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Things I wish I'd known

Sue Cowley begins her personal guide for new teachers. This week: how to get through your first lesson

I can remember my first lesson as though it were yesterday. Stepping into the room felt like going in to face a firing squad. My palms were sweaty, my heart was beating rapidly, and my mind was a complete blank. What the hell was I going to say? How was I going to get them to behave properly, or even to listen to me?

If you're about to take your first lesson as a "real" teacher, don't worry if you're feeling like this. It's normal: most teachers feel terrified at the start of every term. And despite being a so-called expert, I'm still petrified when I walk into a lesson as a supply. But once you get started, the nerves disappear and you soon feel like you've been doing it forever.

It's hard to be confident at first, as there's still so much to learn. You probably don't know exactly what you want from your students. But it's important to remember that the more confident and certain you appear, the more likely it is that they will do as you ask, which is why experienced teachers find classroom management so much easier. They hone their style over the years so that they appear confident and in control.

Success in the classroom is partly about bluff. You don't have to feel confident inside, but your exterior persona should exude self-belief. There is a whole range of things you need to be confident about, such as your expectations of behaviour and standards of work.

And, above all else, you should appear to be confident that the children will do what you say. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you expect the worst, that is probably what you will get. But if you expect your children to meet the highest standards, you may be pleasantly surprised.

The temptation in your first lesson is to plunge straight into the curriculum, and put into use all those fantastic lesson ideas you've developed over the summer. But your best bet is to spend most of the time dealing with admin, setting the ground rules, learning their names, and so on.

Be very specific about what you want: how they should enter the room and what they should do once they get inside; how they should treat you and each other; how you will be using sanctions and rewards.Be totally clear at this stage, then theywill understand exactly what you requirefrom them.

Finally, try to enjoy it. You might feel worried now, but before you know it you'll be halfway through the term and teaching as though you've been doing it all your life.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99

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