I wrote this short guide back in August for the 2015 cohort of Teach First participants. Obviously it is specific to Teach First trainees however, much of the advice particularly surrounding behaviour, subject knowledge and time management are applicable across the board.
Step 1 – Create a timetable
After Summer Institute, draft a timetable. I found this to be the most important thing I did which helped me get through the year and actually enjoy it. I can understand why many people recoil at the prospect of planning the minutiae of their day to day existence. When you have very little time however, planning your life works.
- Contact your subject mentor, and ask him/her what your planning commitments are like for September. Are all lessons already planned? Do you have to adapt anything? Do you have to start from scratch? Are you co-planning? If so, what are you required to do and by when? Work out how long this will take.
- Contact your professional or subject mentors and ask them what the school’s marking policy is. Is it every book every two weeks? Is it a book a week? Is it a deep mark every half term? Work out how long this will take.
- Make a list of non-negotiables which you enjoy on a weekly basis (socialising / exercise / entertainment / family / relationships etc)
Step 2 – Sort out behaviour
Statistically this is the biggest concern for new teachers and also one of the key reasons why many teachers decide to leave the profession not long after qualifying. Fundamentally, the pupils need to behave in your lessons. You will feel less stressed and the pupils will learn. Do not pander to the litany of TES advice about using a cow-bell to get their attention, or to strategically plan a lesson on interpretative dance every week to ‘calm’ down your rowdy Year 8 class. I am also aware that your summer institute training probably consisted of role plays and copious amounts of sugar paper. My advice would be to never lower your standards and always use the school’s behaviour policies consistently. If your school’s behaviour policy is inconsistent, or not supported thoroughly by your SLT then – tragically – it is up to you to follow things through. Spending this time chasing things earlier in the year will pay dividends later. Always insist on silence when you ask for it, and do not progress with the lesson until you get it. Meet and greet pupils at the door, enforcing simple expectations around uniform. Insist on full equipment and no chewing. Once these little things are sorted the rest will follow – relatively easily – in most cases. You are not their mate. Anything that stops each pupil (or a whole class) from learning you need to nip in the bud, immediately.
Step 3 – Don’t beat yourself up
Participants have a tendency to over-worry and over-complicate, particularly in the first few months. If things go wrong, don’t worry – you are training. Focus on the small things first and get them right in the lead up to October half term. Routines, classroom presence and behaviour should be your first priority. Don’t worry about planning all singing and all dancing lessons in your first few weeks. If you have had a disastrous day, remember why you are doing this and keep your mind focused on those golden moments. Think practically about your challenges and reflect on what you can do, within reason to improve things. Never take anything personally, and think of challenging classes as a learning point.
Step 4 – Be aware of your responsibilities, and your rights
Make sure you are on top of your school’s systems and procedures. If a school requires you to mark books every two weeks, then make sure you plan your timetable accordingly. Always act with integrity and uphold the school’s values and ethos. This will help you in the staffroom and in the classroom. Crucially however, you must also be aware of the school’s contractual obligations with Teach First to support you, and not request you to undertake any unreasonable additional duties. You are a trainee after all, and the impact you make in the classroom must not be compromised by a lack of support, or onerous additional tasks which impede your professional development. If you are unsure about these obligations, see your Professional Tutor/LDO in the first instance, and then raise any uncertainties with your school mentors. Mentor meetings, timetable allocation, cover work, pastoral duties, lunchtime supervision and undertaking the duties of a form teacher are all areas which you need to be careful about.
Step 5 – Know your subject
Subject knowledge is absolutely integral to your role as a classroom teacher, and the impact you make. In terms of pedagogy, it is without a doubt the most important aspect. In the summer holidays, make sure you are fully aware of what you are required to teach, and make sure you are confident teaching it. Ask your subject mentor for all KS4 (and KS5 if appropriate) exam specifications, and allow yourself some time in August to read up on anything you are unsure about. Most importantly, throw yourself into your subject. Get yourself excited about teaching things that you have a passion for. Planning lessons is an onerous task, but one made remarkably easier, quicker and more enjoyable if you love the topics you’re teaching. Keep on top of current research too, by subscribing to any relevant associations and journals. This will make your teaching better, but more importantly the ability to inspire pupils with your enthusiasm will get them onside far more quickly, and make your life easier.
Step 6 – Keep on top of your Journal and PGCE
Your journal may seem like an irrelevance now, and many participants go many weeks without consulting it. Realistically, leaving your journal empty for weeks, and then filling it in desperately in a fit of despair every time you meet your tutor is utterly impractical and time-consuming. Spend ten minutes each week (perhaps on a Sunday) recording your thoughts, observations and reflections and then use those to create manageable, achievable and measurable targets. I made mini-reflections in my school planner at the end of every lesson, which I then consulted when I wrote my journal reflections. Take your essays seriously too. In a school-based training programme, it is often easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Dedicate an hour or so each fortnight to planning your essays and doing any relevant reading. If you do little bits throughout the year, you will find that your holidays won’t be miserable pits of misery filled with hours spent hunched over a laptop surrounded by pro-plus and congealed mugs. Finally, create a box-file with evidence of anything that meets your teaching standards. This will make you PGCE portfolio much easier to compile. May is a busy month, and the last thing you want is to spend days sporadically searching for emails and evidence of pupil’s work.
Step 7 – Socialise, exercise and read regularly
Teaching, second to sainthood seems to be one of the few professions where there is an expectation that you sacrifice every aspect of your life for your job. Some schools implicitly assume that you should be working 14 hour days to meet the basic requirements of planning, teaching and marking in addition to pastoral work, extra-curricular activities, behaviour chasing, paperwork and data entry. Although this is clearly morally reprehensible, you need to ensure that you set aside plenty of time for yourself. Have targets for what you want to get done every week, such as getting through a chapter of a book you have been meaning to read, or to go to the gym, or playing a sport a minimum of once a week. Most importantly, actively seek out those friends and colleagues who really spark and inspire you. They could be your closest mates, old university pals or Teach First colleagues. These are the people who nourish your individuality and remind you of what it is you are trying to achieve. Try to ensure you don’t just stick to teachers. In fact, try and make an effort not to see teachers quite so much, as many have a propensity to moan and talk shop, constantly.