Two of the research projects I have directed studied primary and secondary teachers during the first weeks of the school year. It was fascinating to see how seasoned campaigners and newcomers handled the situation.
One noticeable feature was what is sometimes called "the presentation of self" - how teachers come over to pupils during first encounters. Firm but friendly was the mood that many tried to strike. The two Rs that seem to matter a great deal are "rules" and "relationships".
Skilful teachers establish rules effortlessly, without haranguing pupils or reading out a long list, and are consistent in enforcing them. Children want to know what kind of person you are and what sort of relationship they are likely to have with you. Do you seem enthusiastic about what they will be doing, giving them something to look forward to? Are you genuinely interested in children as individuals, taking the chance to chat, as well as teach them? When you say, "Don't be afraid to ask if you don't understand," do you mean it?
Case law applies from the beginning. If you demand that children put up their hand when they want to speak, then allow them to call out and talk across each other, they will judge you by, and respond to, your deeds rather than your pious words. Find an intriguing activity - a quiz, a challenge, a mystery, a puzzle - something that makes them curious. The message is: you will learn a lot in my lessons and they will be interesting.
If you get the chance, talk to good supply teachers. Many are experts at handling a new class, because they have had so much practice, and you can benefit from their experiences.
Clarity is the key
Relax and try to enjoy being with the children. Then make sure they are clear about your expectations: tell them how you want them to behave, explain what that will look like, and stick with that expectation. Are you clear about what you are teaching them? If so, think about what has gone well and why - and work on your strengths. Finally, ask for advice. You will probably find colleagues more than willing to give practical help. And don't get disheartened or think you are the only one; everyone feels like you sometimes.
Denise Nathan, email
Nip problems in the bud
"Be prepared" should be a mantra for all NQTs. Before your first day, visit the school, perhaps spend some time with staff and familiarise yourself with the environment. You could seek information and advice from experienced teachers.
An NQT is entitled to support from an induction tutor, so do not be afraid to ask. Members of staff will also help you if asked. Information and tips about teaching, classroom arrangements, resources and school policy are worth getting. A plan of action is essential, as well as good rapport with your class.
The bottom line is, anticipate problems and be ready at a moment's notice to deal with them before they escalate. Do not despair. Think about why you wanted to become a teacher and feel proud; after all, you are recently qualified. You will get there - even if not just yet. Things can only get better.
Audrey Farley, Birmingham Prepare for the long haul
Remember to take the long view - you'll be together all year, so start as you mean to go on in establishing your classroom atmosphere. Draw up class rules together, then write them out and have the children draw "road signs" as reminders. Display them promptly - on the first day, if possible - and the children will know you value them and their work.
Remember, too, that many children are as nervous as you, so try to relax. Make sure your lessons and tasks are pitched at the right level, with a good degree of differentiation. That way, you will keep lower-ability children secure while extending the more able, avoiding many potential discipline problems. Smile, be firm, choose a good story to end the day, and remember that by half-term you and they will be feeling well settled down together.
Angela Pollard, Rugby Three steps to heaven
First-week terror is a feeling most teachers can relate to, not just NQTs. After 16 years' teaching, I still spend the final week of the summer holiday having broken sleep with wild imaginings of children rioting, arriving at school partly clothedwithout bookswith my skirt tucked in my knickers.
To prevent the nightmare becoming reality, prepare well.
* Before term starts, establish ownership of the classroom by rearranging furniture, renewing displays and updating signs. Organise a seating plan, taking account of any children with special needs. Keep the plan with the class list, to help you learn names. Having a "handle" on a child gives you some leverage.
* The week before, plan the first week's lessons, with extra tasks for quick workers. Collect all the materials you will need and pack your bag.
* On the first day of term, remember, as with spiders or snakes, they are smallermore frightened than you. Take a digital photograph of each student and print off thumbnail pictures of the whole class to keep next to your class register.
Finally, keep a sense of proportion and a sense of humour.
Julie Cowdy, email Joan Russell.