Getting to know you | Education Support Partnership

Getting to know you

Building relationships with a new class of students (and their parents!) is something every teacher has to do throughout their career. Here are some tips to make it work well for you.

As the new school year starts, students and pupils are often anxious about their new teacher and knowing they’ll have to get used to a new person for the following school year. And there is plenty advice out there about how teachers can ease students into a new class and school year and help to remove some of the anxiety.

However this can be an equally daunting time for teachers and teaching assistants. It’s a leap into the unknown for everyone, a bit like first-day nerves every September! But it’s part of a teaching career, something you have to face every year. And if you’re an NQT, you’ll have to face this more than once in your first year as a qualifed teacher as you move around schools to get teaching experience in different environments.

So what are the best ways to build relationships with your new class?

Meeting the students

If you can, try to meet your new students ahead of classes starting. A brief  “getting to know you” session which breaks the ice ahead of the official start. You could even try owning your own sense of trepidation: “Are you nervous about your new teacher? Well I’m nervous about meeting you too!” Don’t worry that this may make you seem weak - it’s a sign of strength to be open about fears; hiding them or pretending they don’t exist isn’t the strong thing to do.

It’s possible you already know something about the new class coming to you. Maybe their former class teacher has commented about them or maybe you’ve heard rumours around the school about them? Perhaps other teachers are giving you pitying looks? While it’s useful to know something about the students you’re about to inherit beware these kind of “war stories” that are a feature of most workplaces. Try to keep an open mind about your new students no matter what you may have heard about them. If you go in expecting this class to be particularly challenging, this will put you on your guard. Try to be positive and receptive. And even if your new class or set of subject students was difficult for the previous teacher doesn’t mean they will be for you.

Start as you mean to go on. Make it clear you will be firm but fair. It’s always easier to set strong boundaries at the outset of a class then relax them a bit than to start off relaxed in the hope the students will like you only to have to back peddle furiously to try to gain their respect. Children like boundaries. They may not recognise they do nor ever say so but they like the feeling that a teacher is in control; it makes them uneasy if they feel they’re the ones in control. They want you to take charge, in much the same way theatre audiences want the performers to be strong and confident so they can relax and enjoy the performance. For pupils, it’s a similar feeling.

Let your pupils know from the beginning that you have positive expectations of them. Some studies suggest expectations of teachers has a direct impact on pupil behaviour. Your students will sense if you value them and respond to this.

Meeting the parents

You may not have to meet all the parents in a new class but you’ll definitely be meeting some of them. If you can do this ahead of the first parents’ evening, it will make life a lot easier but it will also help you to focus on children’s specific needs and challenges. Seeing the pupil as part of their family can make an enormous difference and be very empowering.

Education coach and mother Nicole Ponsford says teacher/parent engagement is part of the job. “The most important thing you can do is to recognise working with parents as an opportunity,” she says in a teacher’s guide to handling parents. Don’t dismiss parents’ concerns, she advise. Listen to what they’re saying and respond to what you hear, rather than simply offering warm words of reassurance. See parents as allies - you all want the same thing for their child to do well.

You probably won’t see all the parents of pupils in your new class. One teacher told us, “We never see the parents we really need to see!” See if you can encourage the more reluctant parents to meet with you, or maybe just have a chat on the phone. Some parents will have bad memories of their own time at school and may be nervous or even afraid of meeting their child’s teacher. They may think you’ll tell them off or embarrass them up in some way. Just understanding this dynamic may be at work can help you approach parents.

On the reverse side of reluctant parents are the overly enthusiastic ones. At least you’ll have no trouble meeting them. Again though, be understanding. Hear what they’re saying. Reassure them but don’t just use pat phrases. Heavily involved parents will recognise a brush off a million miles away! To ensure you’re really listening, try saying back to them exactly what they’ve told you so for example, “I hear you’re concerned that Jane/John isn’t getting enough homework/attention. That there are disruptive pupils in our class. Here’s what we can do to work together on that.”

We’re here to help

If you do find your new class daunting and difficult or at times find the challenge too great, please remember we are always here to help. You can phone our helpine on 08000 562561 at any time. Our counsellors are very experienced with all issues arising from education and their help is free. Many teachers who’ve faced a difficult class have found it easier to carry on after talking to one of our telephone counsellors.