Common teacher mistake #4

Common teacher mistake #4: Too much enthusiasm on the first day.

My first year, I was wrongly under the impression that my task on the first day was to ‘wow’ my class and get their attention.

As good as this sounds at first, it’s the absolute wrong thing to do and here’s why:

When you try to ‘wow’ them, you run the risk of them thinking at the end of the class, “Wow, that teacher doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Students want to learn so they want to be taught by experienced teachers, or at least people who can act like experienced teachers. But experienced teachers are never very enthusiastic on the first day. Why? Well first becuase they are annoyed that the summer went by so fast and they’re back at school for another marathon year. This doesn’t mean that they’re burned out. They may love their jobs. But they love the relaxing paid summer off a little more.

I’m never enthusiastic on the first day. I’m somewhat annoyed. Besides being annoyed that the summer is over, I’m annoyed that I’ve got to do all kinds of paperwork with the students. I’m annoyed at the ‘alternative bell schedule’ that happens on the first day. I’m annoyed that I’ve got 4 kids in period 1 and 40 in period 2 and the counselors had better ‘balance’ my classes soon.

The first day is boring and predictable, and that’s what students expect. I teach secondary so it’s pretty easy to be intentionally boring on the first day since the first day is just one period in each class. If you’re teaching elementary, you’ll have a lot more time to fill, but still, don’t make it too exciting. You’ll reveal how new you are if you do. Remember, the school year is a marathon. Veterans don’t sprint the first mile, they conserve their energy. You want you classes to recognize that you’re acting somewhat like a veteran.

On the first day I like to get the students into their assigned seats (Alphabetical order by last name.), have the students fill out their info cards (no cute questions on them, just the usual stuff), and give a diagnositic individual activity for the rest of the time (so I can practice learning the names). That’s enough for forty-five minutes.

That first activity isn’t intended to be very fun. The way I see it, there’s no way that you’re going to be always able to make an activity that everyone in the class finds fun. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you EVER make an activity that everyone finds fun. So at one point, each student is going to have to learn that there will be times when the activity isn’t that fun, but you have to work on it anyway. And what better way to teach that on the first day than to make something that NOBODY finds fun?

Keep thinks simple, predictable, and risk-free on the first day. It’s like the opening credits in a movie. It’s just the way all movies start and nobody expects anything different. Different makes kids uneasy.

Other things you should avoid since they’re too ‘enthusiastic’ and make kids feel like you’re not a real teacher:
1) The icebreaker — Ice is your friend. It enables you to conduct your first few days more easily. That ice will break eventually, with or without your help. It will break and then it will melt and start flooding the room. Then it will warm up and eventually come to a temperature that will boil you like a lobster. Why speed up that process?

2) Demonstrate the rules by having the students role-play what it looks like when someone’s obeying the rule and what it looks like when someone is disobeying the rule — I don’t need anyone seeing what it looks like when someone disobeys my rules. Especially if they do it in a funny way.

3) Behavior contract — It’s a waste of time. If they’re going to ignore your rules, they’re going to ignore your behavior contract. And you’re going to have to deal with the 40% of student who don’t bring them in.

4) Inspirational speech — It reveals that it’s your first year and doesn’t really inspire them. It worries them that you’re not going to be able to control them and that they’re not going to be able to control themselves. Not very inspirational. (See my post on ‘investing’)

P.S. Thanks to all the CMs who have e-mailed me or posted nice comments. It really means a lot to me, especially after 13 years of TFA telling me that there’s no advice that I can give to the CMs that they haven’t already learned at the institute. I’m supposed to be meeting with a high ranking TFA person later this summer, and I’ll be sure to show him these notes.

This entry was posted in Common Teacher Mistakes, Teach For America, Teaching Advice. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Common teacher mistake #4

  1. jtillotson says:

    If anyone told me there was nothing you could teach me after Institute, I’d laugh in their face. It’s nice to have the perspectives of people like you who have been there before, and most everyone I’ve met at Institute is clamoring for more.

  2. Pingback: Teaching College English » New Teacher Mistake?

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