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3 Tips for the First Class of the Term

The beginning of the school year can be a stressful and busy time for teachers. Today I would like to talk about what you can expect from the start of April, and then share some tips for the first class of the term.

It is not uncommon for schools to finalise their timetables a few days before classes themselves start, making it very difficult for teachers to plan lessons and adequately prepare teaching material for their students. For native English teachers it can be a time of great change. Textbooks are changed often in schools, and the English program always seems to be changing and evolving.

Spring break can be one of the busiest times for teachers in Japanese schools. In fact, most Japanese teachers have no break between the end and the start of the academic year. Before classes even start there are usually training days for teachers starting around the first week of April. These can involve anything from a meeting or two within the department, to a whole school training where all teachers are expected to attend and participate in. It is only after the training(s) that teachers can really get down to planning lessons and making necessary materials in preparation for the start of classes.

After all of this come several ceremonies for new students and the whole school to mark the start of the new academic year. At these ceremonies new teachers are introduced and the principal will outline the year to come with their aims and expectations.

Finally classes themselves start. As anyone who has worked in a school before, the first week of classes can be a nerve-wracking time for the new students and teachers. A class of brand new faces can be a daunting task for any teacher, and for new 1st year junior high students, seeing a teacher who is obviously not Japanese can be an unnerving experience.

First classes are all about first impressions. They are a chance to show your style as a teacher and let the students know what is expected of them in your classes. The problems can start if you give the wrong impression. Trying to be a friend to the students rather than a teacher - they might see you as a pushover. On the flip side, being too strict - they might see you to be a strict disciplinarian… that they will enjoy rebelling against.

Just as every teacher has their own style of teacher, every teacher also has their “first class” routine.

Here are my top 3 tips for the first class of term:

1) Try to speak as clearly and as slowly as possible; even slower than you would do in regular classes. Hopefully the students will not feel daunted or overwhelmed about taking your class. You’ll be able to gauge their level pretty quick, and can adjust to ‘normal’ speed accordingly

2) Do some kind of activity that involves the whole class contributing in some way, and make use of group work. If your class is junior high 1st year, do ice breaker activities as the kids come from various schools and will not even know one another.

3) Set out some ground rules, or better yet get the students to decide them. If you are team teaching this is much easier, and senior high students are also easier, but make sure that everyone knows the rules and the consequences for breaking them.

Now it’s your turn to add any addition tips!

Please do so in the comments section, and hopefully we can all learn more and grow as teachers.

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