Saturday, 3 September 2016

That first blooming lesson and bleeding learning names

I have taught many first lessons in my time. In fact, I have taught more than a decade’s worth of first lessons. And, I have tried everything and anything to start off with the right foot. This week and next week lots of teachers are spending time thinking about how they are going to place their newly bought Clarkes’ shoes in the classroom.  

In the past, I have started with a quiz, a list of rules, bingo, dance, drama, signing a contract, ice-breakers, some activities so students learn more about each other, an activity so students learn something about the subject, a writing task so students can show me something about their personality and many more.

Why is it that the first lesson with a class has become such a weighty thing? It has become an important all singing and dancing phenomenon. It has become all glitz and fizz. I recall one colleague who spent thirty minutes of the first lesson learning everyone’s name. The message it conveyed about the teacher was that the teacher was very smug at learning names. I just know the teenage Chris would be there sitting thinking, why do I need to sit through this? I have been at school with this kids since primary school.

Next week, half a week will be wasted in lessons while the teachers get to know the students. There will be students who will spend half a week waiting to learn something new while a teacher shares their love of kittens with the class. There will be students having to listen to a teacher work out the difference between Wayne Thomas, Wayne Tomkins and Wayne Jackson. There will be students having to listen to the bleeding, sob stories of how a teacher never had a pen at school, so that’s why he is teaching the blighters in front of him today so they don’t have to suffer as he once did. There will be students having to listen to the teacher boast how they have a PhD and their first book is coming out in December.   

The first lesson introduction is the biggest waste of education time known to man. In primary school, it is a different picture. However, secondary schools have this hidden waste of time, energy and name labels. Over the course of a few days, teacher after teacher feels the need to connect with the class and learn names.

We all want to make a good impression, but do we give our subjects the best first impression? I don’t buy that the first lesson is the most important lesson. Relationships are built up over time. You can’t connect with people instantly. Look at how politicians try and fail with that one particular aspect. You’ll not learn anything meaningful from that first lesson if you focus on making connections. You might learn that Britany likes kittens and has seven of the cute fluffy kittens at home. You learn that Bradley like killing little creatures. The result of learning those two facts is that Britany and Bradley will not make a suitable couple in the future and it is best if they don’t sit next to each other.

I build relationships and connections with people through shared experiences. I learn about the students through watching them participate in different experiences in lessons. I understand Martin’s frustration at always jumping the gun. I understand Carl’s wicked sense of humour because he always asks the same question of a text. I understand them because I experience the same things as them.

I am terrible with learning names; I am useless at it. I live in fear I might bump into people in public as I lack the ability to keep and hold a name in my brain. My worst experience was as a student teacher. I had the misfortune to introduce a teacher to another student teachers. I couldn’t remember either teacher’s name. Hi… this is… and this is …. I think you’ll get along. Over the years, I have got better at learning names. I just struggle when there are fifteen Jordans and seven Olivias. Oh, and there is always that one student who isn’t that there is different way to pronounce their name. Sir, you need to put the emphasis on the e. Okay, Ben.

Anyway, over time, I have learnt that I learn the personality first and then attach the name. Of course, I use seating plans, but I learn the person first and then the name. I know it sounds a bit wishy wash, but for me it helps. Teaching is a complex thing and a minefield of egos, fears and worries. Rush in and you misjudge the person. Being friendly to students in the first lesson and giving them a nickname might be great, but it is also thoughtless. The girl you nickname smiler for their inability to smile or laugh at your jokes could be having a tough time. You would only know things like that over time.  

So before you put pen to paper or switch on the laptop, think. You will learn more from your students by getting them to work instead playing crazy games involving paper, glue and newspaper. A relationship is developed over time and not instantly. If your only concern is getting the students to like you, change jobs. Some might like you. Some might not. The fact that they like you or not is pretty immaterial. The important things is respect. A relationship is about respect. You’ll not get respect by reciting everyone’s name. You’ll not get respect by sharing your hobbies. You’ll get novelty value. The teacher equivalent of Wagner! Respect is all about time and how you behave.  It isn’t about which foot you put first or what colour socks you wear.

Here’s my lesson plan for the first lesson:

Good morning. I am Mr Curtis. The beard is real. It’s here to stay. You know the rules.  Now open the book.

Thanks for reading,



  1. I quite agree. Most of the students are wandering from one expectations lesson to the next. I've gradually whittled down the opus to two rules taken from a teacher's book - 'Be nice' and 'work hard'. That's enough to start with.

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