Top Tips for Trainee Teachers

Tips from a colleague who had just completed the process in England.

Well, I did it!!! I thought rather than bore you with a huge catch-up post, I’d come up with a list of tips for trainees from my own perspective – I know there are a few about already. So now we’ve established that the last year was entirely worth it… Let’s get going with those tips:

  1. Be organised. 
    I know that everyone says this, but for me, this was a biggie. I’m an insanely organised person anyway, but with approx. 5/6 different classes to teach in a week that can be in anything up to 15 different rooms, this is absolutely key.
    Make sure you are prepared for the next day before you leave school if you can – I used to stay an extra 30 mins/1 hour to make sure I had all my copying done for the next day, and then that went into folders that were colour-coded for each class (I told you I was organised…). I knew when my frees were and how I was going to use them to make sure I got everything done.
    I had a weekly To-Do list, with regular occurrences like folders on, then I whittled this down to a daily To-Do list that meant that each day was manageable. (Evernote is great for this, and even has little tick boxes so you can feel even more accomplished when you finish something!)
    An insane amount of paperwork goes into this course, and this helps you to keep on top of things. Find a system that works for you, and stick to it.
  2. Keep on top of paperwork.
    Speaking of pesky paperwork, little and often is my motto.
    I used to spend Friday afternoon frees making sure that my folders were up to date and my online Standards Profile was up to date. This 1 hour a week really is all you need and makes it so much easier than saving it all up for a half term and spending 8 hours on it one Saturday. I had a few busy weeks in placement 2 where I left 3 weeks worth to do, and I cannot stress how miserable those 3 hours were!
  3. Try unconventional things in (or out of) the classroom.
    This is your time to experiment. A time where you are not liable for anything that goes wrong in the room – that’s all down to your host teacher. If you fancy doing something exciting, let’s say making mocktails and associated advertising to teach ratio and proportion to bottom set year 8… ask the host teacher about it and if they are OK with it – DO IT. It may just pay off! (#bestmathslessonever)
  4. Card sorts are both excellent and awful.
    Hands-on activities like card sorts really get students involved and thinking, without the need for them writing down copious amounts from the board. They are an excellent teaching tool.
    However, unless you plan to create a set, laminate them and keep them forever, the prep-time soon out-weighs their benefits. I cannot tell you how many times I have ended up re-printing and cutting out the algebra misconceptions match cards…
    Over summer I plan to laminate my card sorts that are left and re-do some old favourites so they are more durable. I won’t be making that mistake again!
  5. Give explicit, clear instructions.
    This is a hangover from my New Placement Resolutions post. It is SO important to communicate in this way with pupils and it makes your life so much easier if you have made things clear. Nothing worse than hearing ‘Miss, do I do this on the sheet or in my book?’ fifteen times before anyone does anything…
    Instructions need to be short, sharp, clear and given before every task.
    “In your books… All workings are shown… iPads down… Pens down…”
    Do not move on until these things are done.
  6. Accept feedback gracefully.
    Not every lesson can be perfect. You are training and this is the whole point – learning what does and doesn’t work. A bad lesson does not make you a bad teacher, but not using the experience to improve it for next time does make you a bad teacher.
    The best way to do this is to use feedback from host teachers – they have a wealth of experience and if they say something was good or bad, believe them. Then build on it.
    Every week, I made myself a list of priorities to build on from my observations and made a conscious effort to change them over the next week. They were nearly always things you overlook in a haze of trying to make sure that your lesson is planned perfectly and a million things to think about in the room – but they are also quick to fix with focus!
  7. Reflect.
    This seems like a very ‘Uni Jargon’ word, and to be fair it is. But as above, being a ‘Reflective Practitioner‘ is what makes a good teacher.
    This means taking time after every lesson to think about what has worked and what hasn’t, or what could have been even better. As with feedback, taking the lesson apart like this means you can improve in the future.
    Speaking to mentors and host teachers about this reflection is also useful, as they can sometimes see a way to improve that you can’t yet.
  8. Make some good teacher friends.
    This year has been such a whirlwind and often only people on your course, or similar will understand what you are going through at any one time (no matter how much your lovely partner or Mum tries to!)
    We had various WhatsApp and Facebook groups, for subjects, placement schools, SD/SCITT/PGCE/different universities…
    Then there was the wonderful ITTChat – which I hope you all know about by now! – and a host of Tweachers that were incredibly supportive all year around. (Special shoutout here goes to the Maths community because I couldn’t have done this year without all your wonderful ideas).
    Without this set of wonderful human beings, I would have had much more regular meltdowns or anyone to bore with stories of Kid A in Set X who did this hilarious thing today… Big love❤
  9. But also make time for those closest to you.
    Though the PGCE can seem to take over your life, I realised quite quickly that it shouldn’t be my be-all and end-all. You need to make time for yourself and those that matter the most.
    I made a conscious effort to not work Friday night through to Sunday afternoon. This meant that I could spend time with my boyfriend (rather than sit on opposite ends of the couch and ignore each other), or make plans to see family and friends do something fun. This was time for me and them, and I only ever really broke that vow to myself the weekend before an assignment deadline.
    This may not be a structure that works for you, but you need to find a time for you.
  10. Enjoy it.
    This whole year has been an absolute blur, and I cannot believe it is over. It is so easy on a day to day basis to focus on the small thing that went wrong in that lesson with Year 10, or how you haven’t done any reading for that assignment yet… But we shouldn’t focus on that. You are training to have the best job in the world, and you get to DO that job while you are training – how lucky can you get!?
    I tried to focus on at least one really positive thing a day, and if I could make a note of it at the bottom of my planner for the day… Some days it was something as silly as a joke a Year 7 made, but others it was my mentor telling me I was going to be an outstanding teacher. It was so nice to be able to read those again when I was having a rough day and gave me a real boost.

It will be over before you know it, and now I’m done, I know I look back at it with a smile on my face – the kids, the teachers and the friends I made are what I remember, not the stress from Assignment 3…

This is a re-blog post originally posted by Kathryn Darwin and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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About UKEdChat Editorial 3195 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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