Delivering my recent lectures has cast me down a long memory lane, only this time I was standing on the opposite side of the lectern, trying not to play with the laser on the back of the remote. Before I begin, thank you for the kind faces, well-timed laughs and generous feedback, I really enjoyed speaking with you and I'm excited to do it again soon. If you're interested in hearing anymore, get in contact!
I wanted to share my top five tips for surviving school-based placement.
In the first instance, before I even begin, you need to know we are a possessive breed, and giving up our class to you isn't easy. These 5 pointers, are written from experience with both perspectives; as a student teacher, and a class teacher. Get ready...
This is the time to learn. You will likely hear (and if you haven't, consider yourself now TOLD) there is a frequent disconnect between training and practice. This isn't necessarily a fault, but it can lead to difficulties. Use everything you have learnt while at university and try out new things after a discussion with the class teacher. You will always be trialing something anyway (I maintain the view that if there was a perfect way to teach, someone would have found it by now), so use this to your benefit.
Bear in mind that, upon your departure, the class are still the responsibility of the teacher, and we have ambitious goals to achieve. All of our work up until your arrival is in place to get them there. With your presence, work hard to aid the teacher with the children's journey. You are part of it! Talk about planning, bounce ideas, take in as much as you can. Deal with the fact that you'll be busy. During my own placements, I was teaching an increasing percentage of the timetable (with all the pro-formas and reflections you could imagine) working a part-time job to help pay for my studies, completing the research and writing the relevant assignments, while also trying to be social and sleep. Some students are parents, carers, all sorts; it's a busy time, but put the work in and you'll be golden.
3. Be seen
From experience, this is something I found difficult. One of my placements was in a Year One class, where the teacher simply told me to 'work harder.' The trigger for this was the revamp of the role-play area. I was caught in this strange place between not wanting to step on people's toes, but also wanting to succeed. Her comment crushed me, and is largely the fire that burns inside me now. The compromise that I would suggest to you? Suggest and offer. Then you can't say you didn't try.
Get ready for the most wayward comment you might ever read; some feedback is useless. But you should still listen to it. There will be people you meet during training, and indeed your entire career, who you should feel you should listen to - either due to their status or professional standing - but understand now that the best feedback can come from a wide range of places. Listen to it all, critically. Discuss with those close to you, and decide what needs acting on.
Realise that, although you won't feel like it, you have the most to offer. We have been in this game a long time and we have the (often misused) advantage of experience on our side. However, that can often serve as a blind spot. We are either too wrapped up in our own opinions or too busy to be aware of a really good strategy. Fresh out of training, I am counting on YOU to let me know of something great I'm missing. I promise I'll do the same for you too.
Best of luck! I'm so grateful for you taking on teacher training. We need you!
Certainly when I was at school, I had burning questions for my teachers. So, for this reason, I gave my students the chance to do the same. They were surprisingly brave in their demands; you can catch up on Part One HERE, and Part Two HERE.
1. Set the standard.
While this will extend outside of the first week, remember that you never get this first week back. It's important that you rehearse routines, and I mean that in the most literal sense. Get up, show them where you want them to go, and repeat. The likelihood is that they'll be performing many of these routines on a daily basis, and you don't want to keep explaining it.
2. Find the standard.
Yes, you'll have been given some kind of data towards the end of last year about the class being sent your way. But it's important to find out what your starting point is for the year. I've learnt to never assume, and I've discovered the importance of creating common ground, even when it comes to the basics. I think there's great power in being able to refer to 'the lesson you taught them that thing', even if it's supposed to have been done before.
3. Be flexible.
On one hand, there's a safety in over-planning the first few days, it means that there's always something to do. But sticking too rigidly to what you assumed was possible, means you end up with 4 incomplete projects, rather than 2 or 3 suitably crafted products. Be prepared to change what you had envisaged - and don't forget to take time to talk with your students.
4. Be equal.
Not only is this a great time to set standards and routines with your class, it's also a good time to do it with yourself. Decide, when possible, what you'll get done and when. Overtime, you'll learn to prioritise, and it all takes experimentation. Consider at what points in the week you need certain books, and match that with when you're going to mark them. Additionally, think about the order in which you plan your lessons; preparation takes time, and there are only so many hours in the day.
5. Don't hide.
It was a few days into my NQT year, during a lunchtime, when I vividly remember eating at one of the children's desks. Alone. Likely feeling overwhelmed, or too scared of the staffroom. A couple of teachers came looking for me, and told me to stop being so ridiculous. Of course, it's different if I had been using that time productively - but I wasn't. Your colleagues are important, the only ones that really know what your day is like. Take time to talk - doesn't have to be lunchtime - and get to know one another. It's a family.
Go for a walk around your school and see what other people are doing! If you're new to the school, use it as a chance to gather an idea of what's expected. (If it appears to be one of those ridiculous schools that dictate what colour to back the boards, don't plan on sticking around - if your school improvement plan genuinely believes that having specific shades for your working walls is going to be the kick-starter for drastic progress, you need your head checked). If you're staying on at the same school, it's still a great way to be inspired by colleagues. Tell them too, people like to hear nice things!
2. Go with your gut.
If there is something you've seen online, or an idea you've heard about, now is the time to try it! The worst that could happen is you change it, and that's not a problem. You know how you want to run your classroom, and have likely dreamt up a system or managerial strategy to reach that vision. Give it a go; you never know until you try! If it doesn't work, you know not to do it again.
3. Play teacher.
You've positioned the tables and chairs where you want them, and decided where different resources are going to be kept. Now have a rehearsal. Pull out all the chairs from under the desks (as if they have been filled with little people) - can you still get around the room? Sit in some of the seats - what can you see? What is that child's experience in your classroom going to be like? Yes, the pencil pot does look Instagrammable, but is it reachable?
4. Zone it off.
It needs to be a comfortable working environment for everyone in your care, both children and adults! It's important that you have a clear idea of what is accessible, and by who. Where are the adults going to keep their valuables? Do the children have space for their things? Be practical - your quaint 'Stationery Station' plucked straight out of Pinterest is lovely, but is the physical act of getting every child to leave their seat when they 'want the orange' to most suitable way to organise it?
5. Be flexible.
The only true test of your classroom will be on that very first day, where you'll find you have two options; stick with it or change it. Be prepared to adapt what you've got, because while most strategies are easily implemented by training your children, sometimes the time vs. impact simply isn't worth it. Either way, remember that your classroom is a place to take pride in. For many of us, we spend more conscious hours in it than our own homes, so it needs to be a place that both you and your children will feel encouraged by.
As has become tradition, I'll blog mine once it's ready. You can catch up on the previous years' here and here.
As the end of the academic year is upon us, just like the children, it's time for my End of Year Report. I wonder if I've made any progress since last year's? Having read the comments in preparation for posting, there certainly seem to be some, completely falsified, running themes. Rascals.
Welcome to Part Two of AskMrN! Gone are the days where teachers are believed to sleep in the cupboards - our kids had some fresher burning questions. If you missed Part One, catch up here!
Was there ever a question you wanted to ask your teacher? Did they really live in the cupboard? Where did the class hamster go? Here are some I've been asked recently...