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Surviving and succeeding in the first year of teaching: Making a positive first impression on your students

surviving-teachingAlex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, SSAT, writes…

In this series we are sharing advice for new teachers from Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School on how to make a success of your early months in teaching. In this fourth piece we focus on how to make a positive and lasting first impression on your students…


Remind yourself that making a positive impression doesn’t mean being popular. Nor do you have to follow the “don’t smile until Christmas” advice of teacher folklore. Instead, you will earn the respect of students by:

  • being a good teacher
  • showing you know your subject well and enjoy communicating it to young people
  • setting clear expectations and sticking to them
  • showing that you are fair and consistent in your expectations
  • behaving in a professional way at all times and maintaining some distance.

Five tips for making a good first impression with students

1: Have your lesson planned carefully. Being on top of all aspects of it will be important. For early lessons, don’t try anything overcomplicated. Good bread-and-butter activities will count for more than a head-dizzying cabaret (eg short but attention grabbing introduction; clear sense of what students will be able to do by the end of the lesson; varied activities; lots of praise; calm but firm discipline, plenary at the end that emphasises what has been learnt.)

2: Think about seating. For some school leaders a seating plan is the number one ingredient in an orderly classroom. It establishes from the outset that the classroom environment belongs to you and that you make the decisions about who sits where. There may be a school policy on this, so be sure to fall in line with that.

3: Procedures and routines matter a lot in teaching. Decide where you will stand as students arrive (at the door is recommended). Greet each student by asking them to remove coats, get books out and sit down in the place of your choice.

4: Remember that students will make a judgement (usually very accurate!) about a teacher within the first minute. So once students are seated, you will want to introduce yourself and the lesson. Insist first that coats are off, bags are on the floor and not on desks, pens/planners on the desk and that no one is holding a pen or pencil. These are some of the ways in which you covertly establish your authority.

5: Introduce yourself. Say that you’re looking forward to teaching the group and helping them to make progress in your subject. Then use the register to say each student’s name, visualise him or her, and add them to your seating plan if not already completed. Knowing each student’s name and position in the room is going to be really important in creating a purposeful atmosphere.

Advice from those who’ve been there and done it

Use seating plans, and create routines, eg the way you line pupils up before they enter your room/how they leave it, so that they know what to expect.
Emily, Comberton Village College

Learn names quickly. With a new class, learn some names before they come in. The kids will be surprised and think you know them all. Always have time for the kids, and listen to them. A pupil doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care!
Darren, The Swinton High School

Find out their interests. Get them to write a profile of themselves (or draw a profile – eg pictures of things that interest them). Learn names – seating plans are essential for this! Try doing a couple of games to help you learn their names.
Rachel, Lady Lumley’s School

There is a difference between being a friend and being friendly. You are the latter with students, the former with colleagues. Set boundaries and follow through with consequences – it gets easier. Students will respect this. Remember to take an interest and praise them – they need it!
Edel, South Wirral High School

Take time to talk to your classes’ previous teachers. Get advice on the seating plan and effective behaviour for learning strategies and get a copy of their last mark book. But don’t let their opinions cloud yours: a new year is a fresh start for everyone.
Christa, Business Academy, Bexley



What are your experiences of your first year in teaching? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Let us know via Twitter with the hashtag #SSATsurvive or in the comments below.

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