[BTW: Hm. A bit of a reach here with this one. Which is to say, I’ve been overly prescriptive. Surely there are as many good ways to interact with students as there are students.]
I’ll receive kids in a week, which means it’s time to figure this out.
With more experience I have become more intimidated by the first day of school. I know what it implies, and it implies far worse than “no second chance to make a first impression,” a maxim best applied to amiable strangers.
Because your kids are not amiable strangers. The older they are, the more you must account for the carelessness of their past teachers. By high school, many students are only curious if you’re one of the teachers who likes them or one who hates them
Worse, many would prefer to find out you hate them. It is easier for these students to spend a year sparring with an antagonist than confronting the vastness of What They Don’t Know with an ally. These students will assess any curt correction or brusque manner as antagonism.
Clearly, you must construct your initial teaching profile carefully.
The Ideal Teacher Profile
In two sentences, here is the teacher profile that will do you the most good with the most students. Your students want:
a teacher who is capable of unkindness but who chooses instead to be kind, a teacher who is capable of severity but who chooses levity instead.
They don’t want a cruel teacher, obviously, but neither do students appreciate a teacher made of soft edges and kittens, someone wholly unfamiliar with the unkindness they must endure on a day-to-day basis.
Similarly, few students appreciate a morose bore, but neither do they appreciate a chuckling clown, someone who never quite graduated from a desk yet somehow made it to the lectern. They want someone who understands both masks.
You Have Three Seconds To Stop Hiccuping
The best way to find that median is to treat subjective silliness with as much dour objectivity as you possibly can, for as long as you possibly can, without cracking. Take it easy on the heavy stuff and go hard on the light stuff. Keep a loose grip on your rules but angle severe eyebrows at anyone who’d suggest The Jonas Brothers aren’t the best summer band of all time, etc.
This makes you slippery, like Teflon to kids who’d like to pin you down as a hater. It buys you time to show them you c*re. Whatever credibility four years teaching has endowed me, I’ll invest it in this: this is the ideal way to start the school year.
It isn’t a bad way to do the rest of the year either.
[BTW: I got one today. A kid came in clowning hard, looking to assert real fast what he was about, looking to find out what I was about. He has obviously rattled other teachers in the past.
I’m not saying I know how this is going to end but I know how I wasn’t going to let it begin. Out of twenty-four students in class, his was the only name I knew. Yet when I was running down the roster taking role, I asked his name just like any other. I wasn’t going to give him any celebrity. I wasn’t going to let him know his circus-act even registered.]