As my initial teacher training (ITT) starts to draw to a close, I thought it would be a good time to look back and reflect on my experiences so far; how far have I come, what do I know now that I wish I’d known two years ago. It’s also the time when new ITT prospects will be getting nervous about their applications, and so I thought it might help for me to put this in writing; even if it only helps one person then I’ll consider it a useful way to have spent my time.
My initial worries and what I think of them now
I remember worrying about a few things when I first got into teaching. Things that seemed so simple to every teacher I’d ever met, so much so that most of them never seemed to notice it. So here are a few of those things that niggled me:
- How do teachers know what to teach? How do they know that they’ll cover everything they need to over the year? Will my students be disadvantaged by having me instead of a more experienced teacher for those lessons? If this sounds like you, then here is my opinion on it now: a year is a very long time. Schemes of work (SoW) are yearlong plans that outline what needs to be covered. Mostly, these exist already and are just adapted year on year. In the case of a new subject, such as the new English GCSE, a new SoW will need to be written, but remember that this would be for an entire English department. No one is expecting a trainee or an NQT to produce this on their own, and then be left until the exam results come out to see how they did.
- In terms of individual lessons, sometimes you don’t cover everything you wanted to. Sometimes you’re behind your SoW and sometimes you’re ahead of it. As you get to know your students you’ll be able to set the pace, and if you feel half way through the year that you didn’t cover things at the beginning as well as you could have, it’s fine to go back. Planning is a big part of the job, but a year is a long time; you don’t have to know every minute of every lesson before September starts.
2. Classroom management
- This is teacher talk for not letting your students run wild, jumping on the tables and burning things. I worried about how well I’d be able to manage students in a classroom, and not just manage them, but get them learning as well. This is a huge question. I think the best thing I can say here is that it is not just trainees who worry about this, and secondly, I don’t personally feel that you ever reach a finish point where you can now ‘do it’.
- Sue Cowley wrote a good book, Getting the Buggers to Behave and Phil Beadle wrote, How To Teach. I would strongly recommend reading both of these if you are worried about classroom management as they are packed with genuinely useful techniques that you can implement straight away. Whether that’s using a seating plan, how to talk to a student who is angry or how not to embarrass a student so that they don’t lash out, these two books are both easy to read, not too long and will give you plenty to be going on with.
- Understand this though: even the best teacher in the world sometimes has students who misbehave. You can’t beat yourself up about it too much. Just reflect afterwards when you’ve calmed down, what did you do well, what didn’t you do well, how would you do it differently if you could go back. Then you improve. Or, at the very least, you improve for that student or a similar situation. Students are people at the end of the day and one rule isn’t going to fit all. Don’t lean on being liked too much, I know it’s a cliché but things become clichés generally because they’ve been true for a long time. At the end of the year, students will like the teachers who they are progressing with, not the ones who let them get away with messing around. Play the long game and accept that sometimes students will dislike you, but they’re generally a forgiving bunch.
3. Is my subject knowledge good enough?
- This really depends on what it is you’re going to teach. You may have a degree in your subject, you may not. I think something I’ve learned is that I shouldn’t have been worrying about my subject knowledge, but more can I get this knowledge across to my students? My knowledge was good enough, and even so, you constantly improve it when you’re immersed in that subject and that department. It’s getting that across to the students that counts. This can be tough sometimes. It’s a legitimate concern.
- Again though, don’t put too much on yourself as a trainee. If every teacher could answer this point confidently then every student would be a genius. You’ll have some students who just get it, and some who just don’t even when you feel you’ve been to the moon and back trying. The best thing you can do here is be passionate; I don’t mean passionate in the way you’d say it in an interview, I mean really passionate.
- You can’t leap around the room being an entertainer all day every day, you’ll burn out. Passion will show through if you really believe that what you’re teaching is worth knowing. If your students see that, they’ll know it’s worth learning and they’ll put the effort in too.
If you can do these three points, I wouldn’t worry about too much else for now. You’re a trainee. Even as a qualified teacher if you can plan your year, be passionate about your subject and control a class then you are doing amazingly, you don’t need to fret about anything else.
What other advice would I give myself now if I could go back? That’s in part two of my blog.
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