For a long time I thought the key to making a good first impression was being “nice”… if only it were that simple. Below you’ll find 10 ideas to help re-investigate how you introduce yourself, your course and your classroom environment. Please feel free to agree, disagree and share your valuable reactions in the comments.
1) IMPRESS THEM BY NOT PRESSING
Impression comes from Latin imprimere which means “to press onto or upon”. Who needs pressure when first making an acquaintance? With this in mind, there is no need for fireworks in that first class. My two cents: grow slowly on your students. Resist over-doing it, or sharing too much of yourself in the beginning. Keep them wondering.
2) MATCH THEIR FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
As they come in you can greet them individually. Smile with your eyes, and if they smile at you, meet that expression equally. Again, my philosophy is to grow slowly on them so that means meeting them wherever they are and building from there.
3) DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Never would I have imagined I’d repeat that phrase, and yet it has its truth in certain circumstances. I am someone who prefers to dress down. Comfort over style… crocs, shorts and t-shirt in the summer.
However, how we appear is one of the most important things about a first impression, so we might as well start off on the right foot (or a common foot). Take care to dress to typical standards for your cultural setting and if you decide to wear something new, wear it around the house for a day or two so you feel comfortable in it on that first day.
4) BE EASILY UNDERSTOOD LIKE MY MOM
Tons of international friends have visited my family in the US and they have always been blown away at how easily they communicate with my mom. Her enunciation, the words she chooses, the way she connects to see if that person is understanding… her PATIENCE. I’ve learned a lot from my mom, just as she did from her mother. A family of teachers, we are. Read your students’ expressions and know whether you need to turn the English knob more towards “easy” or more towards “they get it!”
5) DO YOUR HOMEWORK
A) Know your students’ culture. If you’re new in an environment, it might help to read a book exploring some of the intercultural differences.
b) Meet them on their level. EXAMPLE: if you’re teaching abroad, you could choose to provide a quote or two in the students’ native language. Using an anecdote from their culture demonstrates two things: 1) that you’re also on the language-learning path and 2) that you accept their culture and hence them. (If you’re a NNEST teaching in your homeland, please feel free to leave a tip about how you identify with your local students while still bringing a foreign language to the table.)
6) ENGAGE THEM AND ENRICH THEIR CONNECTIONS
It’s very important to show our students we accept them and the previous 5 steps will help (and hopefully they’ll accept us too!). But that’s not enough to develop a successful classroom rapport; we need them to approve the learning environment and each other as well. So, you’ll want to prepare some fun, engaging activities, warmers, or ice-breakers for that first class.
Here is the wonderful crowd-sourced August blog carnival with TONS of great activities to choose from. A true gold-mine of resources!
7) GIVE THEM A CLEAR MAP
Students are curious about you and their classmates, but they also want to know where the class is headed. Explain this to them in a simple and brief manner. Hit on classroom experiences that you’ve historically seen as “winners” with previous classes. This may also be a good time to let them know what their role will be in the months ahead. Empowering them early on can really change the classroom dynamic.
8) WHAT DOES YOUR CLASSROOM FEEL LIKE?
How are chairs arranged? What do you have on the walls? Could it be more welcoming, more student-centered, more open?
9) LEAVE THEM HANGING with a … to be continued …
Whether it’s Charles Dickens’s weekly installments of “A Tale of Two Cities”, Modern Hollywood films or TV shows, the wily writer will leave their audience wanting more by finishing with a “cliffhanger”.
When you draw that first class to a close, leave them with something that will make the next class something they really don’t want to miss. Possibly introduce an activity for which the final result or conclusion will have to wait until the following meeting.
10) PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The best way to make a great first impression is by being a confident and successful teacher. The ideas and community available on the net are amazing for professional development, and Teaching Village is a very, very fine example so I wholeheartedly recommend you subscribe and follow Barbara’s PLN starter list if you’re on twitter.
Brad Patterson has been a language teacher for over a decade and is a passionate language enthusiast himself. These days, he is the social media manager for an English Language-Learning Publisher called Edulang. You can find him on twitter or at his blog about ELT and other language musings, a journée in language.