26 Aug

With the incoming of the 2019 cohort of Teach Firsters, we thought it would be perfect timing to outline what our first lesson looks like (or at least provide some general pointers). We all present slightly different ideas, and as with all teaching and natural variation between teachers, there is no steadfast rule to ‘how to do your first lesson’. 

In this blog post, I presents my ideas for my first lessons with new classes.

I have revisited this one as I am about to move schools; this will be crucial to ‘setting out my stall’ for all my classes. The power of relationships in teaching is at the core of my first lesson. At forty-one, I don’t have to establish a defined distance between students and myself in the same way someone in their early twenties does. I do have to work on nurturing the relationships a little more in order to build trust with them though.

Threshold: My lesson starts with me greeting students at the door. Using “threshold” I greet my students with a cheery demeanour – crucial when you’re a bearded ex-soldier that belts out “Good Morning” like Brian Blessed waking you from a heavy night out. Confidence at your door way sets the tone for the classroom; you are in charge, this is your room, no matter how long you’ve been at the school. Clear instructions are given to the students in small groups as they enter – Remember this Army acronym: Clear. Loud. As an order, with Pauses. Make sure the students are clear of your expectations ready for the start of your lesson, and the register. I hand students a “Do Now”, with clear instructions on it – this engages them in thinking ready for the lesson, and occupies them during the register.

Starter task: “Do Now” – This will be a quick intro to themselves. Name, where they live, number of siblings, two interests they have. I then share similar information during the ice-breaker.

Register: Before I start the register I use my standard ‘queue for quiet’ – Starting of with my hand in the air with all digits extended I shout “SILENCE IN FIVE”, counting down to “one” said at a suitable level for that class, depending on their level of volume. Once I have one-hundred percent of their attention, I set out my expectations for the register. For this new school year I will incorporate the school’s own expectations. I explain why I want silence during the taking of the register, and how it is quicker to do in silence. The appropriate response (school expectation) is “Here, Sir” in a loud and clear voice. I then check for understanding, before commencing with the register.

Setting out my stall: Here I make sure my basic expectations are made clear before moving on. I remind the students of the school’s expectations, and introduce my own. It’s essential to make sure you contract this with them at the very beginning. Let them know your “queue for quiet”, and the appropriate way to respond to it. How you expect them to work, move about the school if you are taking them to another room, what to do when you ask them all to take out their red pens etc.  Perhaps being in the military has given me a different perspective on how to achieve this; drilling students on what you want them to do, and having a consistent approach means you can move through a lesson more quickly.

Ice-breaker: This I try to do in a relaxed way. I have a MS PowerPoint slide of me as a Y7, and then in the Lower 6th (yes, I really have aged myself there!) – I tell them where I grew up, what I wanted to do when I was at school and how I ended up a teacher. I tell them about my children, and my partner (who is a midwife serving the same community). Then I ask them to speak to their neighbour, so that they can share their own information with someone they know, before going around the room trying to learn names and facts. **I am notoriously rubbish at remembering names, I always apologise beforehand!**

Lab Safety: This one is particular to the Scientists, and in my laboratory (I do not teach in a classroom!) I explain that we are all scientists – here begins Mr Hill’s development of science capital. I run through the lab safety rules and discuss them as a class: Why do we do this? What impact does this have in a lab/on others/on ourselves? What Health and Safety is. This is where I tell the class a story of how not listening to similar rules led to the death of a lad not much older than them. I won’t go into detail here, but it is sufficiently gory to stick with them and helps foster a culture of personal and collective responsibility in a lab.  This normally has a task associated to it, in the form of an “Identify the unsafe practice” picture being annotated with the rule being broken.

Assessment for learning (AfL): Now I test the class on the task, and try to recall names! I will fail…They will correct me.

Dismissal: This is often forgotten about. Explain how you want them to leave the room. How you want your books left, chairs/stools tucked under the table, any belongings collected. Make sure you say “Goodbye” as cheerily as you greeted them. Dismiss your class under your terms – never let it be an unorderly bundle for the door.

Other tips:

Seating plans – I deliberately haven’t addressed these as so many schools dictate policy on them. Personally I make sure I know where my SEND and Pupil Premium (PP) students are sat. In schools with very high numbers it may be easier to recall who isn’t PP. I try to avoid friendship groups sitting together. This cuts down on chatter, but also extends their experience of others in the school community outside of cliques. Everyone works with their lab-partner; no excuses.

Sharing personal information – Don’t share anything you don’t want the kids to know! My first name isn’t a secret. I do this deliberately, so it removes the mystery and takes away the power some students feel they have by calling you by it to get a rise.

Don’t take yourself too seriously – “Don’t smile until Christmas” is the worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard. It is going to be a testing time establishing yourself as a teacher new to their school. Don’t let them see they have got to you if they do. Laugh at your own mistakes, and make them; let student see that we all make mistakes, and model how to cope with them.

Big hitters – Find out the social dynamics of any groups you have. Who are the big hitters – those who can influence the direction of the class. Get them onside early on, and you will see class behaviour meet your expectations quickly.

Originally posted in the "pintsizedpedagogy" wordpress blog - July 2019

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