I have been wondering about the best way to approach this blog to ensure that I take it in the right direction for people that are just starting their teacher training, or for those further along in their careers that are just taking on a new tutee. Therefore, it is important for you, reader, to be aware that the experiences that I share on here are unique to me. Others may have experienced the same, or similar to me. Some of you may be able to empathise with what I share. You may wonder whether you will come upon the experience that I share. If you do, it is a happy coincidence that you can read this for support, but if you don’t please don’t think that you are doing anything “wrong” or you are missing out on something in your training year. Just as my year belongs to me and my experience, your year will belong entirely to you, so firstly, good luck!
To begin with, I thought I would put together a “Top Ten List” of pieces of advice that have been given to me, or that I think may be of use to those starting their training in 2020/2021. Take this as you see fit, and I am sure your mentors and colleagues will share their experience and advice with you. This list is in no particular order.
- Find Headspace – your training year will be intense, there will be a lot of demands of your time and if you are anything like me, you will worry about what to do first and when to do it. I recommend that you find something you enjoy doing that benefits you and your mental and physical health. Find something that will clear your head of anything school or training related. Schedule this into your working week. A lot of teachers that I have met this year attend gym classes regularly, even if it is a 60minute session a week. You will find yourself looking forward to it. I have also had many “light-bulb” moments about planning or a university essay that have happened when I was doing something entirely unrelated to teaching.
- Build Strong Boundaries – When I started in September, I was prepared for the work that comes with teaching English. I was also aware, that if I let it, it could creep in and take over every aspect of my life. I am a mum with 3-year-old twins, and I do not want them becoming used to seeing mummy on a laptop all the time. So, the first thing that I decided to stick to was that I will not work when the kids are awake, and I do not work on Friday nights. I have stuck by this and it has worked. You could also put boundaries in place when you are at school, always make sure you make time to have a lunch break. Step away from your desk or classroom and take 20 minutes to breath and relax and have something to eat. Your colleagues will respect this and you will find that a lot of them do it too.
- Ask Questions – Your mentor will be prepared for this, (they wouldn’t be a mentor if they weren’t aware of the amount of questions a trainee asks!), ask them about their motivation, why they have approached a lesson in certain way, or how they manage their work/life balance. I always make a point of asking new colleagues how long they have been teaching and what their career journey has been to lead them to this point. You will learn a lot about teaching through asking questions. Ask for feedback, ask them how they would teach your lesson. You will get a lot of this through observations; but there is also opportunity for it through lessons that are not formally observed. If you are lucky enough to be placed in a school with an outward facing SLT team, ask them about the school, ask them about policies and why the school approaches things in certain ways. You will learn whether the school matches your personal beliefs and ethics. You will learn what type of school you want to start your career in.
- Observe – I could not recommend this more! There will be time on your timetable that will allow you to go and observe others. You will so much about how your colleagues manage behaviour and build relationships with the kids. A good way to do this is to pick a child that you may find difficult to manage and follow their timetable. If anything, this will give you confidence that you are not the problem. I also find it interesting to observe subjects that I do not teach or are “opposite” to mine (Maths, for example). It is fascinating and you will become a fan of the wealth of subject knowledge your colleagues have. You can also “magpie” lesson ideas or strategies that will work in your lesson. It is a great opportunity to build relationships with your colleagues around school too, as an English teacher I hold History teachers close to my heart because of all the contextual information they can give me about the time period in which a piece of text was written.
- Read – JOIN TWITTER #edutwitter #tinyvoiceuesday #ITTchat. To name a few. There is so much out there. Teaching is about sharing best practice, resources and experiences. Teachers also write, look for published works around your subject. Twitter is a good place to find them, as teachers will share books, they have found helpful. Reading is also a powerful tool in increasing your subject knowledge. Your mentors will know of useful articles or journals for you to read. Start building a bank. I can tell you; Amazon loves me with the amount of books that I have bought this year.
- Friendships – I mentioned this in my first blog. If you are on a school centred course, you will quickly build fast and strong friendships. These people will quickly become the most valuable things in your life. They will become your safe space, sounding board or even the ones that bring you back down to earth. You will be able to see yourself through their eyes and admit to short comings or have a laugh about your day. When I met my English trainee colleagues, we set up a WhatsApp group on day one and I can honestly say that there has not been a day that they have not A good group of friends is like the sun when you are in the depths of marking or reading Shakespeare.
- To Do Lists – I had trail and error with these. You should experiment with how you keep track of what you need to do, but I do recommend writing everything down. It then gets it out of your head and you can get a sense of satisfaction when you cross things off.
- TIME – As a teacher, this is such a valuable resource. You will learn to manage it as you go, but a few things to be aware of: Have a routine; have a time that you get up and go to bed. Ensure that your classes are ready to go when the bell goes: it does not matter if they are standing up waiting, you can use this time to do a few retrieval questions about the lesson you have just done with them. Allocate time to plan: as a trainee this is a slow process (think: you are building up a bank of lessons that you can edit and reuse). Do not spend hours and hours on planning as your mentor is there to help. Time for yourself: as I have said before, you need to allocate time to be yourself, do not let this consume you.
- Experience – your training year is the most reflective, demanding journey you will ever complete. You will look back with pride at what you have complete and your heart will swell with pride at the sense of accomplishment. ENJOY it, your training year is the safest point in your career, it is your time to take risks and work out what type of teacher you are. I feel whole since training to teach. You will too.
- Fun – Teachers are a funny breed of human. A lot of us can still connect with the child that we used to be. Some of us are in the profession to make sure that children have a better experience than we did. The child is at the centre of everything we do. Because of this, we spend a lot of time with them. One thing that you will learn quickly is that kids are hilarious! They will make you laugh in ways you have not before, they will get you to look at the world around you through their eyes, which is fascinating. Teaching is privileged position, have fund with it. In some cases, for kids in your class, you are the highlight of their day. Who can say that? We make the days of the young minds around us.
There you go, my list of “advice” for those starting their training this year. Do you have any questions or comments? Leave them below and I will get back to you.