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Karen Lambert

Monash University Lecturer. Addicted and compassionate traveler,

There is quite possibly one single event that has occurred in the lives of the majority of people on the planet and provoked unsettling emotions that linger even today: the first day of school. C’mon, I know you remember it. It’s that one day of your life when you were either exceedingly excited or staggeringly scared for the very first time ever (in your whole life). Either way, you probably almost peed yourself with anticipation or fright, but look… survived.

The funny thing is the first day of class can be equally as unsettling for a new teacher (though now with better bladder control). Some things are naturally taken care of, but that nervously excited fear almost never goes away… especially on the first day of class. Below I tease out five teaching tips to ease you in to your very first time in front of a class.

Tie your shoelaces

In order to avoid or even anticipate the small things that often trip up beginning teachers, make sure you’ve done all the basics before you get to class. These include:

  • Doing extra research on your topic (to answer those curly questions)
  • Planning your class comprehensively and meticulously (so it’s relevant, engaging and informative – it helps to write out some cheat sheets of your notes, as well)
  • Learning as much as you can about your audience (so you know why they need you and what they want to learn)

Part of this involves anticipating (even expecting) things to NOT go to plan. So what’s your plan B should you trip up? My biggest tip here is to be so prepared that you simply expect the unexpected and can comfortably permit the class to go off track a little, but then have the confidence in your content to navigate back onto your learning path.

So tie your shoelaces (in a double knot, if you need) and don’t forget to brush your teeth!

Pack your teaching bag

There’s nothing worse than being disorganised, stressed out, or worse, forgetting your lunch on your first day of class. So make sure you pack your teaching bag the night before. This includes:

  • Rehearsing your class (seriously, you should do at least two practice runs)
  • Organising your teaching materials (get a carry box or small wheelie travel bag, just for your course material)
  • Mentally preparing yourself for making an impact (do things that boost your confidence in the days before your first class)

Students in your class are there for you and you owe them your best self, your best resources, and your even better package of knowledge. My biggest tip here is to overprepare, in terms of resources (e.g., extra pens, paper, highlighters, and maybe even things to stimulate the more tactile learners in the group, like koosh balls, squidgy toys, pipe cleaners, and coloured Post-it notes). This way, you are catering to your learners’ preferred styles of learning, before they even get to your class. Now, that’s planning for everyone.

So pack your bag the night before and don’t forget to grab an apple for the teacher and lollies for your learners. 🙂

Sit in your seat

Arriving at your final destination (your classroom or even the foyer) can often create a little bit of nervous anxiety. Your mind may feel a bit cloudy, your thoughts a bit scattered, and your feelings a little heightened–just like sitting out front of the Principal’s office. So it’s important to take some time on arrival to just sit in your seat quietly. Some skills to help you include:

  • Arriving early to familiarise yourself with the venue and the equipment (and bathrooms)
  • Using basic breathing techniques to control your mental state
  • Having some light food handy to deal with changes in blood sugar level (plus heaps of water)

Sitting quietly in your seat and getting your thoughts and feelings under control will go a long way to ensuring a smooth start to your class. And so, seriously consider the mental strategies that you can use to keep your nerves under control–and don’t forget to leave enough time to sharpen your pencil!

Walk through the class door

Don’t leave any stone unturned, as you set out to teach first your class. When you are confident, your students are confident in you–and this shows on your face and theirs. Before you open the class door to start your first class, be sure you know where you are going and how you are going to get there. Consider:

  • Setting yourself a very clear session aim or goal (gives certainty and credibility to you)
  • Stating the session outcomes/objectives and content right up front (gives certainty to learners)
  • Asking your participants what they would like to achieve in your time together (having learners state their desired outcomes puts them in a ‘towards’ state)

So before you walk through the class door to face your first class, know where are you going and how you will all get there; and don’t forget to say goodbye to the dog!

Stand and deliver

Once the time comes to stand up and deliver your class, try to stick to your plan and remember that you are the expert in the room. It’s your knowledge, skills, or advice that others are seeking out. They are there for you; and so, show them your you in a confident and generous manner.

I’m a firm believer that meticulous pre-planning significantly decreases the nervousness when you stand in front of a class for the first time and deliver your first words. My biggest tip here is to keep your why and your passions at the heart of what you are saying and doing.

There is a first time for everyone and everything and so, my final advice would be to remember your own first day at school. And then, put yourself in your learners’ shoes. Remember the anticipation and the fear you had and remember how day after day, class after class, it just faded away. The same will happen to you as a teacher; just be patient and get clear on the passion that you will be sharing, and don’t forget to smile. 🙂

How do you deal with first-day jitters? Share your experiences in the comments.