OK so I am ready to go back tomorrow.
Our school finishes early and goes back early, a quirk in the calendar but one that I have embraced and accepted. My neighbours opposite both work as teachers in a different school and so will wave me off tomorrow morning with glee, as they go for their morning run. I don’t mind I shall wave back – even though there are 8 weeks until half term. Like the great Gloria Gaynor – “I will survive”. I am being a bit dramatic, but sometimes the start of a new term can feel that way – if you are an NQT, a PGCE student or have been in the business for decades.
The new term will present new students, new challenges and new opportunities. So here is my two pennies’ worth, my 5 top tips for a great start to the term.
1. Get organised and get your head in the game
This should be numbers 1-5 to be honest, but then that would be cheating. Get a planner – Pirongs have a superb selection of ones that you can customise and personalise. I cannot stand the generic one that we get at school as I have an aversion to that awful plastic cover. Also a trip to Paperchase may be in order to get some fantastic pens and pencils to brighten up your day. I am a big fan of the fluffy unicorn pen, when lending out to year 12 boys they are more likely to “find” a pen or return it if it is large and fluffy. I did hear a tale of a teacher who insisted that students gave over their shoes in return for the lend of a pen. This ensured that they returned the pen at the end of the session. How true this I don’t know! I have had pencils to lend before which said “Justin Beiber” on them, and I got every last one back at the end of the lesson.
2. Get your beverages right
Go to John Lewis or somewhere equally as nice and purchase a nice travel mug for your coffee (or tea), so that you can cart it from room to room without needing a risk assessment. Bodium do a lovely selection that should see you through to Christmas. This is essential. You should also have a good stock of decaff tea or coffee. Forget the “I need the caffeine buzz” all this will do is leave you flat by break time. Go decaff, and you will enjoy your day without the spikes and troughs. If you can switch to sweeteners and reduce your sugar intake for the same reason. You will be less exhausted by 4pm I promise. And make sure you buy the best quality coffee or tea you can afford. I have one colleague who has a cafetiere and another who brings in her own almond milk, be ready to treat yourself every day.
3. Have tricks up your sleeve
You may find that you need to fill a long tutor time, or a cover lesson or you are left with a group while something is organised. Be prepared for the unexpected and have a few tricks up your sleeve. If you have a “room” (which is rare these days) then can I suggest you purchase some jigsaws from charity shops. This is a concentration and teamwork activity. It focuses the mind and students engaged in a jigsaw are less likely to be rooting for their phones or complaining about the rain / heat / snow / cold / damp etc. Other goodies which work well are raffle tickets, useful in a range of situations. Have also in your kit bag a couple of bags of Maltesers (£1 a bag) these may just save your life one day in a lesson. For example you could encourage students to come to the front of the room and discuss their hobby, passion, holiday and give them a ticket. At the end of the session or half term you can draw a winner. They can also be used in tricky lessons to give to students who are on task and working hard. Other goodies are paper plates (so many uses) and boxes of Uno. I like to spend weekends scouring the pound shops looking for items for my kit bag. I have used paper plates with my year 13s before. Never underestimate the power of craft. Oh, and a great big box of felt tips. And coloured paper.
4. Be two weeks ahead
Best piece of advice I ever had in nearly 20 years teaching was from my mentor at my PGCE placement. “Just be 2 weeks ahead” he said, “any further and you will forget, you will get overwhelmed by the extent of the course and the task ahead.” He continued “think of it like climbing Everest, they take it a day at a time, they don’t try and climb it all in the first week”. I thought long and hard about this analogy that day and over the coming years. I have mentored many people over the years and I always tip the same advice. Just try and look at 2 weeks. Just put in your planner 2 weeks, don’t try and map out a whole half term or you will be crossing out more than you want to. Lessons go faster or slower than you anticipated and school has a way of throwing you a curve ball like “no pens day” that may throw out your normal lesson rhythm. Not to mention the bout of flu or tonsillitis that is likely to strike mid term. So the takeaway from this is take each term in 2 week chunks.
5. Train from the start
Day 1 with your students – any year group – set out your stall, your high expectations about homework, private study, reading ahead and reading the business news. Make sure over the next couple of weeks that you reinforce this with a good dollop of homework. You could also set a reading task which asks the students to bring in a review of what they have read in the chapter – or ask them to boil it down to 200 words. Also set up what they will be doing in the last week of term – a micro teach. They can pick topics now (that you intend to cover) and they should decide how they will teach it back to the group at the end of term. An extra ongoing project. A great way for students to consolidate the learning and re-energise them just before the half term break. I have seen some fantastic micro teaches in my time – games, activities, discussions and presentations. They should be as adventurous as possible. Offer prizes if the added incentive will encourage their creativity. Now they know what one is the next term will be easier as their expectations of you are equally as high.
Have a great half term everyone – see you in 8 weeks time!