First day jitters and joys
As we began planning for our September issue, we were all sure that it had to be special just like our previous issues. What could be better than asking teachers to go down memory lane and recall their first day at school? Was it something to cherish, or did they just want to forget some of the embarrassing moments? For teachers as for children, first days are always a big transition either from one school to another, or a first job for many young teachers with stars in their eyes, waiting to work with children.

For most of them however, the butterflies started fluttering days in advance. They all had a word of advice. While Achamma Abraham suggested one must be prepared for anything, Steven was on the lookout for booby traps in his class and Simona was only too ready to learn from her class children. That is just how each and every teacher featured here built long lasting relationships. Read on, your day is really special.

I get teased by my students about my ‘grand entrance’

Hena Mehta, Mumbai

Hena “Establish respect”, “Let them know who is the boss” and “No, I don’t think they can smell fear” were the answers I got from more experienced teachers two years ago, as I sat trembling at the prospect of being bullied by these heathens other teachers seemed to despise.

Thoroughly petrified at 18, I stepped into the classroom to teach French and the first thing I did was to stumble into class, thus effectively killing all possibility of ever using any glowering stares I’d learnt painstakingly over the summer. I ended up forming a universal alliance with the children, that of shared embarrassment! They realized that teachers weren’t the aliens they thought they were. I’m glad I share an extremely informal relation with my students; learning is more fun this way. Till date, I get teased by my students about my ‘grand entrance’ regardless of what shoes I have on!

My hands and legs were trembling

Tulika Saha

tulika I had been looking forward to it no doubt, but needless to say I was nervous, so much so that my hands and legs were trembling. I walked into the classroom. I thought that I should at least know the names of my students first. I introduced myself briefly and wrote my name on the board, so that there was no confusion in their minds. Then I asked the students to introduce themselves and tell me what they would like to be when they grew up. There were a large variety of answers as expected. Some wanted to be teachers, others pilots, yet others astronauts and so the list went on. Some students requested another turn and changed from astronaut to businessman or a cricketer as their fancy took them. For 10 year olds, it was but expected. At the end of the exercise, they were quite exhausted and there was a moment of total silence. A voice broke through it, ‘But ma’am you did not tell us what you want to be,” said a boy sitting in the front row.

I looked at him for a moment, taken aback by the question. It had been years since anyone had asked me that question. In fact, I had stopped asking myself that question. I had collected a lot of degrees, was married, had a cute son and was a teacher, something I always thought I would be.

The class awaited my reply. I said, ‘I am a teacher.’ ‘No ma’am, what do you want to be later?” the boy clarified. I looked into myself for that minute and answered as honestly as I could. In that moment I realized that becoming a teacher was not the culmination of my aspirations but a part of the journey called life. Life was long and there was enough time for me to become whatever I wanted even after this step. These thoughts flashed through my head in seconds. That moment told me that probably everyday I would learn more from these innocent souls than I could ever hope to teach them! In the words of the great poet William Wordsworth, ‘Child is the father of man.’

I started my class with a joke about myself

Sumati Sanjay, Hyderabad

sumati When I entered the school premises, it was with a lot of expectations, hope and fear. I was greeted by the innocent smiles of children who were skipping along to the playground and I smiled back at them. A staffroom full of strange faces with quizzical looks greeted me. A slip of paper was thrust into my hand. Looking down I saw the timetable and the classes I was going to handle. One of the veterans quipped, “Will you be handling 9 C?” I nodded dumbly. “Best of Luck”, she smirked. I walked into the class and I was sure that they could hear my heart thump. As I wished them, I could see them gauging me. I started my class with a joke about myself. This instantly released the pressure that was building up. The class was immediately ready for the lesson. I had won the first battle, but they were more wars to be fought.

My lesson plan somehow seemed childish

Hema Rajan, Mumbai

Hema I entered the class of 16-17 year olds who had elected to do French in the IB Diploma Program. I felt rather than saw 24 eyes on me. I took in my 12 students even as I coaxed my countenance into a more relaxed one. Theirs’ was one of curiosity and suppressed excitement as the buzz died down to a murmur.

How does a teacher initiate students who had never done French before into the language? All the ice breaking techniques in my lesson plan somehow seemed childish and so put on. Plan B then, I said to myself. The classroom filled with a melodious song by Françoise Hardy on amour, as I switched on the player that I had brought with me. I let the familiar tune wash over the class and soon the class was humming the refrain along. `Hey, cool’ one boy said and I think that was more precious to me than any medal I could ask for. I wore those words for the rest of the day.

I have come to India because the culture has fascinated me

Simona Helmsmueller, Bonn, Germany

simona Sixty ten-year old eyes stare at me as if they want to say, go on, explain the world to us, we believe everything you say. I have come to India because the culture has fascinated me for years and I enjoyed every day of my stay in this amazing country. But standing in front of this class, with a book in my hand I have never seen before, I feel helpless and I realize how far, far away I am from home. The last time I have so much as thought of a geometric problem was probably when I was their age, 20 years ago. I am convinced I cannot do this. For two days I sat in other classes and was overwhelmed with the discipline and good manners of the school’s students. But I have no idea of the usual rules and procedures in Indian schools and I am afraid I will not be able to keep any discipline in my class. But the kids are adorably helpful and patient. If I do not know what to do, I simply ask them and they are eager to help me. In the end it is they who timidly explain their world to me. The minutes fly by and as I feel the kids warming up to me, my heart beat slows down to a normal frequency and even my old geometry lessons come back to me. I am not sure how much the students took with them from this chaotic math lesson, but I sure learned a lot from them. I guess as any relationship the one between students and teachers is two- sided as well, and as we are trying to shape our students, they shape us, too.

I was just told they were a sprightly bunch

Achamma Abraham

achamma I don’t know why I expected rows of freshly scrubbed, quiet faces awaiting my presence! What I got was pandemonium… paper planes whizzing past me, narrowly missing my eye, a small person pounding on a window and somebody else screeching. The scream brought me back to my senses, “Miss..! Miss!”

I craned my neck both ways looking for an adult nearby only to realize that this person was calling me!

I was a temporary replacement for my aunt, teaching Spoken English to a group of eleven year olds. I was just told they were a sprightly bunch (I ought to have looked up the word!) who were a delight to teach as this was a class they had opted for. After the dust had settled down and I got them to introduce themselves, however, they proved to be a delight just like I was promised.

A word of advice to people beginning this profession … keep them occupied and be prepared for anything!

My very first class on the very first day taught me a lot silently, a lesson for my whole life

Kiran Singh, Ahmedabad

I vividly remember my first class as a teacher. I entred the class both anxious and excited. After brief introductions in the class, I started with Premchand’s story “Poos ki Raat”. After discussing the story, I asked my students if they had any questions. One student asked me as to why authors wrote such stories? Why didn’t these farmers (in such stories) start their own businesses if they were suppressed and exploited? Most students agreed with him.

The question was disturbing because this story had moved me to tears but it had failed to earn the empathy of these children. This experience left its indelible imprint on my mind and my profession as a teacher. Literature teaching is all about providing varied experiences and inculcating empathy. My student disagreed with the story and the experience in it not because of his stubbornness but because he had had no access to such an experience. As a teacher I had to make him empathize with the writer and the farmer’s experience. By allowing the student to disagree I made the student move towards a possible agreement/empathy over this experience of a different kind. My very first class on the very first day taught me a lot silently, a lesson for my whole life.

I couldn’t help but recall scenes from the movie “The Belles of St. Trinians”

Steven Roy

steven-roy As I looked around the room on my first day as a class teacher, I couldn’t help but recall scenes from the movie “The Belles of St. Trinians” and others of that genre. Without appearing to do so, I scanned the scene for the booby traps I was sure were present, for Janet was giving me a coy glance as if to say, “We’ll take care of you in a few days!”, Charles’ smile literally stretched from ear to ear – and yet it did not convey a feeling of the “warm fuzzies” I had anticipated, while Eddy’s body language suggested he had already written me off as far too easy a prey. Since he had arrived at the school, Eddy’s game plan had never failed, for the class – with Eddy at the forefront – had run off two teachers in three years.

Four months earlier I had visited the school to teach a demonstration lesson. They had been angelic. But the signs were there, only I had missed them. For instance, when I opened the drawer of the former teacher’s desk, it contained several varieties of homeopathic headache remedies, an empty bottle of Bayer Aspirin, and a set of well-used earplugs!

I knew I had to plan carefully for this first day. I read furiously. It didn’t help. Standing before a group of 28 twelve-year-olds with two notches on their belt is not to be taken lightly. So I meditated, and the message came loud and clear: “Go back to your basics as a leader of organizations and give them specific rules and regulations. And then stick to them.”

On the first day I gave them five typed sheets of instructions, and for the next week we went through each point, rehearsed it, repeated it, went over it again, until they realized that I was serious about following through, that I was consistently keeping to the rules, that I was treating them as adults, and that I would take action if anyone did not follow them. It was also about values, and “how we are around here.” When I reminded them about a particular behaviour, they accepted that they knew about it from our previous discussions.

Over the following months the coy looks changed to a longing to learn, the facetious smile did not completely disappear but narrowed somewhat, and Eddy gave up and decided to work. Definitely a first for him!

PS: Eddy came to me recently. He is now in 12th grade. Quite spontaneously he put his arm around me and said: “You know, I want to tell you that I would not be here now if it hadn’t been for you.” Moments like that make it all so worthwhile!


The whole class was watching, tense and worried

Meghana Dhupelia, Mumbai

It’s my first day, and the first practical session for students in standard 9, home economics. An enthusiastic student planned a spinach pizza. She put the steaming cooked spinach in the grinder and turned it on, not waiting for instructions. Splash! There was spinach all over her and all around. I rushed to her, with the whole class watching, tense and worried. What was the new teacher going to do? She had tears in her eyes. I simply hugged her. A sigh of relief ran across the class. A ripple of laughter broke out. And I smiled with them.

I had no time to prepare for the class

Srilatha Bhaskaran, Navi Mumbai

It was the year 1975… middle of September. My M.Sc. results were out and I wanted to take up the first job that came my way (no placements or campus interviews, those days!!). Of course, it had to be a teaching job preferably in a Junior college, but I ended up joining a school named Tagore’s Home whose Director was (late) Mr. Koteeswaran, a well-known and revered person in the field of education. Having done my Masters in Maths I was appointed a Maths and Science teacher for the secondary section.

The day I joined school, not only was it in the middle of a semester but it was also in the middle of the day with two to three periods already over. I had no time to prepare for the class nor did I have any clue as to what the syllabus was!! I had to continue teaching from where the previous teacher had stopped. I stood in front of an eager group of students of class IX… Being just out of college, it took sometime for me to realize that I was a teacher and not a student. Of course, I was thrilled to be doing what I always wanted to do… that is, teach!! Being young, I hit it off well with the students and taught the subject like a veteran! Today I wonder where I got that confidence from.

Tensed and worried at his impatient behavior, I ran after him

Uma Radhakrishnan, Chemistry teacher

Uma-Radhakrishnan My first day at school as a teacher was really funny. Though a Chemistry teacher, I was asked to handle the Prep section (Preparatory class) of this school in Dubai, since there were no vacancies for teachers in the high school. A majority of the students in my class were from Kerala. I entered the class with the thought of getting to know my students. Suddenly one of the students sprang to his feet and asked:

Student: “You Malayalam?”
Me: “No.”
Student: “Pinnentha?” (Then what?)
Me: “English”
Student: “Su su?”
Me: “What?”
Student: “Su su?”

I was confused. The student ran out of the class instantly, forcing the door open. Tensed and worried at his impatient behavior, I ran after him. After all he was a tiny tot. I couldn’t just let him run away from my class like that. He shut himself inside a room; one of the helpers at the school noticed me running after him. She told me that he wanted to go to the toilet and that was why he ran from the class. A month later I got a transfer to the high school section.

After 29 years of teaching, I still wonder why I couldn’t recognize what the boy was saying to me. Taking care of the students like a mother, teachers at lower grades are the ones who really do the laudable work, but often they are the most neglected and underestimated in this profession.

My first attempt at teaching pre-schoolers

Vidyalakshmi R, Chennai

Vidyalakshmi There are some incidents which are forever etched in one’s mind – one such incident for me was the first time I handled a class of twenty 3½ year olds. It was the first time I was trying to teach pre-schoolers. I had planned to start my own pre-school in Chennai and was visiting a well known school in Ahmedabad. I was naturally nervous when my teacher (who runs this school in Ahmedabad) arranged for me to spend 20 minutes in a Jr KG class there. Teaching 20 year olds who were motivated enough to enroll for coaching classes for competitive examination training seemed simple – the students knew why they were in my class, they knew the topic for the day and there is very little that can go wrong when you are “well-prepared”. This time around with little ones in the class, I was not so sure … I was not sure if I’d be able to hold their attention and if I’d be able to reach out to them and teach them something. I didn’t have too much of personal experience at that time (my daughter was a year old and while I had taught her many, many things, I was scared at the thought of teaching a class of 20 such active kids!)

I asked the class teacher what she wanted me to do in her class and thought I’ll start with a story about caterpillars and butterflies. My first 10 minutes with the class was a story by itself. Every single child in the class had his/her own agenda for the class. Every time I tried starting off with the story, I would be interrupted with excited comments from the students. Not realizing that this was their way of “connecting” with the new teacher in the class, I would cut them short with a “We will listen to your story later. This is the time for a science lesson”. By the time I got them comfortably sitting in their circle-time positions, it was almost time for the class to get over. I was in tears thinking this was going nowhere. It was then that I abandoned my planned lesson and got down to just talking to them… trying to understand what they liked and what they didn’t. And finally arrived at “listening to story” is what they were in a mood for from a new teacher.

So story it was and the class even selected what book they wanted me to read to them. They tested my teaching skills like no batch ever has done before – the questions and comments flowed almost non-stop – What does a genie mean? Why did Alladin get into the cave with the bad uncle when he knew his uncle was bad? What is love? Bad mommy! She gave away the lamp! How will a genie look, can you draw him on the board (“Me and draw!!! You must be joking” was my instinctive thought but I steeled myself to take a chalk and tried my hand at copying what the Genie looked like on to the board. The result was not great … but it was not bad, too! And most importantly, the children loved it.) My 20 minute class stretched to 40 minutes but at the end of the reading aloud of “Alladin and the Magic Lamp”, I had learnt many new lessons in teaching – the need to listen to what the class wants, the need to be firm in class to have even a semblance of order in the class, the pace at which to talk to them, the need to make the session interactive, the extent of cross-talking to allow and when to interrupt and continue with the story, the need to be flexible while planning for a class… (maybe some of these I learnt in the days that followed) but the most important thought I carried home with me on that eventful day was that teaching pre-schoolers (and holding their attention in the class!) is not an easy task. But it surely is a satisfying one.

The heart vs the mind

Zenobia N. Lakdawalla

“How am I going to handle the nursery class?” these were the thoughts that plagued my mind as I traveled in the autorikshaw on my first day to school as a teacher. “Don’t worry ! Just love them like their mother would,” replied my heart.

I was an inexperienced teacher who had neither the training nor the expertise to teach children especially students of the pre-primary section. I was filled with apprehension as I approached the school.

I had been given this temporary post, because the teacher who had previously taught this class had died in a tragic road accident. There was a raging debate going on between my mind and my heart. My heart said, “Love these little ones and they shall love you in return. This is their first step into the unknown world. They definitely need your tender touch.” But my mind would have none of this mushy talk. “They have been without a teacher for too long. They need strict handling, I repeat just strict handling and nothing more.”

“Whom should I listen to?” I wondered seriously.

Twenty pairs of curious eyes looked at me as I was introduced to the nursery class. They had been told earlier that a new teacher would be there to welcome them when they returned from their first term holidays.

My first task was to take these children for the general assembly which was held everyday in the basement of the school building. My mind ordered, “Make them stand in a line,” and I listened to it.

In the basement, each child had a place allotted to him/her and I saw to it that they sat there accordingly. It was again my logical mind that gave me the correct orders while my heart kept quiet. By now, I was thoroughly convinced that my mind was my guiding star and I had to listen to it alone.

As I stood observing them, I noticed that quiet tears flowed out of the frightened eyes of one tender and tiny looking girl. The librarian, who stood next to me, enlightened me about her plight. She said that this little girl was always terrified of coming to the assembly. I immediately felt the tugging of my gentle heart which goaded me to pick her up and make her feel safe with a warm embrace.

cover-vijayalakshmi I did just that and her tears ceased. I stopped paying heed to my demanding mind which had its own practical approach to this problem. “Ignore her and she will learn to adjust to these surroundings,” it shouted from within.

As the day proceeded, it was sometimes my tender heart and at other times my reasonable mind that took turns to guide me through my first day as a teacher.

At the end of the week, I had made progress with these little ones and they enjoyed coming to school. Their favourite time was when I narrated enjoyable stories to them. They would gather around me and listen with rapt attention as I took them on imaginative journeys to fairylands or to the friendly woods filled with their favourite characters.

This short stint of teaching motivated me to do my teachers’ training course and it made me better equipped to handle young children. But as always, it has been the right blend of my dear heart and my practical mind that has given me the insight to balance a given situation and solve a said problem.

Related articles

Why I love teaching
What beginner teachers should know