I’ve mentored NQTs and ITEs for more years than I care to count, this year I’ve just learnt that we’re getting 2 ITE students for first placement so I’ll also be mentoring a new mentor too. I thought I’d write a post on my key advice for new teachers both in case it’s any use to anyone and to get my head around what my key messages are for that new mentor.
I’m inserting this post-writing. I’m not sure this doesn’t come across as patronising, I hope not. These are just the things I wish my first mentor had told me, the things I’ve learnt from being a mentor and the mistakes I’ve made/ seen people make. I’ve decided to post as it was written with the best of intentions. Feel free to call me a sanctimonious cowbag in the comments 🙂
Our students are like all of us, they connect well with people who show a genuine interest in them. Don’t fall into the trap of seeing a class as a homogenous unit. Knowing their names isn’t enough. Learn about them; their hobbies, their quirks, what makes them tick. It’s not easy and it takes time but the effort you put in you’ll reap ten-fold. My memory is bad, as an NQT I used to make quick notes in my planner such as “Tommy – football” when a pupil left early for a fixture – then I could remember to ask them next lesson how it went. Little gestures build strong relationships.
Your teaching experience & career will see you surrounded by sources of ideas and good practice. Give up some of your free time to observe other teachers lessons (trust me you’ll miss this when you no longer have the time!), don’t stay constrained to your subject area; get out and about in school and see other subjects. Look for opportunities to joint plan with colleagues; the simple act of sitting and discussing lesson ideas usually leads to a lesson which is much richer and more thought out than any teacher could manage alone. Use Twitter professionally. The sheer mass of ideas and good practice on there is phenomenal and it’s the biggest and best Teaching & Learning CPD you can get. Do all this but never underestimate what you can bring to the table; schools benefit from fresh blood and new ideas. Share your successes too; online and in school.
Teachers always go on about how hard the job is, right? Unfortunately they’re not lying but…here’s the good news…it does get easier. You need to be prepared to put in the hours in the early years. The old cliché “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” could never be more true in our profession. A rushed or badly planned lesson will do many things; lead to an inevitable disaster (definitely in terms of pupil progress but will probably manifest itself as a classroom management nightmare too), have a knock-on impact on pupil’s perception of you if sustained and frustrate your host teachers/ mentors. More importantly you need to give yourself the chance of success for your own professional satisfaction. That being said my top tips for time-saving:
1) Joint planning – see above
2) You don’t always have to set massive homework tasks, alternate things you’re going to give a thorough marking with online self-marking tasks, tasks that require no marking such as research and tasks that are quicker to mark such as posters.
3) Talk to colleagues. They can point you in the direction of great resources much faster than you can trawl through the million results Google will throw up
4) Facilitate not teach. Teacher-led lessons are horrible; for students, for observers (yes, we are nodding off at the back) but also for you. Never work harder than the pupils. If you are, you’re doing it wrong. Teacher-led lessons take longer to plan. Make pupils think, have activity rich lessons that encourage independent thinking, group-work and self discovery. Teaching doesn’t mean telling.
5) Beg, borrow, steal; if you see someone using a resource you like – ask for it. Don’t feel that you’ll get more credit for sitting up all night planning your own resource over perfectly good existing ones. No need to reinvent the wheel
6)Build up a list of sources of great resources that you trust. Use these are your starting points whenever you’re planning
The Art of Planning
I’ve touched on the student-led thing, so take that as a given.
1) Make sure your lesson plan focuses on why you’re doing something not just how. What impact will it have on learning? You’ll probably have to type formal lesson plans for a PGCE etc and yes it’s a pain but it does help to get your head straight before you get in the classroom. That being said, use the 5 minute lesson plan it will very quickly highlight things that are lacking in a given lesson.
2) Always use proper times (eg 9:50) rather than durations (eg 10 mins) to help you keep track of where you are once in the classroom
3) Over rather than under plan. Always plan too many activities than you think you’ll have time for. Evaluating how long an activity will take is hard at first so have enough up your sleeve…
4) Have a bank of emergency resources; puzzles, problems, rich tasks for those days when communication breaks down (all too frequent!) and you end up with half a class in front of you unexpectedly.
5) Evaluate and annotate your lesson plans as soon as possible after a lesson then file them for next time.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. You’ll fail. Sometimes. Other times, you’ll soar higher than you ever thought possible. Learning to teach is not about becoming a clone of your mentor or your host teacher. We all do it differently. That doesn’t mean any one of us is doing it right or wrong. Try different things, be experimental, be enthusiastic. The next few years are all about you learning what kind of teacher you want to be. Be honest with pupils, tell them we’re going to “try something different today”, use them as guinea pigs but don’t undervalue their feedback; just because you think something is the dogs proverbials doesn’t mean they agree!
Find your “line”
Classroom management is hard. 30 different personalities, 30 different moods in any given lesson. Stick to your school behaviour policy if you’re lucky enough to have one. Decide where your “line” is and reprimand when someone crosses it. Consistency is key. Shouting isn’t. Be reasonable, be fair but speak to pupils as you would expect to be spoken to. Respect works two ways. Pupils don’t mind sanctions as long as they’re clear, expected and applied consistently.
There’ll be people you work with you don’t like. Perhaps even some who’s classroom practice you are secretly ticking off in your head as “requiring improvement”. Be nice. And without meaning to sound harsh; know your place. Never voice negative opinions. Particularly not personal ones. More so in teaching than perhaps any other area careers are cyclic, people move on but so do you and next time you start a new job you don’t want to be coming face-to-face with someone you’ve offended. Thank people. No grand gestures necessary but your mentors work hard for you on top of an already demanding job. The role is immensely rewarding, I adore it which is why I still do it after so long but it’s demanding and time-consuming too. A thank you card at the end of placement that they can put in their Performance Management evidence file will mean the world.
First rule; if in doubt: ASK! (Cliché klaxon!) The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask. however, always be sensitive to other people’s workloads, don’t expect colleagues to be able to drop everything and answer right now; ask whens a good time, when can they spare 5 minutes?
Some students seem to fly through their PGCE with no problems. You know the ones, sat in the Uni lectures talking-the-talk. They’re hiding the truth. Or they’re a very rare case. You will have tough days. You’ll probably have days where you wonder what the hell you’re doing this for (answer: because it’s the best, most rewarding, most-varied job in the world). It’s normal to feel tired, emotional, stressed and at times downright useless. We all have at some point but you must talk to someone. Ideally your mentor. They’re best-placed to empathise, help and support. Never feel like you’re going to be judged because we’ve been there, we know, we want to help.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll do something stupid in front of a class (my personal highlight getting a stiletto heel caught in the hole in the back of a chair, falling horrifically and getting clouted on the head with the chair leg. I tried to laugh it off until the kids pointed out I was bleeding)
You’ll succeed, you’ll fail. You will enjoy it (maybe not every day will feel like it) but its a great job and you’ll meet some awesome personalities, you’ll feel the satisfaction of seeing the “lightbulb” moments and of making that breakthrough with Susie whose been making your life a misery for months. Enjoy. Laugh. Have fun. Good luck!