So, you’ve just landed your first job as a languages’ teacher....
When I started my first teaching job, I was 34, a single Mum with two small boys. I felt the enormous pressure of trying to do all I could at home and at school and I felt I had to be perfect! Tearfully, I confessed this to my Head of Department and her words have never left me!
"Remember, just good enough is good enough, your family comes first and the students will get what they deserve!"
And she meant it! I learned so much about teaching, classroom management, routines, writing assessments and Schemes of work from that woman, she was my mentor in the best possible way, and I have never worked so hard, felt so supported or enjoyed my job as much, before or since!
So I say exactly that to all of you! It needs to be good enough, but you must prioritise your health and ensure you have balance and perspective.
However, some practical advice might also come in handy!
Know your SOW (Scheme of Work) for each year group and study it so you have a clear idea of where you’re heading.
Be prepared to have no idea what people are talking about in department meetings for about 6 months! (Was that just me??)
Be organised! Prepare as much as you can well in advance to avoid the sick panicky feeling the night before. Dedicate an achievable set amount of time to planning and stick to it. If everything doesn't get done in that time, it doesn't get done. But hopefully you're advanced enough in your planning for it not to matter and you can do it another time. Trust that although it may feel that you're spending so much time on planning IT WILL GET QUICKER AND EASIER.
1. Keep everything (PowerPoints, worksheets, games) to reuse/adjust. Remember that every teacher has a different style in planning and delivery and there is not necessarily a right way.
2. If you have two or more of the same year group, do a mid-long term plan, but don’t imagine for one minute they will progress at the same rate, even if they’re not set! Be prepared to tweak your planning daily! Spend a few minutes at the end of every day tweaking tomorrow’s lessons as necessary so that you are really responding to your students!
3. Vocabulary tests are your friend! You will come to welcome that 10 minute pause in your week, for each class! Use them as an opportunity for peer assessment and make sure you circulate so that they all think you’ve seen what they wrote!
4. Have more spare pens than you ever think you’ll need! And paper! Keep a note of who did not have their book and make sure they’ve copied up, or keep their paper and have glue to stick it in at the beginning of the next lesson!
5. Marking - feedback is very important, but taking in a set of books cannot replace engaging with students in the lesson. Circulate (that word again!) and spot-mark books, talk to students individually and be encouraging.
6. Check your listening material is functioning before the lesson! Check at the end of each day, and again in the morning! There is nothing more stressful than having the wrong listening activity! And just in case of gremlins, have an alternative activity ready, to buy you time while you sort it!
7. Find a professional friend in your department and confer! Tell them what went well AND what didn’t! Be honest and vulnerable. If help is not forthcoming or you feel judged, you’re in the wrong department! Move as soon as you can!
8. Observe as much as possible! Pinching ideas from other teachers works best when you've seen these in practice. If observing for classroom management, it may be not be the most helpful to watch a teacher who has been at the school years and years and has established a reputation. More helpful is to watch someone who was recently in your situation to see how they handle the various challenges that come up.
9. Observations. You will be observed regularly over your NQT year and it is always a little scary. As HOD (Head of Department), I observed lots of lessons. I always learned something! Your HOD should put you at ease and feedback should always be positive and constructive. If however you have a lesson that does not go to plan and the feedback is disappointing, even negative, try to use it as a learning experience and take the criticism. It’s hard, but you will improve. If you don’t feel supported, that is a problem, so try to raise it and if still not resolved, think about moving on!
10. Most of all, have fun! Don’t listen to the don’t smile until Christmas brigade; you need to make your students feel safe and communicate! Have clear routines and expectations in line with your School’s behaviour policy and then trust that all will be well, and if it’s not? ASK FOR HELP!
Written with input from Maeve Broderick, a former colleague.