First of all have the attitute that you are not there to be their friend, but
their teacher. Explain that you are there to teach them and that ceramics will
be fun. You can have fun with them and still have rules. If the previous
teacher was laid back it will be difficult. They will compare the two of you.
Be mean at first you can always become nicer later but not the other way
around. They won't hate you but probably respect you if they truely love
ceramics. Explain to them exactly what you said to us about you're caring for
them and that you will try to make learning fun. Kids generally like working
with clay. they WILL love the class and eventually YOU.
Try sketchbooks. The students can study different pottery from other
countries, look at prints and slides, research at the library and then produce a
piece that represents that country. Try Native American, China, Mexico, etc..
Students can sketch ideas and use the sketchbook for notes about the country and
sketches of pieces. Maybe even as a journal. Glaze mixing can be written there
also. Don't assume that they are so gifted if the past teacher was so laid
back. They may have been doing whatever they wanted and not really learned
much. I'd start with basics of teaching them about, mixing clay, wedging, slip,
scoring, coil pots, pinch and slab methods. Or just try giving a quiz the first
day to see what they know, for no grade ofcourse. Have them take turns setting
up displays in the hall showcase for a grade. Remember that cleaning up every
day will take class time if done right. Have them be in charge of specific
areas. Rotate and have a secretary (student) record what areas need more
cleaning and which were done properly. Make them responsible so you won't be
after hours as long. Hold them to it for part of their grade if you have to.