Settling in a new class – Day 1 of term

Hello stranger!

I won’t apologise for the lack of posts, because quite frankly my life has been uneventful and peaceful with nothing to report. Some times no news is good news, and summer holidays definitely conform to that rule! I have just over one week left before I start my PGCE. ONE WEEK PEOPLE! This has started to terrify me slightly. I’ve been laminating things, buying textbooks and de-cluttering to try and feel as prepared as possible (basically bumbling around, feeling productive but achieving nothing). This has not lessened the stress. The horror stories have started to get to me, and planning an engagement party, looking at flats to buy and thinking about wedding colour schemes isn’t generally the best use of my time during the most hectic year of my life…but hey, I like a challenge.

Anyway, I have done something amazing today. I have conquered what has so far been my biggest teaching fear. I cannot express how much I love teaching, but all along I have had this niggling terror in the back of my mind that one day (hopefully exactly a year from now) I will be left with 30 children I do not know, and all the parents will smile as they wave goodbye and shut the door on me. Leaving me with no where to hide and 30 little faces staring at me. We will have no routine, I will know few names, and I will have to figure out what to do. Ladies and gentlemen I give you the first day dismay. The rest of the school year I think I can grow to manage, even thrive within, but this first day baffles and concerns me. Whats more, I realised a few months ago that most trainees never experience ‘first days’, other then those post-PGCE. By then it would be too late. I did not want to figure out how to settle in a new class on the job. I needed to learn. I needed to feel prepared.

My Plan

To make sure this fear was abolished as quickly as possible, I decided to volunteer at my old place of work for the first few days of term. What a stroke of genius this was! I am no longer a TA there, but who is going to turn down a volunteer? Today was that day, and it felt amazing. The fear has been lifted and I can assure you that it all seems much simpler then I was envisioning in my head.

I shadowed a teacher today who has a few years teaching experience under his belt, and watched as his new year 3’s became settled into their classroom. It was very exciting as I TA’ed this class back during last term when they were just teeny year 2s. So I thought I would document what I have learnt, so that when I have to deal with a brand new class I can reflect on what I’ve witnessed, and hopefully survive the first day!

He said he was going to take a friendly approach to day one, as some of them might be nervous. I had heard lots of jokes about not smiling until christmas, but I was glad this doesn’t seem to ring true. He welcomed his class at the door and directed them to find their peg (all are named) and then take a seat on the carpet. Standard and seamless. Many delighted in seeing the animal picture they had against their name on their peg label and discussing it with forgotten friends they hadn’t seen for weeks. I did a little bit of encouraging to break up the cloakroom crowd after a few minutes and keep the morning moving. In general I was pleasantly surprised to see that behaviour was better then usual, I guess because children were daunted by a new teacher, and wanted to impress.

Once on the carpet the teacher went straight into the register and reading dinner options while a few stragglers joined the classroom. After he explained how we pray in year 3 (this is a faith school so I won’t detail the process, as all schools differ on this)

Once this was out of the way all of the children were asked to find a carpet space next to someone they hadn’t sat next to already. The teacher then handed out a small slip of paper with a numbered question on. There were 30 unique questions, one for every pupil. We listened as the first question was read out. As a class we would then answer it before moving on to the next one. The questions were all typical ones you may ask about class procedure “When can I go to the toilet?” “What happens if my behaviour is very good” and “What should I do if I’m worried?” This got all of the children talking and contributing early on, and I think it was a more enjoyable way of giving them lots of boring information. We’ll see if they retain any of it tomorrow.

Next the teacher took a whiteboard and wrote three facts about himself. “One of these is not true” he told the class. They of course guessed which one, learning a little about their new teacher in the process. The class then collected a whiteboard and went off to a table to write they’re own facts. Each pupil could then test a friend or a teacher to see if we guessed correctly which fact they had lied about.

-Assembly and break time –

Now we were back from break the teacher introduced the next activity, writing about your summer holidays. He told me that he wanted to see where they all were in terms of writing ability and handwriting, so this was an excellent way for him to get an idea of the standard. The teacher modelled a piece of writing for the children, before sending them off to begin their own. This then took us neatly up until lunch time, which was when I departed. I had already planned to just stay a half day, as all of the settling in had occurred in the morning. I would resume this learning experience tomorrow and witness day 2.

My Findings

All in all this was not scary at all. I had a fantastic morning and it felt amazing to be back in the classroom after a summer off. Almost like coming home.

From what I have seen today I have learnt not to expect too much from day 1 of the school year. There’s is bound to be an assembly, and there is so much information to get across to your pupils that it will most likely just be a day to know get to know each other. However, as always structure is key. A few small activities will break up the day, and it is always best to not keep the children sitting on the carpet for too long – don’t set them up for a behaviour failure!

Having a well organised classroom is a must. The cloakroom was simple to navigate and everything looked inviting and immaculate. This meant that the children pretty much knew what they needed to be doing when they first got into the classroom. It is obvious you need to put your bag on the peg with your name on it, if all the pegs are labelled clearly. If your writing/colouring/pencil sharpening equipment is displayed neatly on each table, no one will need to ask where to find things. Because of this it quickly felt like the children were right at home in their new classroom. This definitely seems self-explanatory when reading it over to myself, but I think sometimes we take for granted the point of classroom organisation because we’re so used to all classrooms being organised in a similar way (at least I do).

It’s important to get all of the necessary information across to the children, but this is long and potentially boring. Doing this in a fun and interactive way is a must for me. This seemed to be very effective, and will be top of my list when planning my future first day. Also, make sure you’re telling the children the right information at the right time. Don’t overload them with things they don’t need to know just yet, like where their exercise books are kept. Are they using them yet? No? Well tell them when the time comes.

Finally I’ve learnt that doing your research is important. Not just into the character of your new pupils, but also into the history of their teachers. Have they had a disruptive previous year? If so their behaviour may be more disruptive as a result. You aren’t going to work miracles on the first days or even weeks of term, but if you are expecting a difficult class then at least your prepared and can plan accordingly to tackle behaviour. This particular class was expected to behave beautifully and they did not disappoint. However another teacher was welcoming a much more challenging class today. She was prepared though and has spoken to many members of staff to get a feel for what areas she should expect to work on.

I hope that was useful to someone. It certainly has been for me! The new term terror has well and truly gone. It will always be incredibly daunting, but I’m glad I’ve had this experience to look back on when the time comes. Now I can enjoy my last few days before my PGCE, finishing the last few pieces of prep work and sleeping. Sleeping I hear is something to be savoured before embarking on a teacher training year!

If you’ve gone back to work this week how did it go? And what are your tips for tackling a new class?




3 thoughts on “Settling in a new class – Day 1 of term

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