When you embark on a new course, it may take a little while to find your feet – especially if you have no idea what’s in store for you! When it’s all over, sometimes you can’t help but think I wish I did that differently or I wish I had been more prepared. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but here’s a few survival tips to alleviate those first-term nerves.
Manage your time
Managing your time effectively will be a life saver when you feel like your workload is overflowing. My mentor showed me the Eisenhower Method. This rescued my brain from overloading in the past and getting to grips with what needed to be done now, later, or could be put off for when I’m procrastinating:
Creating that work/life balance can be tricky but, if you’re out of core hours, make sure whatever you’re doing counts and you’re not distracted by your own doing. What I mean is – don’t write a great lesson plan whilst catching up on your favourite programmes or try and evaluate a lesson whilst trying to socialise! It will drain you and you may end up writing a rationale on why season two is never as good as the first instead of why you incorporated that pedagogy into your plenary.
Always ask for help
No one expects you to have figured this out already. Even seasoned teachers will walk out of a lesson and say, ‘well that was interesting’. Teaching is transitional and you learn on the job. Don’t be afraid to seek advice; make the most of your mentor time. If you feel like a failure because a lesson didn’t go the way you planned, don’t suffer in silence: learn from it and move forward with the help from people who have been there, done that and seen everything.
Enhance your skills
Your PGCE year is a smorgasbord for experience and a chance for you to experiment. If you’ve thought of a jazzy, fizz-filled lesson you’re desperate to trial – do it now! If it bombs, you’ll have expert advice on why and you can take this time to perfect your style and recognise what works for you and what doesn’t.
With that in mind, observe as many teachers as possible. Every personality is different right? That goes for lessons too. You may be singing from the same hymn sheet but how you deliver that song is personal. Watch and make notes on what you liked about a lesson; how they dealt with behaviour or differentiated a task. Pick and choose and amalgamate those gems into your own remixed version.
Here’s a few top tips to get the Continuous Professional Development juices flowing:
- Read up to date education literature, not just the ones on the reading list that were written in the 80s.
- Ask for as much CPD as possible with exam boards. If there’s training on offer for how to answer a certain exam question – take it.
- Shadow certain children with behaviour issues or SEN students and observe how different teachers engage with them and deal with their needs effectively.
- Face your fears and make parent contact quickly – for positives as well as negatives. This is particularly necessary if you have an aversion to talking on the phone. The sooner you do this, the easier it’ll become.
- Get involved in activities that aren’t just in the school day. Participate in an extra-curricular activity, volunteer to support a sporting event. The more visible you are, the better.
- Allocate time for planning lessons within your long-term strategy, not just something to do within this year.
Make marking work for you
Marking is a personal mission. Experiment with what works for you before it increases next year. Some like going in early, others prefer marking at home or splitting them into chunks (e.g. five books at a time) but it’s all about how you can manage it effectively.
Start marking ASAP. Look through other teachers’ books and mark with people in your department to gain an understanding of the preferred method.
It would be outlandish to suggest that teaching wasn’t a stressful vocation. But the positives hugely outweigh the negatives.
- Focus on yourself and not on what your course mates are saying they’re doing well in – you’re doing well in your own right.
- Ensure you do one positive thing a week: call a parent or a send an e-mail about something positive their child did today; reward students who have impressed you or behaved congenially.
- Make a note of those positive experiences and put them in a jar for when things get tough. You can always look back and remember why you’re doing it.
Don’t become a department hermit at break and lunch. I made this mistake halfway through the first term and I never came out again. Get into that staffroom, have a cup of coffee and a biscuit, and make friends. Camaraderie is essential for your survival. Besides, your PGCE pals can last a lifetime and you could even be working with them in the future!
Be forward thinking
Reflect: take everything as a learning curve. Even if it’s ‘the worst lesson you’ve ever taught’, you can still receive a Grade 1 if you show you’re reflective by pinpointing where and why it went wrong and what you would do differently.
Prepare for future job applications by making a note of everything you’ve done during placements: successful lesson plans; CPD training, extra-curricular activities; a positive e-mail from a parent or a successful behavioural strategy. If you do this as you go along you won’t be scratching your head or trawling through e-mails for evidence at the end.
This is the time to make the mistakes and learn from them; to ask all of the questions, no matter how many times you’ve asked them already; to trial those innovative and interactive lessons you’ve come up with and most importantly have fun and enjoy teaching!
About the author
After completing a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, Tammy worked as a Learning Support Assistant, with a focus on helping students develop their literacy skills. She then taught as an English teacher at an all-boys comprehensive school in Berkshire. Now she has turned her sights to a career in writing, with education at the heart of it.