Ever passed by a stranger walking down the street and taken an instant dislike to them? Or been instantly drawn to them? Apparently all it takes is 3 seconds. 3 measly seconds and you’ve been imprinted with the basic facts (read: assumptions) about them. They might be well-dressed in a suit with nice shoes and hair, carrying a classy leather briefcase.. and you think, oh what a nice respectable citizen, and you move on feeling comfortable and safe. They might be huge and covered in tattoos, wearing a beat-up biker jacket and carrying a baseball bat, and you freak out, thinking you’re going to get mugged. Never mind that the first guy is committing fraud in 3 countries and the second guy is coming home from coaching his kid’s sports team. You assumed. You inferred.
Your students will do the same. And your ease and enjoyment of the teaching year could be massively impacted if you start out on the wrong foot. So how do you ensure you create a strong favourable first impression on that all-important first day in class? Here are some tips:
- Nice clothing. This one is fairly obvious. Now is not the time to turn up in hair curlers with a tie-died flouro t-shirt proclaiming, ‘free hugs from hippies.’ If that is you on the weekend, fine, but not on the first day in class. You’re going to ostracise yourself, and we don’t need this job to be any harder than it needs to be, now do we? Equally, don’t turn up in a 3-piece penguin suit and spit-shined shoes, looking like you’re all buttoned up and ready to make them earn their education through back-breaking hard work and drills. They won’t have warm fuzzies about it. Just turn up in tidy, relatively on-trend clothing – classy casual, we call it. What you’d wear to a dinner date at a nice restaurant in the city. Do not turn up in your favorite outfit from 17 years ago unless you have checked with a teenager that it’s not going to label you a dinosaur. Equally, do not turn up in clothing that your 16 year-old would wear. We are older than them, we know more than them, and we are not trying to be them. They’ll call you a try-hard. *If in doubt, Google up a movie star from a currently showing film and copy what they wore when they were last snapped out shopping or on a flight somewhere. Except without the stilettos. Not kidding. These people are presentable for a living. That’s what they do. *Note: Watch out for dark-patterned undies under plain pants, don’t wear a thong to school unless you really, really can’t tell, no white socks under dark shoes and pants, and don’t wear a black bra that can be seen under a light top. Let’s face it, these faux pas are not the kind of attention we need if we’re wanting to keep the kids on task.
- Nice hair – not frizzy, lank or wet from the shower. Tone down any strange or old-fashioned ‘dos just for the first few weeks. Don’t go too coiffed, gelled or sprayed- kids don’t like fake. Just a classy, easy, clean look.
- Nice shoes – easy to walk in, leather, not Roman sandals or thongs, not too worn out, no sports shoes unless you’re playing sport.
- Nice smell – not too strong (we don’t need to roll in perfume or aftershave..others can smell you even if you can’t smell yourself. Check with someone.) Also check your breath. Yes, you must brush your teeth in the morning when you are a teacher – you are going to be far too close for comfort if you have stinky breath. Also, you need to be aware of how you smell later in the day. Most new teachers break a sweat hourly, and kids will not take kindly to you if you have BO by recess. Bring a new shirt if necessary, but definitely reapply deodorant at lunchtime. Especially after sport. Let’s face it, it’s just unprofessional to stink in general.
- Don’t overdo makeup, cover tattoos and tone down jewellery. Especially large tattoos on women and large jewellery on men, lol. Look, they will find out everything about you soon enough. Just wear a long-sleeved shirt for the first week. Makeup should be natural-looking and easy enough to be consistent with. If you wear lipstick, wear it every day, and reapply, or go without. And leave your Amy Winehouse eyeliner for the weekend. Kids these days appreciate a more natural look, and you’ll seem more approachable to more people.
- Have the room ready. You need to spend some hours before your first class making your room look like somewhere you want to hang out. If it looks like you don’t want to be there, why should the students want to be there? Put up relevant posters, nature images, famous quotations, year and unit plans for easy referral, a section ready for work from each class, etc. Have needed stationery items ready so you don’t have to rummage or run off to get things. Have a tray or box for each class so that everything is accessible and doesn’t get lost.
- Have housekeeping items and paperwork ready. No point looking good in your nice clothing if you spend the first 15 mins scrambling for papers and going, ‘hang on, just let me..’ They’ll think you’re incompetent and lose faith in you. Have class lists ready, have your class expectations ready, have your computer on, have pertinent information written on the board, have resources copied, know how to enter the absences, etc. You need to be onto it with this stuff so that you can focus on the important things.. the kids.
- Learn names. Make little signs for the desks, play a memory game, or take a photo (with permission) to study later. The faster you learn names, the faster you will gain control and respect in your classroom. It is oh-so-important to use student names when doing discipline, and if students think you don’t know who they are, they will play up more. Get them down pat by the end of the first week, and try to learn the names of the loud kids on the first day. Yes, your brain will explode, especially for senior school teachers who have to learn 120 names. But yes, it will be worth it.
- Have a fun diagnostic activity ready. You want this to be equal parts interesting and challenging. They want to feel like your class will be enjoyable, but they also want to know you’ll be able to teach them effectively. Don’t just talk for an hour on the first day – boring! Have some practical tasks with a range of questions so you can quickly see where they are at. There need to be at least a couple of questions that are too hard for them, so they get the message that this class will require them to step up to the next level. It will also give advanced kids a chance to show you who they are, and they want to be recognised early. Other kids just want to know that it will be relevant and doable, so there need to be some areas for opinion and creativity. Your first items of work need to be pitched correctly or you’ll lose them from the start.
Forget ‘Don’t smile till third term.’
- Be the 3 Fs – firm, fair and fun. The kids want to know you’re fair, firm, and in control of your classroom. But they also want to know you’re approachable, fun, and willing to listen. Being too much of a strict schoolmarm or master will suck the fun out of life, and goodness knows school does that too much already. So on your first day of school, you need to establish yourself as the teacher without acting like you have a stick up the proverbial posterior. Greet them warmly, get their names right, laugh at yourself when you mess up, smile. First impressions, remember? But..
- Be ready to pounce on the first testers. If you’ve just finished discussing how you’ll handle poor behaviour in your room, them you’d better follow through when the first kids step out of line and get a bit overexcited, and they will. Be ready. Give them a big smile, say, ‘Well done, Jimmy, you have just earnt yourself the very first warning on this class! Lucky you.’ And hopefully they will look embarrassed as other kids giggle a bit. If not, follow through with your discipline plan without blinking. If need be, get them out in the corridor and be like, ‘Really, Jimmy? How do you think your parents are going to feel if I have to call them on the first day to tell them you can’t be bored controlling yourself? Is this really the first impression you want to make??’ And then make sure they wait out there a little while when it sounds like you’re having fun inside, just to make sure they realise they’d rather be inside having fun. Be consistent. Be the same to all students. No free rides, no first day chances. If you’re going to be able to be fun, you must also be firm. One allows the other. If you find the class is getting too relaxed, you are probably being too ‘fun.’ Find the balance line needed for each class.
And lastly.. don’t expect them to remember too much from the first couple of days. Every single teacher is going to be bombarding them with copious amounts of paper and information. The best and most important thing you need to do is to create a positive first impression that starts your class off on a good foot. The rest will follow. Good luck!