Monday, 5 August 2013

What they should tell every Schools Direct student/PGCE student/Traineeteacher ad infinitum

This is about the time when all soon-to-be teachers start worrying about starting their placements. I know I certainly did. I worried about what I needed to do to prepare. I worried about how I could learn from experienced teachers and practitioners. I worried about how I'd be treated in the staff room. I worried about how I could control the behaviour of students. Most of all I worried about how I was actually going to pass myself off as a teacher.

This list is similar to my 'what I wish I knew as an NQT' but is more directed to those who have very little/no experience of the classroom and are wondering what to do the first time they have to stand in front of 30 adolescent students. It is not exhaustive and it is not from someone who has years and years of experience; it is from someone who qualified only a few years ago but has also observed and given student teachers feedback from the perspective of a qualified teacher as well.


1. Do smile before Christmas - Someone (no idea who now) once told me whilst I was training that I 'shouldn't smile before Christmas' - essentially be mean to everyone to indicate that I mean business. Unfortunately, I make a lot of (bad) jokes and guffaw like a hyena most of the time so I found this nigh on impossible. This led me to build good relationships with students and staff at my first placement and second placement (I think) as it basically made me seem human. Also, if you're mean all the time, it is very difficult for the students to know when you're actually not very happy. Once I'd created my I'm-not-very-impressed-with-you look, the students clearly knew when I wasn't to be messed with. Tip 1: Be nice

2. Be a magpie - Teachers steal things. Not in an illegal way (or most of us don't), but from each other. Any idea posted on this blog is stolen and adapted from someone else (sorry). Most ideas on other educational blogs are stolen and adapted. It's because there's already a lot of decent stuff out there. I've still got resources, ideas and activities that I've taken from my first two placements and use a few years on. Keep it all; I'd recommend getting a digital copy of everything and keep it as organised as possible. At the end of my PGCE, the English cohort of teachers got together to share our stolen stuff so that we had accumulated most of Yorkshire's teaching resources. Why waste your time when someone has already done it for you? The key is to adapt it to suit your class when the time comes. Tip 2: Be accumulative of resources and ideas

3. Don't be a know-it-all - We've all seen it on job interviews. Whether it is for a teaching role, something outside of education or even 'The Apprentice', there's always some numpty on interview who thinks they know everything about the job already and is already an expert. Don't get me wrong, it's always good to see someone who already has some understanding of their role and organisation. However, it's no coincidence that the numpty never gets through on 'The Apprentice'; nor that the fool, who thought they could handle the behaviour management of a class better than the Head of Department, did not get the job. Tip 3: Be willing to learn

4. Don't worry, be happy - The worry of almost every trainee teacher is 'how on earth am I going to control a class?' Well, don't worry - you won't have to. Most schools will not throw you in without having observed decent teachers; most will not let you teach without someone observing you; most will have really good behaviour policies in order for you to implement should things go a bit mental. And if your school is a bit rubbish, just remember that you're a lot bigger (most of the time) than the students you're teaching. Similarly, you have more experience of the world so know better than they do (most of the time). The time to make mistakes and have problems with behaviour is when you're training hence the word training. You're not going to be a Jedi Master in teaching straight away so take your time practicing and making your practice deliberate. Tip 4: Be calm

5. Learn from your mistakes - I still remember a lesson from my second placement taking a GCSE year 10 class where the lesson was being taught in the ICT suite. The whole lesson went massively wrong when the Internet stopped working. I looked to my observer for help and advice but they let me flounder horribly whilst the students participated in no learning whatsoever. Alex Quigley was the observer and, although his methods were horrible, they taught me a valuable lesson on how to have a backup for the lesson, how to think on my feet and how to cope with ICT going wrong. I've been in a similar situation since and have coped because I have experience that situation. They are all helpful in letting you progress as a teacher. Tip 5: Be able to fail and fail better

6. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you - This particularly applies to staff at the school you will work at. Treat them with respect. They have been employed in the craft you are aspiring to join for a lot longer than you have so will know more than you. They might be pessimistic, weather-beaten and obnoxious but they still know a lot of stuff. Even if you don't particularly like them, act like you do. When students complain about who they're sat next to or who they are in a group with I always reply with 'Do you think I like all my colleagues? Do you think I want to work with all of them? I do it because I have to and I have things to learn from them just as you will from your group'. Tip 6: Be respectful to staff

7. Don't take everything that an experienced member of staff or an education theorist says as gospel - I would highly recommend starting to read 'Teacher Proof' by Tom Bennett which dispels some of the myths around what works in education through looking at the data which tries to prove these theories. One of these is 'learning styles'. At a primary school I visited, students had 'visual', 'auditory' or 'kinaesthetic' written on the front of their exercise books to indicate what preference the student had when learning. After speaking to the teacher they explained the theory behind it which I then did a bit of research on and duly thought was fantastic. This was still part of my teaching placements when the university lesson plan proforma indicated a section for 'VAK'. I have since grown rather dubious of this theory to say the least. It is worth listening and taking on board any advice that a teacher has for you but don't take it to be true. Tip 7: Be skeptical

8.Work out where to work - One of the things I appreciated about my PGCE was the fact that I got to experience life in very different schools. As well as working in the school that I went to prior to the course, I went to a primary school and two very different secondary schools. This gave me a good idea of what kind of school I wanted to work in after the course. I wanted a secondary comprehensive that was truly comprehensive with sixth form that was fairly large but, most important of all, that had great CPD and opportunities to learn. I believe that I got that with the school I was employed at and the school that I am about to move to, but had I not experience the different schools that I saw on placement,  I would not have know what I liked or did not like. In fact, before the course started, I was adamant that I wanted to work at a private school and, now (at least at the moment), I have no intention to ever work in the private sector. Tip 8: Be open to new experiences

9. Learn while you can - At the moment, as it is the summer holidays, I have a reading list of literally  22 books (I'm on the third) which are all about education. Not all teachers are like this and I'm not saying that as a trainee you certainly will be when you qualify. However, I do wish that I had read up more during my PGCE rather than concentrating on the actual teaching. I can obviously now read these books with a bit more insight about teaching, but I don't have the time. There's a lot of views about education (just have a gander at the blogs out there) and it's good to get a view and opinion as soon as possible about it. Tip 9: Be proactive with reading

10. Reflect, reflect, reflect - Whatever course you are on, you will have to reflect all the time. Whilst you are observing, whilst you are teaching and whilst you are reading about teaching. But you know what? I think it's the best trait a teacher can have. Along with being willing to change, there is nothing better than reflecting all the time as a teacher. It shows you think about teaching and ultimately care. But as well as quantity, it needs to be quality reflection. The idea of deliberate practice is fantastic and is a whole lot more useful then trying to improve everything at once. Reflect on something specific rather than everything at once otherwise you will be incredibly overwhelmed at the start of your teaching practice. Tip 10: Be reflective

In summary then, as a trainee I would advise to:

Be nice
Be accumulative of resources and ideas
Be willing to learn
Be calm
Be able to fail and fail better
Be respectful to staff
Be questioning
Be open to new experiences
Be proactive with reading
Be reflective. 

1 comment:

  1. Getting qualified teacher is the boon for students as well as educational institutions.They are having great responsibility to make the students as intelligent.
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