Ask a hundred teachers for their advice to the novice teacher, and 101 of them will say: "Whatever you do on the first day of school, do NOT smile." Apparently, you've got to act tough, no matter how weak you feel. As I am no longer a novice teacher, I too have advice, and it's only slightly different. I say to the novice teacher: "Whatever you do on the first day, do NOT smile ... at your own jokes."
Yeah, so today was the first day, the computer system was down so we couldn't take attendance (and we already got rid of the old blue books!), there were hundreds of sleepy faces to contend with, and I thought to myself, "They're still quiet, some are actually listening, what a great chance to test out some of my new material." Let's just say that teenagers are a tough crowd. There I was, sweating away in my unairconditioned room, pacing around, explaining my bellringer and how it'll improve their ACT scores, assigning seats, trying to remember names (of hopefully good kids as well as troublemakers), cracking jokes, and never once smiling. I was the bomb. Or did I bomb? Whatever.
My best joke (and also least politically correct one) goes like this: I ask how many students had part time jobs over the summer, followed up by how many plan to keep those jobs now that the school year has started. I ask them if they make decent money. Then I ask, "How many of you would like to earn $200,000 in the next two years?" This is me trying to be motivational on the first day of classes to a room of juniors. Some are interested. I tell them about the three or four kids last year that got full-ride scholarships. "At many universities these days, that means about $50,000 a year, making the scholarship worth $200,000 or more," I say. "And all you have to do is work hard this year, raise those GPA's, get a decent ACT score, and you can get that money, too. And you don't have to be the number one or two kid in the graduating class," I say. "Just about anyone can get that kind of scholarship."
Some kids seem interested, and I can almost sense a few making silent vows to actually buckle down and work hard. But then in every class, some kid has to say, "Oh man, I thought you were talking about $200,000 cash."
"What's the difference? This is better than cash," I say, "because this way, you get a great education. And you don't need a part-time job if you take your job as a student seriously."
Some heads nod in agreement, others nod off. But at least no one's disruptive, and I'm hoping that the troublemakers are seeing that this is a teacher not to mess with. So I have to go in for a joke.
"Hey, here's a homework assignment for tonight. Go home and ask your parents if they make $100,000 a year. Ask them, and then tell them that you can make that much this year and next. Heck, I don't make that much money." I pause, then appear to think things over. "In fact, if your Mom makes that much money, and if she's single, why don't you tell her about your cool English teacher? Then maybe I can marry her and quit this job."
I let that sink in. Then go for the kill: "Can you imagine calling me Dad?"
If there's one thing that is guaranteed to gross out a room full of tough, inner-city kids, it's the thought of their Mom marrying their Teacher Man. But they don't know how to react. After all, it's the first day of class, and I'm not smiling.