During my time as an Science NQT and ITT mentor I was often asked ‘what would be my top five tips for 1st year survival?’. This question has been asked of me again recently, so I thought I would share them with you.
1) BE ORGANISED: no matter what type of ‘work personality’ you are, you need to establish a clear routine for yourself to avoid been overloaded with paperwork and marking. When you have your timetable, create a marking schedule (remember that you don’t have to mark every week, every 2 weeks is enough but it’s the quality of the marking and the feedback to the learners that enables them to make progress which counts!!). During your first year you will be writing reports (even if online they still take up time), marking, planning and probably also volunteering for various school events – things can very easily be missed if you don’t prioritise your time effectively and don’t forget it’s important to have a social life too!!
2) STICK TO THE RULES: make sure you know thoroughly the school policy on child protection, behaviour management, rewards & sanctions and then follow them! Situations become much more difficult if you’re seen to be ‘unfair’ and treating students differently – it’s a trap that many new teachers fall into, as they want students to ‘like them’ as oppose to ‘respect them’. By sticking to the rules set out in the policies and rewarding positive behaviours, following up on sanctions and regularly providing students with relevant feedback on their work you’ll find that students will learn to respect you and grow to like you!
3) ASK FOR HELP: If you’re unsure about something then ask, no one expects you to know everything from the beginning and it’s always better to check your facts beforehand. If a student asks a question you don’t know the answer to then say ‘I’m not sure about that, can I get back to you next lesson?’ – students appreciate the honesty and you don’t have to be embarrassed by going back to correct inaccuracies at a later date. Be careful though, you don’t want to use that statement every lesson, as you could end up looking like you don’t know anything!!
4) MAKE FEEDBACK RELEVANT: the purpose of feedback is to enable the student to learn and make further progress next time. Vague comments like ‘well done’, ‘good effort’, ’10/10′ etc don’t enable a learner to move forward. I suggest that a positive comment should be included in your marking as recognition of the effort, however it needs to be backed up with a relevant, structured comment which enables them to make progress. For example ‘Neatly presented graph; remember to always include the units on the axis labels’. Another good tip is when you do mark written work, always initial and date the marking, so that students, parents (& my head of department) can see that books are marked regularly – it doesn’t take long but makes a big difference how you’re perceived as an effective teacher. If you’re thinking that it may take a while to write all these comments, I have a secret, I invested in a series of stamps which covered a range of different targets, as often students make the same errors in their work and I used them where possible and personalised the rest of my marking. I got my stamps from MarkYourMark, one of my favourite stamp shops, it can be found in York and have a range of teacher stamps already but will also personalise designs with your name on. As they can be re-used, it is a way in which you can reward positive behaviour in the lesson effortlessly. I have found that the rubber stamps are more economical but do cost a bit to get started, there are also a huge amount of sticker companies out there who will also do similar stickers, which may work out cheaper.
My favourites are
- School Stickers – have a really big range, one of my favourites is the ‘Ask me why’ range which include statements like ‘Ask me why … I got this sticker today’. The mini stickers work out at about 1400 stickers for £19.95 and the larger ones are about 1050 for £19.95.
- Cheaper options can be found at any of the supermarkets, as they pretty much all sell star sticker packs for less than £1, as well as pencils, erasers, sharpeners, etc. I always think it’s a good idea to reward students with items they may need in school, such as pens, rulers, pencils, etc and I tend to collect resources when they are on special offer (e.g. at the moment in WHSmith it’s get ‘4 for 3’ on stationary items)
- Yellow Moon is another great place to source educational activities and reward resources. The BrainBox Maths game is a great starter or plenary activity that engages students but they also have plenty of stickers (£4.99 for 1200), arts & crafts and plenty of other items (check out the party bag favourites section).
5) ENJOY YOURSELF: Teaching is a lifelong profession and you will always be learning new ideas, strategies, discovering new ways to improving your teaching and the learning of your students. Remember that you have a lot to offer more experienced staff, such as new strategies, ways of using new technologies, teaching techniques and mostly ‘lots of enthusiasm’, so be confident (not cocky) and enjoy the ride! For every ‘five or so’ more negative moments, there will be an amazing ‘eureka’ instance which will blow your mind and remind you why you came into teaching in the first place. Try not to take things personally; not everyone will appreciate the five hours you spent at the weekend preparing exciting resources to stimulate your students’ interest in your lesson but some might, some of the time and it’s not personal it’s just that students have a lot to deal with … social lives, families, x-factor and so on which means your lessons don’t always reach their ‘top 10’ of key priorities.
** Adding a 6th point (if that’s allowed) I would also recommend you reading the PGCE survival Guide by Tom Handley **
These are my top tips – if there’s any that are on your ‘top five’ list – please leave a comment and share your thoughts……