Meeting the new class

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it.

It may seem incredible, but it will not be long before another year is over and you will meet your new class. No matter how many times you have done it, this is an anxious event.

I am always aware of a dual audience for that session. The first is the pupils and the second is their families. I want to excite the pupils at the prospect of being a part of my classroom so that they will go home and share that enthusiasm. The tension is that I also want to keep it tight by setting the tone of control; this is essential if the class is to get creative. Striking the balance is extremely difficult. I remember getting it badly wrong one year, being over-firm with a child who was actually a complete dream and, I later found out, spent the summer crying because he "didn't want to be in that nasty teacher's class".

I have found a way of freeing myself up from the need to be instantly entertaining and innovative. I focus the session on a "me-box" presentation, consisting of a shoebox full of photos, objects and souvenirs that say something about my interests and hobbies. The contents range from a photo of my own kids to my favourite CD. The session that follows consists of questions, answers and a chance for pupils to write and draw what they would put in their "me-box" to give me information about them.

Interesting, I hope, but also easy to structure, allowing me to adjust the response according to abilities and personalities with which I am not yet familiar.

The creativity comes in the form of a take-home pack. As each pupil leaves, I give them a plastic wallet full of stuff which gives them a taste of what to expect. There is a letter, which, although addressed to the child, is really aimed at making contact with the families. It includes a photo of me and gives details of some topics covered in the autumn term, with an invitation to research and collect information. I also include some simple recipes, ball-game instructions, maths activities and book-review cards.

Anything that I think could bring some fun as the summer holidays drag on.

The enclosure that has prompted the most interest, though, is a plain postcard, addressed to me at the school. I simply ask the children to mail it to me when they have had a great day. Some post it while on holiday, others after a day out, but it's a thrill to get any, and they make a great first-day display, providing an instant topic of conversation.

Although it is scary, the meeting of the new class does provide an added bonus. No matter what my year has been like, I never feel affection for my class like I do as they return from meeting their new teacher. Whatever else happens, savour that.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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