End of September stocktake

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After the first four weeks of term, NQT mentor David Torn offers new teachers some tips.

First, congratulations on reaching your first milestone – the end of September! Not only are you likely to be exhausted, but also exhilarated. 

For many of you the last four weeks would have been the biggest learning curve of your life and the good news is that there is plenty more where that came from! The run up to half-term and then Christmas will prove just as busy. 

Here is some advice that I find myself, in my role as an NQT mentor, often giving out to new teachers at this time of year.

Classroom management

By now you should know all of the names of the students in the classes you teach which will help you in establishing yourself, but don’t panic if there are still some students, or indeed classes, who are pushing the boundaries. 

This is perfectly normal and students will continue to size you up throughout the year. The main thing to remember is to be consistent and stick by what you say. This goes for rewards as well as punishments. 

So if you tell a student that you are going to phone home to let their parents know how pleased you are with them, do it. Similarly, if you have threatened a sanction for a misdemeanour you must carry this out. Students will soon work out how serious you are and will react accordingly. 

If things have gone particularly bad, don’t beat yourself up too much about it. The first lesson in October or after the half-term can be used to re-establish boundaries and to reset expectations. Many an experienced teacher has found their first half term challenging, but have used this to their advantage so think positively and look forward to a fresh start!

Observations

Before you reach half-term, you will have been formally observed at least twice and you have probably already had at least one of these. After half-term, you should have a minimum of two more observations before Christmas. 

Though you are continually being assessed against the standards try to relax as far as you can when being observed. Your mentors will not expect you to know everything and if you feel confident enough take as many risks as you can. 

Along with your training year this should be a time in your career when you are experimenting and learning from your mistakes. As a trainee last year you would have been observed regularly so continue to see observations as opportunities to see how students respond to differing learning methods. 

Additionally, try to use one of your free periods each fortnight to observe other teachers. This will not be as easy to do next year and you can be guaranteed to pick up some invaluable tips.

Marking, assessing and homework

Undoubtedly, this would have been the biggest cause of stress for many of you over the previous month. If you haven’t done so already, create a timetable of when you are going to take books in to mark and try to stick to it. But, remember, effective learning takes place when assessment is built into lessons. 

Try to create tasks in which students are regularly checking each other’s work. This allows you greater freedom to facilitate tasks and to focus on those students who might need extra help. When marking try to ensure your comments are moving students on and set specific targets rather than things like “try to work harder in lessons”. Work harder at what? Instead comments such as “ensure the first sentence in each of your paragraphs always relates back to the question” will prove far more useful. 

If possible, try to set targets that students can attempt at the beginning of the lesson. This will not be possible every lesson, but will allow students to focus more clearly on progress. When setting homework don’t feel it has always got to be something which will take hours to mark. 

At GCSE, setting timed tasks will benefit the students more than long drawn-out assignments. Moreover, let them use the mark scheme to judge themselves against the criteria before you take their work in to mark yourself.

At key stage 3 it is fine to set tasks such as posters or PowerPoints which will enhance the students’ creativity, as long as this does not become the only type of homework you set them!

Colleagues

Try to make some time to get to know your colleagues a little more. Whether they be fellow NQTs or established practitioners you will feel more relaxed the stronger the relationship you have with other members of staff. 

There are likely to be student teachers in your school and, perhaps, in your department. Remember what this was like for you in your first practice and seek to offer words of encouragement – this will go a long way. But be careful! While it is fine to give advice, try not to come across as a “know it all”.
This will only serve to rub your colleagues up the wrong way.

And finally…

When the half-term does arrive – not long to go now – use it to get some rest and recharge your batteries. Though you have the best job in the world, you are likely to be very tired indeed. Reflect on the progress that you have made, and treat yourself for a job well done. If you are feeling particularly enthusiastic try to get ahead of yourself, but ensure you allocate time to see friends and family. Though Christmas may not seem far off it will be a busy second half-term and you will need to pace yourself!

  • David Torn is a professional tutor at St Edward’s School in Essex. He is a former Teacher of the Year for London and co-author of Brilliant Secondary School Teacher.


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