Managing Your Workload During Your Training Year

If you have just started your teacher training, no matter the route, you may be feeling rather swamped with things to do! It is something that I really struggled with throughout the year and no matter what advice you will be given…you will struggle to balance everything. I don’t think it is something people ever master or get the hang of as even very experienced colleagues admit that they find it difficult.

I think I needed to think about this recently as well as I come to the end of my first week as an NQT and face the temptation to work over the weekend…which I’m channelling into this post instead.

1. You’ll never finish your to do list.

It is just going to be a fact. You’ll never finish off everything you want to. What you can do, however, is RAG rate the importance of the tasks you need to do so that you make sure you finish that lesson before you start cutting out display lettering.

2. Use your free periods wisely.

The benefit of your sparse timetable in the first term is that you can get lots of observations done across different year groups/subject areas but it also means that you can get lots of reading done for your assignments. Space out the work you’ll need to put in for your assignments during this first term especially because once your teaching ramps up…you’ll be glad you did it!

3. Remember to say no.

You should not be expected to be the errand girl/boy for the other teachers in your department. Of course, there may be times where you help a colleague out by grabbing their photocopying from reprographics. However, there is a line and you need to learn where you draw yours.

4. Think about how much time you spend planning lessons/activities.

Be smart about it. I once spent 2 hours planning a 20 minute connect activity. It was ridiculous. I tried to account for every minute of the lesson and micro-manage the pupils in anticipation. Well needless to say that some pupils turned up late, didn’t dance to the very specific beat of my specially designed drum, and well…the lesson was a bit pants. Not only did I spend an idiotic amount of time on the 20 minute connect activity but it didn’t do anything for the kids either so nobody won. Try to keep it all in perspective!

5. Get yourself a decent planner & write all of your deadlines in.

There is nothing worse than finding out you have a major essay due in a few days when you haven’t done any of the work and you’ve got a stack of books to mark as well as lessons to plan! Get yourself a decent planner, wall calendar or sit down and input it onto your phone calendar. It’ll save you a heart attack closer to the time.

6. Set aside some time that is all about you.

Keep yourself grounded and set some time aside that it all about you. I set aside Saturdays every week. Arguably, that isn’t nearly enough time but for me, that was good enough. I wouldn’t do any work and would make sure to catch up on some trashy TV whilst in my pyjamas binge eating sweets.

7. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Some departments/schools are more open about sharing resources than others. Regardless of whether colleagues are happy to share, you can access loads of materials and resources online through Twitter (where most people share for free), bloggers, TES or Teachers Pay Teachers. These resources will save you a decent amount of time and if nothing else, give you lots of ideas!

8. Ask for help and support.

You should have a mentor in school as well as a tutor with your training provider…ask them for them! The chances are that they’ve supported other trainees through these issues and been through them themselves. Talk to your friends and your family. Don’t be scared to say if you’re ever struggling.

 

If there is anything else that anyone can think or would like to see on this list then let me know in the comments below or by tweeting me @MissSims4

21 Tips for Trainee Teachers

A friend that I worked with during my years at university messaged me recently on Facebook to say that they were starting their PGCE year and whether I could share some words of advice. So, I decided that I would sit down at write a post about it. Here we go…

1. Check your social media.

The kids these days are pretty up to scratch with technology and chances are they, if nobody else, will search you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever else you use. You really don’t want them to find your pictures from university nights out or a rage induced tweet indirectly written about your ex.

Go into your privacy settings and make sure they are on the highest possible setting.

2. Join a teaching union.

There are plenty of teaching unions available to join. Most of them will be at your first week of university trying to get you to join. You can join as many as you like so do it! Not just for the free pens but for the legal protection it offers you, if nothing else.

3. Be organised.

You will be given a multitude of handouts from uni, staff handbooks from your placement as well as a million and one pieces of paperwork to complete. Invest in a solid ring binder from the get go.

4. It’s a marathon. Pace yourself.

It’s going to be a long year. It will go quickly but don’t burn yourself out in the first few months! Use your evenings, weekends and half-terms to look after yourself and recharge.

5. Don’t be scared to ask for help.

Chances are people would rather you ask ten times rather than get it wrong ten times. Any good colleague, mentor or lecturer would understand that you are learning and that you need support on your way.

6. Don’t be scared to cry.

You’re going to cry at least once, if not more. I cried when I had bad lessons. I cried when I had good lessons. I cried when I got my job. I cried when I was awarded ‘outstanding’. I cried when it was over. Maybe that’s just me…but don’t be scared to let it out. Don’t bottle it up because otherwise you’ll cry in front of a student when they tell you their grandad just died…definitely didn’t happen to me!

7. Observe. Observe. Observe.

It is one of the true pleasures of training and one thing that you probably won’t be able to do once you have a full-time timetable. You can learn so much from colleagues across the school – don’t just stay within your subject area. I learnt some fantastic behaviour management techniques from Drama and lots of strategies for differentiated questioning in subjects where the pupils weren’t streamed.

Remember to follow basic manners when observing: show up on time; say thank you; ask whether they’d like you to speak to the pupils or not; don’t sit there slurping tea; don’t judge them.

8. It’s never personal.

If a pupil turns around and tells you to ‘f*** off’ or decides they don’t want to learn about proper nouns, it’s probably not you. It might be you but it won’t be the you that your friends know down the pub on a Friday night.

9. You will be judged by everyone.

Sorry. I know it is probably one of those things that you don’t want to hear but it’s true. You will be judged by the receptionist, the reprographics lady, the pupils, your department, the guy in the staff room who sits in the same seat every day etc. You get the idea. Make sure you make a positive first impression. Read up on their staff dress code and dress appropriately – it’s a good first step.

10. Remember that other members of staff have work to do.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ask for help but it is to say that you shouldn’t sit in the staff room scrolling through the celeb pages of the Daily Mail or having a very loud conversation with your pal about how ‘mental’ the weekend was in that dreary club at 3am…

11. Say no.

No is a word. No is a word that you can use. Within reason, remember that you can say no to requests to cover classes, go on school trips or do someone’s photocopying for the term. There shouldn’t be too many instances where this is applicable but in the interest of your own sanity and well-being…remember that you can say no.

12. Don’t ever tell someone how to do their job.

Want a fast track to being ostracised? Tell an experienced teacher where you think they’re going wrong!

Just because you had a lecture on behaviour management doesn’t mean you can walk into someone else’s class and tell them how to deal with ‘so-and-so’. There is a difference between offering up some stuff you’ve had from university and telling someone how to do their job. Tread the line very carefully.

13. Get to know the staff.

The cleaners, dinner ladies, site staff and receptionists are your friends. Make them your allies. They’ll know everything. If you have a question, chances are they will be able to answer it!

14. Get involved in the school.

You may well arrive at your first placement and think ‘I’m only here for x amount of weeks, I’m just gonna be here from 8-4 and go.’ well think again. Extra-curricular clubs (after-school or during lunchtimes usually) are a fantastic way to get to know the pupils in your classes and the staff who run them. They also give you a real flavour for what a school is like.

15. Pay your subs.

If there is a tea and coffee kitty in your school or department, make sure you pay up. Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’.

16. You are learning.

You should not under any circumstances be asked to go onto an 80% or even 90% timetable as you start in September. You should be building your way up steadily to an 80% timetable (which is what you’ll be on as an NQT).

Use your year of training to brush up on your subject knowledge, pedagogical theory and current debates in education. It will be invaluable!

17. Bring your personality in.

This is a possibly controversial one. I hated the ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ mentality – I think pupils need to have something to connect with so give them something! Let them get to know you. This doesn’t mean they need to know what your favourite pubs are so be selective in the information you share.

 

18. Get to know your school.

You’ll need to know who is who. You don’t want to make a badly timed joke to the deputy head or start talking about so-and-so when his auntie works in the Geography department.

Get to know the community that your school serves – it will give you an invaluable insight into the lives your students lead.

19. Be kind to yourself.

I gave myself ‘Self-Care Sunday’ every weekend. This meant turning off my phone…running a bath…putting a Lush bath bomb in and something on iPlayer before switching off for a few hours. It’s important that you do these things to keep everything in perspective.

You’ll probably get ill in the half-terms until you’ve built up some sort of iron-fenced immunity so top yourself up with vitamins, eat well and keep hydrated! Hand sanitiser is also incredibly handy (punny, I know).

20. Join Twitter!

There are so many fantastic little pockets of EduTwitter. There are colleagues who have been teaching for years, members of SLT (Senior Leadership Team), NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers), RQTs (Recently Qualified Teachers) and policy makers. The level of support is fabulous and most are very generous with sharing resources.

I would advise you create a professional Twitter account should any scallywags find your #LoveIsland tweets.

21. Enjoy it!

You are joining an incredible profession where no two days are the same. It will be a rollercoaster. It will be hard but we do it because it is hard. We do it because it is worth it. Hold onto those moments because they provide some light in the darker moments.

 

Introductory Lessons

It seems that I was unaware that introductory lessons were a bit like marmite. People seem to either love them or hate them. I have to say that I err on the side of love for this one. Especially as a young, new and somewhat naïve teacher, I think they are a fantastic way to get to know the students & promote reading in the classroom at the same time. They can also directly feed into your SoW for those who may feel it is a waste of a lesson otherwise.

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I personally like to take a ‘My Life in Books’ approach to these introductory lessons. They allow you to share as much or as little about yourself as you feel comfortable doing so. They allow pupils to tell you as much or as little about themselves as they feel comfortable doing so. It also doesn’t waste any lesson time as it is still encouraging pupils to think about English/literature/reading as a wider area of the curriculum. What could be better? Probably a lot of things but this is just one idea!

If you would like to use this, you can find my powerpoint on Dropbox from this link here.

10 Lessons I Learnt From Building My First Classroom.

I am fortunate enough to have been offered a permanent job at my main placement school from my Schools Direct course so I have been able to see my classroom and picture how I would like it to look come September for what feels like far too long. As part of getting my room ready, I have had a few wins and made one very big mistake.

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Lesson #1: Teachers are territorial beings.

After being a total nomad for a year and staking a claim on one corner of the staff room for all of my teaching files, resources and other tidbits…I was told which room would be mine next year. I had been teaching in that room for a couple of lessons here and there and could easily envisage where I wanted various displays and resources etc.

However, I forgot to consider my colleague who had recently returned from maternity leave who had had that room for the last couple of years. Unfortunately, she is being moved to another classroom on the other side of the school in September and understandably is rather perturbed. I got over-excited in the last week of term & began to put displays up on empty boards, and dispose of the old croissant behind the bookshelf. Yet, I forgot to think about the impact on my colleague who was in the process of great change in her working life & being the careless kitten (see: over-eager trainee teacher) I am, I stepped on her toes. Fortunately, I work with some amazing people and this lady in particular is a real bloody gem. We talked about it and worked it all out but I felt mortified when I thought about what I’d done.

So when it comes to moving yourself in, don’t forget to wait until someone has moved out.

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Lesson #2: Enlist the help of loved ones.

On the first day of my Schools Direct course, my tutor addressed the cohort and stated, “if you currently have a partner, you won’t be together by July due to the stress of this course; it will drive you apart.” Determined and stubborn enough to prove them wrong we didn’t just stay together…we got engaged!

So, what did I get him to do on our first day off together of the summer? Come in and rearrange the classroom, of course! He was fantastic, as always, and came up with a great seating layout for the room. It was also great to have a fresh pair of eyes in there to see how things worked, to foresee any possible issues or just give a bit of encouragement.

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Lesson #3: Think about what matters to you.

What do you hold as fundamental, non-negotiable elements of your pedagogy? How can you incorporate them into your classroom? For me, encouraging a love of reading is key and something I feel very passionately about. I was determined to utilise all of the space on offer so once the walls were full; I turned to the windows.

Tiger (the posh/trendy pound shop) is my go-to place for all things quirky. I bought some customisable bunting for my engagement party a few months ago and had lots of left over decal stickers so decided to put them to good use.

I am thinking of encouraging pupils to add to this during tutor time or in our English lesson that follows a library lesson.

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Lesson #4: Make your life easier.

I wanted to dedicate some space in my room for collecting homework so I created a ‘homework check in’ area at the front of the classroom. This has a space for each class with a plastic wallet which will allow me to write what homework is due & when & for who. Each group then has a magazine holder which I got from IKEA (£1.50 for 4, I think!), duct taped two together & attached a label on the front. Along each side, I put an ‘arrivals’ and ‘departures’ label to let pupils know when they can collect/drop off their homework. It allows me to just go along and pick up the folder, cart it off for marking and then return it easily.

I’ve also created a ‘challenge wall’ which is an idea taken from the Maths department of our school who teach in mixed ability groups. I took nearly all of these resources from The Bad Pedagogue who has made lots of incredible resources for stretching/consolidating pupil understanding. These activities don’t require you to mark anything supplementary either so it’s a double win!

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Lesson #5: Utilise existing resources.

I love chalkboard walls. I always wanted one in my classroom anyway but the amazing lady who had the room before has already done it! Whilst I am planning to repaint/spray the wall; I want to keep the door as it is! I think it is a fantastic resource for pupils across all year groups to use and it demonstrates to pupils that…yes! It is OK to draw on the walls! I’m not 100% sure what I would like to put on the wall as of yet but I am thinking either a breakdown of what each year group is studying that half term but I would love to hear any of your suggestions!

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Lesson #6: Make the displays work for your students.

I’ve devoted a wall to my GCSE group who according to their Year 9 data, have rather patchy attendance. As a result, I’ve made sure there are plenty of plastic wallets attached to the wall so that pupils can ‘self-serve’ for any resources they might be missing. Strangely enough, I have this random whiteboard that annoyingly is off centre…so I’ve tried to put it to good use. I’ve attached a whiteboard pen on a piece of string (I am under no illusion that it will stay there) to encourage pupils to ask questions or leave messages about anything they are unsure of!

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Lesson #7: Don’t be scared to bring your personality in.

In light of the new GCSE syllabus and in the spirit of #WomenED, I have created a little ‘feminism’ display on the window with a poster I picked up from the NATE conference in Nottingham this year. The speech bubbles around the figurehead are full of quotes from literature and celebrities about why feminism matters to them. I think it is important that there is a bit of you in your classroom!

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Lesson #8: Make it somewhere you want to be.

I’m going to be spending 25 hours a week in this room, if not more. If I’m going to be spending that many hours in my classroom, I’d at least like it to be somewhere that I want to be. I’ve got bunting up & a cloud chalkboard (all from Tiger!) which has the ‘word of the week’. I’ve got cards from students and colleagues around the room as well as bright, colourful displays. I have a reed diffuser (99p from Wilkos!) which makes the room smell lush and students always comment on how nice it smells. I almost never have the lights on in favour of having the curtains open and letting the natural light pour in.

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Lesson #9: Know where to shop.

By all means not necessary but something I enjoy doing nonetheless! I love going into Tiger, Søstrene Grene, ASDA’s reduced/offer aisle, Wilko’s, IKEA etc. to see what little bits and pieces they have for the classroom. I also use raffle tickets as a behaviour management strategy – when names are pulled from the raffle ticket jar, they then get to pick a little prize. I made these bags for about £1 each by buying things from a mix of the shops above.

Lesson #10: Team English is always there to help!

Honestly the best resource I have ever discovered. This bunch of beautiful & generous individuals provide endless resources, ideas and support. So if you don’t know, now you know. Go and follow them!