Few professions can claim to be as demanding as teaching, especially first thing in the morning.
Whether I the Public Schools system or working for a private language school, we’re often required to be alert and ready to provide quality teaching when others are still on their way to work, or considering which cereal to have for breakfast. This requires a special approach, one intended to bring us to the classroom feeling fresh and prepared. I’ve always found that, if I feel good as our first class begins, my energy and enthusiasm levels are higher, and this has an instant and positive impact on my students.
Here are some tried-and-tested methods to help that early start become a good experience for everyone.
Do It on the Night Before
Becoming a Sleep Machine
Once I understood just how critically important it was to ensure that I got a good night’s rest, persuading myself to organize my day to this end became really very simple. Working backwards from the time of your first class, consider what needs to be done - travel, breakfast, chores, dressing tiny people for school, etc - to calculate when you need to be awake. Then step seven or eight hours back, and that’s your ideal bedtime. It may sound childish to insist on this, but the ways in which your enthusiasm, levels of alertness and ultimately the quality of your teaching are affected by tiredness are well documented. I make a point of heading to bed by ten-thirty or eleven; if I don’t, my work suffers and I certainly won’t enjoy my day as much.
Lunch in the Fridge
For those who don’t eat at their school, preparing a packed lunch can take valuable minutes from your morning schedule. Prepare your food the night before, and consider both the value of healthy, balanced meals, and the psychological importance of having something tasty to look forward to.
Be the Man (or Woman) with a Plan
Positive things happen in the mind if our next day’s lessons are planned before we go to sleep. I wake up, bothered by the incompleteness of the plan, or wondering how I’ll handle the problems which might arise. If the plan is ready, the quality of sleep improves. On the morning of class, a quick glance is all that’s required to remind ourselves of what’s coming up. Remember that a rushed lesson plan compromises quality; omitting to produce one at all is asking for trouble, no matter how experienced a teacher you are.
My Bags Are Packed, I’m Ready to Go
By the time I go to sleep, my teaching bag finds itself in the hallway, packed with everything I need for the day (except my lunch - that’s in the fridge). That way, I can simply ‘grab and go’ without worrying that I’ve forgotten something. In the groggy moments after first waking, reduce the number of decisions you have to make, or things you need to check on, by doing them in advance the previous night.
Straighten Up and Fly Right
Teachers tend to be highly social animals, and many of us have been known to party hearty, even when we probably shouldn’t. Consider, the night before class, whether that fourth glass of Chardonnay is truly the best option. Keep hydrated - one big glass of water per alcoholic drink - and set out a water glass to remind yourself to include extra hydration in your morning routine. If you know you’ll be suffering - there’s no shame in this, we’ve all done it - then set out painkillers, Alka-Seltzer, or Gatorade powder to help deal with the inevitable hangover. There’s nothing worse in all the world than trying to energize a room full of sleepy teenagers while feeling dreadful.
Consider Continuous Caffeination
I’ll be honest: I could not get through a day of teaching without at least one liter of Chinese tea. I’d be a mess by mid-afternoon. Filling my flask with loose-leaf tea is part of my evening preparation, and adding boiling water is one of the last things I do before leaving the house. By the time I get to school, the life-giving caffeine has infused the water, and I know it will be a trouble-free day.
Do It on the Morning of Class
Waking Up Well
For many of us, the worst conceivable sound is the harsh, metallic buzz of an alarm clock. My life changed upon realizing that my phone could provide a range of sounds, and that there were nice, free alarm clock apps which began the alarm tone softly and gradually increased the volume. Others require you to complete a math puzzle or a quiz question before they can be shut off. I recommend taking a look at some of these, to see if the panicked, angry swatting away of an annoying sound can be omitted from your morning routine.
Tune In, Don’t Drop off
Another great use of the phone is to provide stimulating music or the radio for your journey to school. I put together a morning playlist of energetic, Classical music - that’s just my way of doing it - but more recently I’ve tried a news show which lets me arrive at school with interesting, new bits of information for my students. I really recommend against simply slumping in your bus seat or zoning out in traffic. This could be a nice time to get your mind moving, to learn something new, or just enjoy some fine, energizing tunes.
Don’t You Wish Your Students Were Awake Like Me?
Being five minutes early to your classroom - i.e. before your students are likely to be there - gives you several big advantages. I personally love the quiet of those few moments, and if everything is ready, I sometimes just sit there and breathe slowly, preparing my mental spaces for the fun and challenges of the day. You could prepare your board with some questions, or a drawing, so that the students are immediately engaged in something when they walk in. You could ensure the room is neat and tidy. However you spend this time, if the students notice that you’re there early, and fizzing with enthusiasm, they’re more likely to feel the same way.
Movement of the People
Most language classes, for example, begin with a warm-up exercise. Studies, and a ton of personal experience, have shown that exercises during which the students are obliged to move around have a hugely positive effect. Their circulation gets a little morning workout, and this encourages mental processing and makes it more likely for your students to engage in that most unwelcome of morning requirements: speaking. If the ice over their semi-frozen brains is broken in the opening moments of the class, we can more quickly progress to review, presentation and practice.
I wish you all luck and success with those early morning classes.
With a little thought and preparation, they can be as enjoyable and productive as any other.