is useful. You could also encourage the class to create a noticeboard as part of their icebreaker or as an activity linked to motivational quotes and images. Treat your classroom space as a resource which you can use as part of your activities
If your first class is in a new international environment, make sure you know your learners’ culture. If you’re new in an environment, it will be helpful to take a short course on exploring some of the intercultural differences or read up on local culture. There are lots of resources available, try Thirsty Scholars Partnerships’ Internationally Embracing Equity, Diversity and Inclusion course to support with developing intercultural understanding. Ultimately, ensure your learning environment is welcoming and learner centred.
Similar to rapport, establish a personal connection with your learners. Icebreakers are not only useful for building rapport, but they also provide you with a fantastic opportunity to assess your learners’ strengths and weaknesses. Learners’ contributions are a way of identifying connections to themselves individually, through listening carefully as they share this will help you identify key elements about their backgrounds. Make a mental note to remember them, and next if you recall these facts on an individual basis, it will help cement their contribution particularly if they feel listened and remembered.
Although you are their teacher, you want learners to be aware that you are also human. Tell your learners a little bit about your life and what sort of things you like, giving them a little information about yourself, your learners will be more likely to open up to you. Create a visual of what you like and don’t like, a little about your background and your favourite music or food and why you want to teach. You could encourage your learners to do the same through a Think, Pair, Share activity, which is a collaborative learning strategy.
Learning names is key and something you should work hard at to match the right name with the right learner from the very first day. Being able to address learners by name is not only impressive, but it also creates a sense of respect between teacher and learner. Meet them on their level, if you are working in an international school, you may have a diverse background of cultures and a wonderful sense of belonging can be achieved through individual learners sharing phrases and quotes from their language. Again, these could be showcased on your classroom walls to celebrate the diversity of your class.
7. Teaser or ‘to be continued’ activity
As you bring your first lesson to an end, make sure you end with an activity or a teaser which will make the next lesson one they don’t want to miss. You can try starting them with an activity which will reach its conclusion next time, or you will pick up in the next class. Gain their enthusiasm for the year ahead, by sharing the structure and plans for their learning. Build excitement and anticipation of the curriculum by including them in some of structure planning for the year, particularly if they are older learners, provide them with choices of what to focus on first. Again, providing empowerment of their learning.
Invite your learners to help you set goals for the year and them to set individual goals also, reflect on these frequently. This will provide them with a sense of achievement, progress, and a journey throughout the academic year. Finally, this is also your opportunity to set the tone for yourself, your learners, and the material. What happens on the first day should be a genuine reflection of what learners can expect throughout the year. Ultimately don’t be too hard on yourself on your first day, relax, get to know your learners, build rapport with your learners and enjoy.
And don’t forget the mnemonic RESPECT. Good Luck!
Written by Georgie McIntyre, Director of Learning and Development, The Classroom Partnership