For years, I did what I thought I was supposed to do and–like just about every other teacher I knew–spent the first day of the school year going over the policies and procedures (in fact, I believe the syllabus I used was actually called “Policies and Procedures”).  I thought it was important to set the tone, to establish my authority.

Several years ago, however, my intuition kicked in (or maybe I saw it on Twitter, I forget), and I thought to myself, “Stop it. They get those rules in each of their other five classes.  Give them a different experience; something they might remember with more passion than ‘three tardies will result in a detention’.”  In short, I now agree with all of the other teachers who say leave the rules for later and start with something more meaningful.

But now that I’m thinking about going back for this specific year and for this specific first day, I’m reflecting the Zen practice of Beginner’s Mind.  In Beginner’s Mind, we forget old scripts and conditioning, we take on the perspective of a student, and we aren’t afraid to say that we have much to learn.  We go in open and ready for any possibility.  What an exciting vibe to bring with you to the first day of school!

So I’ve decided to spend the first day of this year not for their learning, but for mine. 
It’s still far enough away that I’m not sure exactly what it will look like, but I want to spend that hour learning a little bit about:

–who they are
–where they are
–what they like
–what they expect from the class
–what they’d like to see happen during the year
–what their previous experience in English has been like
–where they see themselves 10 years from now
–how they feel about coming back to school

I want to eavesdrop on my clientele and see what kind of visceral feedback I can gather to learn about where the year should go.

My intuition is telling me (or it might have been a Tweet in #edchat, I forget) that starting with Beginner’s Mind and being vulnerable in a way that says that I’m there to learn as well, will set an even better tone than making them sign a paper about the number of bathroom passes they’ll receive each semester.  TZT



In an effort to make this blog more interactive, I’m going to periodically give you a Zen Teacher Action Step to get you thinking about the ideas I bring up in my posts and to encourage you to apply them to your own life and teaching practice. 

So for today, here’s what I want you to do:

1.  Pick ONE thing you will do in the beginning of the school year (first day, first week, first month) to apply Beginner’s Mind and go in as a student, not a teacher.  How will you learn about this year? How will you learn about your students? 

And then let me know what you come up with. You can comment on this post, send me a message or Tweet on Twitter (@thezenteacher), leave a comment on The Zen Teacher Facebook page, or email me at

But I want you to get involved and apply what you’re learning here. So think about it and let me know what you plan to do to learn at the beginning of this year. 

If you wait, the moment will be lost.  So think about it now and drop down and leave a comment.

I can’t wait to hear from you.