An excellent recent blog post by Jill Berry New teachers, or seasoned teachers with new classes: “Don’t smile until Christmas….” got me thinking about what advice I was given and the way I began the academic year when I first started teaching. It’s a notable time to take this particular trip down memory lane too as September 2018 sees me a decade into the teaching profession. 10 years ago this September, you would have found me a nervously excited NQT in my first teaching job, preparing my classroom, planning lessons and determined to attempt to make a difference to the lives of the young people I was about to meet. Essentially, no aspect of that list has changed in September 2018 but the way in which I execute it has. If I could go back and speak to my 2008 self, what would I tell younger me to remember to do at the start of the new academic year?
Dear NQT me,
As you will know, the first lessons you teach will set the tone for the rest of the academic year. To get the very best out of the young minds sitting in front of you, my top tips are as follows
- As quickly as you can, know your students really well (and I’m not referring to their VAK preference!)
Yes, the data sheet you have in front of you may be a starting point and you will need to ensure that you have read any available information about any students in vulnerable groups. However, you could also go and speak to form tutors/Heads of Year/ pastoral managers/ previous class teachers about students in your classes. In lessons, don’t let the confident or ‘louder’ students dominate so that it takes you too long to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘quiet’ student or, worse, the ones who are coasting. Only when you know every student really well will your planning bear fruit.
2. Plan for lots and lots of time to practise skills and embed knowledge.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that, once you have a taught a concept or skill and practised it a couple of times, your students have fully grasped it. You will need to plan for many opportunities to recall and practise skills. Knowledge quizzes, carefully planned questioning that recaps previous learning and connects it to new learning, whole chunks of lessons where students are silently writing extended answers independently: these things hold the key to your students’ success. As an aside, don’t worry that doing these things repeatedly will mean less engagement in your classroom. Students will be more engaged in your subject if they feel like they are successful in it, and that comes with practice.
3. Feedback, NOT marking EVERY. LITTLE. BIT. OF. WORK.
Please remember to only mark the pieces of work that are going to help move your students forward. Whole class feedback is perfectly acceptable and a great way to share best practice and challenge common misconceptions. Give personalised verbal feedback as you go around the classroom looking at your students’ work and then check a little later that they have acted on it. There is no need to take stacks of books home with you. SPOILER: 9 times out of 10, you will end up taking a load of books home, not actually marking them and then carrying them all back into school. This leads to ‘marking guilt’, which is totally unnecessary.
4. Set high expectations
Don’t roll your eyes at me, NQT me: I-know-you-know this, which is why I haven’t put it at top of the list! However, those high expectations include minute details that, as an NQT, you will scoff at. Insist that every piece of work a student produces is their best effort. This includes no scribbling on or in exercise books, work well laid out and presented, students checking their own work for errors before declaring it complete. You want to foster conscientious working habits that will see students through their school careers, not just setting the attainment and behaviour bar high.
In 10 years’ time, you will still love teaching. You will have helped thousands of students. Not every lesson will be perfect, but you will still enjoy the challenge of planning and delivering lessons that engage your students.
Enjoy your September start!
Emma Smith, History.