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Author Topic: My First Classes as a Professional Teacher. EEEK. Advice?
Orincoro
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Tomorrow I have three classes at two different schools, on my first day as an official teacher in Prague.

The first two classes is on the edge of prague 19, 12th grade (equivalent) students, where I will be co-teaching with a full time instructor who is a native Czech, which is a common arrangement in this country, as often the Czech teachers are better at teaching grammar and knowing the needs of the students, but they can be weak on pronunciation and fluency. I am expected to come and be introduced to my classes, and talk about any subject, conduct a conversation with the class, and gauge the level/ get to know the students.

My other class is an after school program with 5 girls in the 5th grade, where I will be the only teacher. Again, this is a conversational environment where I am meant to have games and opportunities for teaching that are not guided by a book. The other teachers play chess and cards, board games, watch movies, etc, with small lesson aims, like a small vocabulary set connected with winning the game.

My question is, for my first lesson, what advice can those with some experience impart on me about this defining moment? If the meetings go well, it will be easier for the next 7 months because I will be meeting with these same students every week for all that time. What kind of warm up exercises would you suggest for the classes, and what should I talk about, given that I have an open forum for my first class at the high school and can talk about anything I want?

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Lostinspace
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Do a getting to know you to start out. Especially in this form its a great way to let the students know about you and get to know them better too. I usually start the year off with a me bag where the students put things about themselves in and share with the class but I know that since you want something the first day maybe you could come with your me bag and share with them and then ask them to share something unique about themselves.
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ketchupqueen
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Don't flirt with the students. [Wink]

(I had a teacher who did. ICK. He eventually got fired despite his tenure. However this is neither here nor there since I didn't think you would, and it was a joke. Anyway...)

My guess is that fifth graders would love to talk about themselves. Most of the ones I've worked with do. They also would probably be really interested in your life (especially your life in America.) That's a prime age for exclusionary and cruel behavior so try to make sure that they stay focused on the lesson most of the time and make sure everyone is participating/included.

No clue on 12th graders, although they may be at an age where they'd be really interested if you helped them connect what they were doing with the real world.

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rivka
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You're there to be their teacher, not their friend. I'm not a believer in the "don't smile for the first 3 months" line of thought, but getting them to like you should be really low on your list of priorities. (And if you are fair, and a good teacher, the ones you want to like you will anyway.) So it's ok to be the authority figure, and insist that they stick to reasonable classroom protocol (which you may want to define, with as few rules as possible, on the first day). I always liked Jim Fay's suggestion: "This classroom has only one rule. It's 'Keep Mr. Orincoro happy.'" And anytime someone does something out of line, just ask them what the class rule is. And give them The Look.

Don't forget to breathe. They probably won't bite. You'll be great!

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Jeorge
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I'm with rivka on this. Being fair is really important, and far more important than trying to be a buddy.

I never bought the "don't smile for 3 months" rule of thumb either, but being firm in your first few weeks means that your students take your expectations seriously, and that lets you relax a bit later on.

Good luck with "The Look." It works well, once you really believe that what you're doing is important, because then the look conveys your disappointment that the student is wasting everyone's time, rather than just the personal anger of being interrupted.

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rivka
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Exactly.
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Liz B
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The corollary of "don't be concerned about getting them to like you" (which is 100% true) is this:

Go in with the mindset that you like *them* a lot and are very interested in them AS PEOPLE, not as students. And because you like them and are interested in them as people, you want to help them to learn X content.

If you don't like them and aren't interested in them, then fake it. [Smile]

Another bit of experience: I taught with the JET program (English in Japan) which sounds not unlike what you're doing. I taught grades 7-9 as an assistant to a lead teacher, and grades 1-6 independently (as a kind of "special," like elementary students in the US have for art or music.) (I also taught ages 3-5 and adults in private lessons, but that's another story.) No matter which class I was in, I very rarely had any kind of discipline problem. Just the fact that I was from a foreign country made me interesting enough that the students were interested in what I had to teach.

So. Go in predisposed to like them--and with the assumption/ hope that they are predisposed to like you--while remembering that the purpose of all this liking isn't to hang out, it's to be productive and learn something.

Good luck! and ganbatte!

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Liz B:
Go in with the mindset that you like *them* a lot and are very interested in them AS PEOPLE, not as students. And because you like them and are interested in them as people, you want to help them to learn X content.

If you don't like them and aren't interested in them, then fake it. [Smile]

Good point.
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Jeorge
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
quote:
Originally posted by Liz B:
Go in with the mindset that you like *them* a lot and are very interested in them AS PEOPLE, not as students. And because you like them and are interested in them as people, you want to help them to learn X content.

If you don't like them and aren't interested in them, then fake it. [Smile]

Good point.
Yes, although, kids are often pretty quick to pick up on a fake, and it won't impress them.

If you can't bring yourself to like them and be interested in them, you're probably heading into the wrong profession anyway, because you'll never enjoy or find your work satisfying/fulfilling. [Smile]

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rivka
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I think it depends what we mean by "fake it". If it's temporary until you can become interested, that's different than faking it all the time.
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Liz B
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What rivka said.

(I typed a longer post, then realized above would more than suffice. [Smile] )

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Orincoro
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Well I met with my first two classes this morning. It was a semi-weird experience because I thought I was supposed to be "introduced" to the class, but instead the Czech teacher handed me some lesson plans, opened the door and said, "there you are." I took Liz's advice- even though I had no (appropriate) stuff to put in a bag, I wrote down ten items that were relevant to my life, such as cities I live in, languages I have studied or speak, or want to learn, pet names, the number of siblings I have, things like that. Then I had the students write down their impressions of my life from just these items before I really introduced myself. They had some interesting responses, and in some cases they were dead on accurate on very little information; one of the students guessed that I had had 4 bicycles stolen in 5 years while I was in college, and that I had studied in Barcelona but only wanted to go to Japan, and that I had lived in England but was born in San Francisco (which some of the students guessed from my accent, while others did not). Most hedged their bets and said I was probably "half English, half American."

The classes were actually quite fun I think. Part of it was that when I came in and sat down, all of the students were standing at attention in their rows. I looked up for a beat, and then said... "good morning?" They said good morning, and continued standing. I said, "have a seat," and they sat. I reacted in such a way as to show I was impressed, but willing to be on a first name basis, and the class really relaxed after that. I kept the mood very light and joked with the students about their answers, their hobbies, and other information I got from them, and I did a complete seating chart and used everyone's name more than once- I have been told this is a subtle but powerful aspect of the classroom dynamic, where students feel respected and acknowledged when their names are used on the first day. I also followed Rivka's advice and showed a lot of interest in what the students were into, what they like and dislike. I asked the students if they were in the class voluntarily, or what, and they told me it was a choice between English, German, or I think Physics, and I just gave a look and went "that sucks," and that got a laugh. Also, according to the main teacher, my students walked around for the rest of the morning saying "awesome," in a California accent. Imitation can be a sincere form of flattery, I hope.

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TomDavidson
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Oh, Lord. You're teaching them Valley English?
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Orincoro
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I don't speak Valley English, I'm from San Francisco. We, as a point of fact, also use the word awesome, but it isn't the valley "awesooommmeee" that you are probably imagining.
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Teshi
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quote:
I'm not a believer in the "don't smile for the first 3 months" line of thought
There's a "don't smile for the first 3 months" line of thought? What genius came up with that one?
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FlyingCow
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Some other little tidbits of advice:

- Don't teach while sitting behind a desk. Stand up, walk around, use the board, approach the students, walk up and down aisles, etc. Try not to teach standing behind a desk either. A desk is a barrier between you and the students.

- I was always a fan of "Do Now" activities to start the class. It got the students' minds working as soon as they came in the door, and would have them engaged as people filtered into the room and found their seats. It shouldn't take any more than 4-5 minutes, but it should tie into whatever you are going to be teaching that day.

- Know your lesson objective. Some people say you should always write your objective on the board to start class, or to use a "KWL" chart (listing what the class "Knows", "Wants to know", and has "Learned"). I think it's enough to really know what your objective for the class period is, and to make sure you gear everything toward that objective.

- I was also a big fan of seating charts. I found it was important to periodically change seating, generally each month. Students that were in the back would be moved toward the front, those by the windows would be moved away from them, etc. It gave a different perspective, but it also let the students know that if they didn't like their seat it would change in a month. It also helped to separate those that should sit near one another, or learn those who *had* to sit in the front or the back in order to learn best.

- If you're using a chalk or white board, try to get different colored chalk/markers. Using color for emphasis is very helpful, and some students remember things a lot better and can differentiate a lot better when things are written in different colors.

There are lots more, but those should help you starting out.

Btw, I also don't believe in the "don't smile for 3 months" line, but then again, I was a tall male teacher who had no problems being the "authority" in the room. I've generally heard this advice given to young, pretty female teachers who don't want to be seen as pushovers or as too "young" or close to the students age (or those that want to avoid students flirting with them). The idea is to set a serious tone and build your authority early, and then relax later on. That's always easier than being too relaxed up front and then trying to get more serious later.

Still, it can make you seem cold and distant, and that's never the impression you want to give off. My advice would be to try to run as tight a ship as possible in the first 1-3 months, and then relax a bit later on. You can always revert to a more serious mood, but it's harder to build one midstream.

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Orincoro
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I imagine it was a guy who didn't smile a lot.

One piece of advice I did reflect on during the class was Jeorge's about "the look." A few of the students were chattering during other people's speaking time, and I made it not about me, getting their attention and directing it to the speaker, and even interrupting the speaker in order to redirect the listeners, before apologizing for my interruptions. The co-teacher was actually surprised when I told her the class went well, because she seemed to think my first group was going to be trouble- a particular guy in the class was even mentioned in the other class as kind of a smart-ass (which he is). The thing was, I honestly liked the guy and found him interesting, and had some good give and take with him when he was contributing, showing him I was also as much of a smart-ass as him, but with much more experience. The whole thing was very positive, and I honestly felt like I came away in a good position to continue.

I also noticed that the class did a bit of the same thing that my teens and camp kids do- they overestimated my age and experience level quite a bit. I didn't give my age or self-deprecate in front of class, but I gauged their expectations of who I was through their predictions about me, and found that they all thought I was in perhaps my late 20's, (not even 24 yet) and that I had been teaching in Prague for several years, and had experience in the states as well.

Most of them were also confident that I spoke Czech, which really was surprising to me. I think they must have had the idea that I would not find myself in a job at a public school if I couldn't. To be fair to them, when I went to my second job at an elementary school in the afternoon, the office lady at first refused to let me in until I could convince her that I knew people there and was meant to be there. Even then, I could barely find the classroom- my Czech comprehension is *just* good enough to understand: "3rd floor, blah blah blah, Mr. Rada's room, left, blah blah blah, okay?" "Ayo" "Blah blah blah Question Mark?" :quizzical expression: "Blah blah, Dobrie, Dobrie, Okay, no problem, third floor."


Most of my conversations in Czech go like that.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Orincoro:
I also followed Rivka's advice and showed a lot of interest in what the students were into, what they like and dislike.

That was Liz's suggestion.

In any case, sounds like you had a pretty good first day.

Awesome! [Wink]

quote:
Originally posted by Teshi:
quote:
I'm not a believer in the "don't smile for the first 3 months" line of thought
There's a "don't smile for the first 3 months" line of thought? What genius came up with that one?
It's actually usually taught as "don't smile until Christmas" (or when I was taught it, Chanukah), and it's as least 30 years old. Probably older. I do know some teachers who use it effectively; I figured out long ago that it was not my style. But the basic idea -- that you have to establish firm authority initially, and can relax a bit as time goes by -- is sound.

quote:
Originally posted by FlyingCow:
I've generally heard this advice given to young, pretty female teachers who don't want to be seen as pushovers or as too "young" or close to the students age (or those that want to avoid students flirting with them).

Maybe. Although when I was taught it, the room was 60% male teachers, and so was the speaker.

quote:
Originally posted by FlyingCow:
The idea is to set a serious tone and build your authority early, and then relax later on. That's always easier than being too relaxed up front and then trying to get more serious later.

Exactly.
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Teshi
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Maybe not smiling at teenagers, but I think those teachers who don't smile at younger children (or only smile at other teachers) look horrible.

I understand the firm ---> more relaxed thing, though. It's hard to re-establish control.

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rivka
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Pretty sure the advice is primarily intended for middle-school and up.
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Belle
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The advice is definitely for middle school up, and it's been given to me more than once as a student teacher in a secondary program.

I think the principle is sound and no one takes it literally as they cannot smile until November. (That's how it's given to me, anyway - don't smile until November but we start school around the first week in August so I guess it's still three months)

I have been told by my supervisor that I will not have many problems because I automatically project authority and competence when I'm in front of a class, but that comes for the years I spent as a corporate trainer. Simply put, you have to "own" the room. It's their education, but your classroom. You are there for them, true - but you cannot be the teacher you need to be to all the students if you allow a few to challenge your authority and disrupt the class. Classroom management is a must, and involves discipline, routines, procedures, etc. to keep things moving along. I have seen young teachers stand up in front of a classroom and it was obvious to everyone they were afraid to be there. Even one of my supervisors in a practicum admitted to me that 8th graders intimidated her and she really wanted to teach younger kids (well, then probably shouldn't have been certified as a secondary teacher, huh?).

The students pick up on that. You have to walk a fine line - balancing authority and competence with authenticity. That means that the students need to always see that you know what you're doing, and have a plan, but that you are also able to admit you're human and occasionally make mistakes.

Teaching is tough. Until I actually got out into the schools and was responsible for planning lessons and teaching them in front of multiple classrooms a day I had no idea how tough. My respect for good teachers rose immensely when I finally understood how hard it is.

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