Top 10 tips for starting teaching in September
For anyone about to start their first teaching role in September there is probably a strange mixture of excitement and dread! I am writing this at the Teach First Summer Institute where there are 1700 trainee teachers preparing to start teaching in September. Whether you are starting through Teach First, or any other route into teaching (or moving to a new school) then these top tips should be of benefit to you. These top tips have come from discussions with the amazing Associate Tutor team, and you may think we have missed some really important ideas so please add them below.
- Use your summer to rest and improve subject knowledge
This one could also be “don’t spend all summer planning”, simply because when you meet your classes and get stuck in, you will have to throw out all the planning you do. If you are keen to start, focus on subject knowledge or potentially getting some ideas of activities and tasks for topics you will be teaching. However, spending ages making individual lesson plans may not be the best way to utilise your time. Plan some fun activities this summer, and get plenty of rest. That way you’ll be physically and mentally ready for teaching in September.
- Make wellbeing targets
After discussions with fellow members of the Associate Tutor team about what tips they would give to new teachers in September, nearly all of them mentioned well being. Essentially, you need to ensure the things in your life that are important to you remain part of your life. If you are a keen runner put aside the time to run regularly (although be realistic about this), or if you enjoy reading ensure you allocate some coffee shop time to do this. In my first year, I made sure that I cycled to and from work and then went climbing every weekend which really helped me through the long teaching days. Other wellbeing tips included making healthy meals during August and freezing them ready for busy days, or buying lots of healthy snacks to keep you going on busy days.
- Radiators and drains
Within any school you will find there are negative people who will complain about anything and drain the positivity and energy out of you. If you spend too much time with them you will find yourself feeling negative about your work and the students. On the flip side, there are those who radiate energy and lift your mood. Choose your friends at work carefully!
- Don’t be blinkered
Be as open to new ideas as you can be! There are as many different ideas about how to teach as there are teachers, and try to critically evaluate different ideas and how you can apply them. You will probably find that there are aspects from different people that you really like, and others that you would change. Over the next few years you will slowly form your personal ideas on how you think you should teach, and this is an important part of teacher development. Be aware of people or blogs that support one specific idea and dismiss all others to avoid becoming a blinkered teacher.
- Get the objectives right
When it comes to lesson planning, where should you start? If I was giving only one piece of planning advice it would be to spend time getting your objectives right (what questions do you want your students to be able to answer by the end of the lesson?) and then make sure that the activities you plan will enable your students to meet these objectives. Extension task: how do you know they have met these objectives?
- Find the right shoulder to cry on
We all need someone to turn to after challenging days. You want to avoid the situation where you end up moaning to your line manager and crying in front of the head teacher. A good way to avoid this is have people you can let off steam too. Ideally this would be someone outside of your school – potentially a friend from another school so you can return the favour when needed!
- Practice activities/experiments before delivering them
This is particularly important for science and other practical subjects, however the benefit of identifying whether something works or not can be applied to any subject or key stage. There is nothing worse than finding out an activity does not work in the middle of a lesson. Any activity you set should have been tried by you. Sometimes a card sort from TES resources can make no sense, and some activities I have been unable to complete so they would only confuse students!
- Professional persona
How do you want to be thought of in school? What is your professional persona? Smiling at students and staff as you walk around school gives the clear impression of being confident and belonging. This is really important for the impression students get of you. This doesn’t mean pretending you are ok when you are struggling, but means asking for help using the best channels, rather than walking around giving the impression of someone who is failing. In general, I always aim to be ‘over-professional’ rather than trying to make friends and be ‘buddies’ with staff in the school, especially at first and would advise everyone to follow that approach.
- Get to know people around the school
I remember being challenged by the head of training school to learn the name every member of staff in the school during my first term. This was a fantastic challenge as I got to know lots of great teachers, and observing some of the best really developed my practice. If you have a large school and this is too much, make sure you learn the key people. This includes: reprographics staff, IT technicians, lab technicians (essential for the scientists), all pastoral staff, heads of year (or equivalent). I used to make brief notes about people (key facts like name, role and interesting facts) as I knew I would struggle to remember all of them. Doing this really paid off over the year.
- Learn to love it
Teaching is a really enjoyable job. Take a bit of time at the end of each day to think of the things that you enjoyed. Make positive phone calls, which will help your students and leave you feeling happier. Make sure you plan things you are excited about and you can enjoy. A great piece of advice often give out to trainees is to buy yourself a notebook and to write at least 2 positive points about your day in it at the end of each day. This might be something small like an activity working well in a lesson or something bigger like having a great lesson with your challenging class. When you do have a bad day, you can read back on the positive moments of the year so far and it will help to remind you of why teaching is such a great profession. You may have to search for what you enjoy, but once you find it this will lead to better job satisfaction, better teaching, and better outcomes for your students.