Thriving September

For some, September will feel like it is crashing towards them and with it will come a wave of excitement and nerves. Planning for your first class and first term can be a mix of eagerness and dread – you want the day to come, but perhaps are feeling that imposter syndrome creeping on. Maybe you’re doing this for the second time round and it still feels new or you want it to be differnet this time around. Here are some suggestions for surviving that first or second September.

Setting Up

There are lots of pictures doing the rounds at the moment of classrooms ready for September. They look amazing and wonderful spaces. A few things to remember though – they are a small proportion of classrooms. The vast majority don’t look like that. Most of them look like what you would expect a classroom to look like. Mine never looked that good – but the children were still happy, comfortable and learning. In the same way a school isn’t a building, it’s a community reliant on it’s members and the ethos within it, a classroom is the same. It’s the people in it and the values and community they build that is important. If yours isn’t ready yet, don’t worry. Also these classrooms may be the culmination of years experience, of trying things out and collecting bits and pieces to put up and use. By all means, use these as inspiration but don’t feel you have to create someting the same.

You might not have been able to get into your school yet to set up. Thats not unusual either. Hopefully you’ve got some time where you can go in at the end of the holidays. But what does the set up look like? This year things are different – there isn’t the flexibility for table arrangements and the likes, so that is one less thing to consider. The key to it is getting it neat and tidy and having everything the children might need easily accessible. Need rulers? They should be able to get to them without disturbing anyone else, including you. Same for all the resources. It is there space too, and they should be able to use it as such. Clearly label everything so it’s easy for the children to spot and read and have it in a sensible place.

Display’s can be empty in September. You don’t need to populate them with stuff just because it is bare. Talk to your school – they may have things that insist on you having and then ask if they are any templates for these – that might make it easier. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel (more on this later). Get your backing paper up as a minimum and spend the first week creating something to go up. If you’re using working walls, they can be blank and be waiting to be filled.

Planning and Resourcing

As I have said, don’t reinvent the wheel. Find what has been done before and use this as a starting point. There is nothing wrong with schemes, textbooks and online banks as a resource. If they are exactly what you are looking for – use it. If it needs tweaking, tweak it. If you are gong to create everything from scratch then you’ll be doing much more than you need to. Somethings will need this, others won’t. Again use your common sense and focus your energies where it is needed the most. Talk to people in your school, get last years planning and most importantly, ask for help. This won’t be seen as a sign of weakness, much the opposite. No one knows it all at any point and no one expects you to either. The key bit here – use what is there as a starting point and tweak accordingly.

Planning is a tricky one as everyone has their own style. Some schools want full weekly plans, other are happy for you to work from your own notes. Find out and work to it, but more than anything do it in a way that works for you. If you need a full script for every lesson for the first few weeks – fine! If you are happy to plan by using the bones of a lesson and working round it – fine again! The important part is being clear about what you want the children to learn and trying to find the best way of getting that across. Sometimes that’ll be getting up and talking. Sometimes it won’t. Sometimes they’ll lead it, sometimes they won’t. There is no right or wrong way to deliver a lesson – your a professional, use your judgement. If it goes wrong – learn from it for next time.

Day One

Beaming faces eagerly await you on the playground! There is bound to be nerves on both sides. That’s good – it means you care. The most important thing is building relationships. Teachers who can build good relationships will get far better outcomes than those that can’t. Have in your head what their routine will be when they come in and explain this to them beforehand on the playgrond if you can. Be explicit. We’re going to walk in quietly, hang our bags up and then come into the classroom. Find your table and sit down, then have a look at the board – there is a little puzzle for yuo to have a go at while we get settled in. This isn’t strict, this isn’t harsh – it’s setting out your expectations in a calm matter of fact way. As they come in, position yourself in the middle of the line and give a few positive reinforcement comments to those who are doing exactly what has been asked of them.

Forget the don’t smile until Christmas rubbish. You’re human, let them see it. That doesn’t mean you can’t have boundaries and high expectations. Kindess and high standards are not mutually exclusive. Have in your head what you want their behaviour to be like. Are they allowed to whisper to the person next to them? Can they get up and get something without asking? Do they need to put their hand up everytime? Can they approach you or should they wait for you to come to them? Read your school’s behaviour policy and clarify it once again for the children. Let them explain it to you – “I’m new here, I know a bit about this, but can you explain it for me in more detail?”. If it is a rainbow type system discuss what might have you moving through it and hey presto you’ve got you’re class charter of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, all led by the children.Try to keep it simple though – I only had two rules – try you’re best and don’t stop others learning. The most important thing is to be consistent in your expectations. Set your boundaries and what happens if people set outside of those – each school will have their own version of any consequences for behaviour – but always remember to focus on the positives. Consistency is key. You often get back what you give them, so model what you want back from them – kindess, honesty and warmth.

Spend time getting to know them. Set an activity where you can have a chat with them and find out about them – what they like and don’t like. Trust them and rely on them, make it a team environment where you are there to help each other. Ask them to help you out, reveal bits of yourself. What do you like? What are your hobbies? Find some common ground with them.

You don’t need to worry about getting into English and Maths on day one at all – just build those relationships and set those expectations.

At the end of the day, reflect on what you’ve acheived and what you might ned to change on what you’ve planned for tomorrow. Find a collegue and have a cuppa – you’ve earned it.

It Won’t Be Right All The Time

Teaching has its ups and downs. Some lessons are amazing some are awful and most are somewhere in the middle. That’s ok. In the middle lessons are fine and give the children consistent good teaching. If you have one that goes brilliantly – have a reflect on why. If you try the same thing again and it doesn’t go so well, don’t worry about it. There are so many variables on a given day that the same thing won’t work every time. If it did, we’d all do it! Similarly, if you have a nightmare lesson apply the same approach – have a think about what went wrong, but don’t dwell on it. It doesn’t make you a bad teacher. You will get it wrong – things will be pitched wrong, activities won’t take as long as you thought, they just won’t engage like you thought they would. It happens everyday to experienced and new teachers alike. If you get really worried – talk to someone. That’s what your mentor is for. They expect there to be bumps in the road and they are there to help you through them, so use them!

Manage Your Time

There is the inclination to show yourself to be worthy of your role, to work every hour and prove you are a proper teacher now who does everything for the children in your class. This is a sure fire way to burn out by half term and find your self struggling for the second half of the term. Pace yourself, Autumn in particular is a long old term. Prioritise and thing about what has to be done each night. Get those things done first and then see what you have capacity to do after that. You’re no good to anyone if you are tired and grumpy all the time! No one will think badly of you if you aren’t the first one in and the last one out. Focus on the things that make the mists difference for the children – feedback and planning the next lesson. Get those right and other things will follow. Find a groove and a routine. Do you break for a cup of tea at 330 after the kids have gone or do prefer just to crack on. Everyone will work differently, so find what works, and is manageable for you.

Workload will always be a big one – but look after yourself. Sometimes you have to think what is the worst that will happen if I don’t get this done tonight? I’ve been honest with the kids before and said “I’m sorry I didn’t get your books marked last night, I had a meeting after school and then I had something planned in the evening – I’ll have a look at them tonight, I can’t wait to see what you’ve done”. That’s ok. You’re not infallible or invincible and you don’t need to pretend you are.

You have your NQT time – use it. Go and see other teachers, other settings even. This is invaluable as it is easy to get caught up in your little class bubble. After you’ve seen someone else, have a chat with them about it – they wont mind! pick their brain about why and how they did things that way. After that – pick one small thing to try in the next week. If it works, amazing, if it doesn’t don’t get disheartened! Sometimes things take a few tries to get working properly.

Ask for help

As I’ve said – use the expertise around you. If your struggling with a topic, go to the subject leader. If you’re feeling wobbly talk about it with someone. Don’t struggle. It’s better to get help at the beginning before it becomes something massive. No one will think you are weak – they’ll just want to help. No one expects you to know everything at all, don’t feel like you have to. There aren’t stupid questions – just ask away.

When the honeymoon period ends

It will happen. Two or three weeks in, everything will be going well and then the kids start to push back and their behaviour might seem to worsen. It isn’t you. Stick to your values and stick to being consistent in your high expectations and they’ll come back around. It happens every year to every teacher!

Set your pace now

Work in September at a pace and level that will be manageable all year. There will always be busier times and quieter times so work at a pace that means you can deal with those. At busy time set work that needs less marking or feedback doing or work that can be assessed in the lesson. Work smarter not harder as much as possible. As I’ve said find your routine and rhythm of what works for you.

Enjoy it!

It’s amazing. The joy of your own class is like nothing else. You’ll not forget them so enjoy the journey together. Focus on the relationships, work hard for them but not to the detriment t if your own well-being. Accept there will be good and bad times and most importantly – you’re best is enough. You can’t give more than that.

Published by @secretHT1

Primary HT. Using this as a space to write honestly and freely about the state of education currently.

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