Meeting the Class for the First Time
Preparing to become a teacher is a big undertaking. It’s easy to get caught up in getting through college with a degree in teaching, passing your teacher’s certification exam, finding the kind of teaching position you want and getting through the interview that there is one more level of challenge that awaits you that you may not have put some thought into. That is the moment you walk into a classroom and face that sea of little faces looking up at you fearfully and you realize, perhaps with some terror that you really are a teacher and these students expect you to do the job.
Every teacher has a priority for what will happen in that first encounter with the class of students. For some teachers, it’s important to establish your authority and to let the kids know you are boss and they will be called upon top live up to your expectations. For another, the first goal in that first hour is to just get organized. But it’s a great idea to think through exactly how you are going to handle that first meeting so you establish a relationship with these kids that will result in a very productive and yet happy and peaceful class time experience each day.
As you look at those eyes staring at you, what do you suppose they are thinking? Well, it isn’t really that much of a mystery. They are very curious about their new teacher and the things they want to know about you are not things they will ask you out loud including…
. Is this new teacher mean or nice?
. Will she make us work harder than our last teacher?
. Is the new teacher funny or too serious?
. Will she make us move our chairs
. Is this new teacher boring?
That last question is probably the one that weighs on the minds of most students the most. To a young mind the one crime that should be punishable by death is for you to be boring. They are also wondering what will be the first thing you will say to them to get the relationship started. They are very curious about you as a person and if you will make learning fun or, again that terrible word, boring.
It is a great idea if you take the time to think out in advance exactly what you want to accomplish in this initial meeting with your new class. One suggestion that has some real value is to seek to find a way to move from strangers to friends fairly quickly and to communicate to the students that you want to work with them as a team. If you and your students become one unit with the shared goal of learning what they have to learn to get good grades to take home to mom and dad and to do so without being boring, you will have created an educational setting that will be rich with learning potential.
One way to get that relationship off and running in great shape is to do something unexpected when you address them initially. Tell a joke, introduce yourself with a funny illustration from your childhood or in some other way surprise your new class in a fun and lighthearted way. This communicates to them that you are going to be a fun teacher and that they need to come to class paying attention because they never know what to expect. With that kind of rapport, you will have established a relationship that will only continue to open up and grow more trusting and more productive. And it all started because you refused to be that one thing that students hate. You refused to be boring.
The Brass Tacks About Teaching
Like any job, teaching children is often idealized and romanticized by young people preparing for a career in education. Then once the reality of what life is like as a teacher hits, it can come as a rude shock. This does not mean that the ideals and values of teaching the next generation of youth and the great thrill of seeing a young mind come alive with knowledge are not wonderful and worthy of respect and praise. In truth, anyone who makes it in the field of teaching must have that idealism that is a deep part of your motivation system because it will be those values that will help you get past the hard times that teaching, particularly in a public school situation often brings with a job of a teacher.
But along with the values and ideals, we need to mix that inner drive with a strong dose of reality so that when you show up for your first day and work through your first year of teaching, you are not broadsided by some of the challenges and frustrations that lie ahead. A few moments talking about the brass tacks of a teaching career can help you prepare for the negatives so they are less potent and less able to stop you from being a success in your teaching career.
Probably one of the areas of teaching that often causes high teacher stress and burn out is the level of government regulation and the extent that the administration of a school gets in the way of the teaching process. Many times in public school it almost seems like education is of a lesser value than paying attention to rules and regulations and maintaining order and discipline in the school.
When you come to that teaching position with priority placed on teaching students the subject matter at hand and see them begin to excel academically and you find academics taking a back seat to the school’s administrative issues, to discipline issues and to what seems to be a nonstop flood of forms and requirements for every governmental program imaginable, that can cause frustration about the job you have taken in that school.
Underfunding of education probably ranks second greatest frustration with the working world of teaching. This lack of funding is evident in your pay and in how well the classes you need to teach are funded. You may not have the supplies you need and many teachers actually find themselves buying supplies from their own money just to make sure their teaching is successful. That is the contrast between the publics’ lack of substantial support for education and your deep commitment to it. But the funding issue can also result in overcrowding of classrooms because the school cannot afford more classrooms or a sufficient number of teachers to handle a high student population.
The third problem that often broadsides new teachers is that many students are not the angels we wish they would be. Especially in a public school setting, you will have in every class some students who don’t care about academics and would rather disrupt the class than allow you to teach those who do want to learn. It takes some real experience and some coaching from experienced teachers in how to handle this kind of student but at least be aware that they will be in your classroom day one and all year long.
It takes some innovative thinking and almost stubborn insistence on staying positive to be a successful teacher under circumstances like this. But if you keep your focus on the kids and on those moments that do come in each school year when you really connect with students and you see them get excited about what you are sharing, that one moment makes dealing with all of the other frustrations entirely worth it.