If you can't visit the school or college beforehand, try to find out as much as you can by looking at its website and reading its most recent inspection report, which will give you useful information about the school's strengths and weaknesses, and the issues it's currently addressing.
On your first day, familiarise yourself with the layout of the school, as well as the timings and daily routine, lesson times and playground duty.
Give yourself a few achievable goals for the first week. For example, you won't learn all the students' names but aim to cement a handful in your mind each day.
Take time to read through the records the school has on each student you teach. Ask relevant heads if there is anything specific you should know about, for example, medical conditions, national curriculum levels reached and special educational needs.
Policies and procedures
Make a note of anything that crops up over the first few days that you need clarified. Individual school or college policies should cover most questions, so it's worth spending some time each day familiarising yourself with these. In particular, look out for policies on teaching the gifted and talented and those with special educational needs, discipline, teaching and learning, and assessment.
It's essential you are familiar with the school or college's emergency procedures (what to do in case of fire and where the fire exits are, the first aid procedure, etc). You should also establish the protocol for matters such as reporting sickness and leaving the premises during the day.
Take the initiative to introduce yourself, and be pleasant, courteous and friendly to everyone you come into contact with. Some schools have unwritten rules on hairstyles, makeup, jewellery, jeans, etc, so dress conservatively on the first day and observe what colleagues are wearing.
Establish exactly what equipment and resources are available, and if limits are imposed upon their use (there may also be booking arrangements for some equipment). Also, check who pays for what (photocopying, telephone calls and stationery), and find out what you might be expected to provide.
Your first classroom
There is no one blueprint for the perfect classroom but you need to set up a space which helps rather than hinders your teaching and pupils' learning, with a clear set of rules and routines for classroom behaviour.
Depending on your school, you may have more or less of a choice in how you alter the physical aspects of your first classroom. Aspects which you will need to be aware of are room layout, seating, lighting, wall displays and the physical resources and media available for you to use. When you are developing your first lesson plans, bear in mind the opportunities and limitations of your classroom environment and any changes you may need to make to facilitate the proposed work. If a high level of group work is required, a seating layout which facilitates that is important.
Find out the range of resources available to you within the classroom; is there an interactive white board? Will you be supported by other adults within the classroom? Are there computers for the students' use?
Classroom rules and routines
Rules in classrooms aren't operative just because the teacher says so. They have to be set up, agreed, used, and periodically re-examined. Routines have an equally important contribution to make - they may not be framed as a 'rule', but they are the way of making things happen, how resources are accessed, how homework is handed in, how the classroom is entered, and so on.
Establishing rules and routines requires a lot of communication / teaching at the early stage. Pupils are likely to agree if rules are few in number and their purpose is clear. All parties need to publicise and refer to the rules and mediate them in so doing. Periodically the class examines whether the rules in use are fulfilling their purpose.
Rules will often refer to five broad areas, talk, movement, time, teacher-pupil relationships, and pupil-pupil relationships.
Negotiation of classroom rules is something you can't avoid. If you act as though you are imposing a rule system, pupils will spend some of their time testing it out. If you negotiate more of it from the start, pupils will be more involved in applying it and are likely to learn more about themselves and behaviour in the process. It is a good idea to connect rights with responsibilities during the process, for example: 'We have the right to be treated with respect by everyone in the classroom' and 'We have the responsibility to respect all others within the classroom', We have the right to express our own opinions and to be heard' and 'We have the responsibility to allow others to express their opinions and be heard'.
Find out more about managing classroom behaviour.