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10 tips for trainee teachers

9 August 2019 (by admin)

Are you starting your teacher training in September? Don't panic! These tips will get you off to a great start.

Initial Teacher Training, no matter what route you take, is tough. You’ll find it difficult and, at times, feel like it’s almost unmanageable. However, it’s also incredibly rewarding and the best decision that you will ever make (at least in my opinion)! That said, here are my top ten tips for trainee teachers to help you get through this next year!

1. Great Expectations

You don’t have to rush out and read a Charles Dickens classic but you DO need to make sure that you have firm expectations when you begin to teach a class. Clear boundaries and guidelines with the students will make it so much easier on you in the long run. Set clear boundaries with your mentor — they’ve usually got great advice on what works and what might be a little too optimistic — and then stick to them. If a student fails to meet your expectations then you need to address it. Be firm but fair; you don’t need to go in all guns blazing but you do need to show that rules are rules, no exceptions. Trust me, it makes it easier!

2. Don’t expect them to like you

This is one of those traps that everyone falls into early on. Don’t try to be the ‘fun teacher’ or the ‘cool teacher’ — it doesn’t work and just makes the rest of the year much more difficult. Not every pupil will like you and quite frankly it’s not a big deal if they don’t, as long as they show you respect and are learning. Make sure that you show them the same respect and you’ll get along famously, just don’t expect to win any popularity contests from the get go!

3. Use your mentor

One of the best things about being a trainee teacher is that you’re given a mentor to look after you and help you to learn and improve your craft. These people have been there, done it and bought the t-shirt, so make sure that you ask them for advice, take onboard all the feedback they give you and then act upon it. It may sound like teaching you to suck eggs but believe me, talking from experience, the trainees that act on the feedback of experienced staff find the year a lot easier to get through than those who don’t.

You should also use your mentor as support. They are there for you and will be able to talk through any worries or questions that you have. If you’re finding something difficult, talk to your mentor. That being said…

4. Don’t expect your mentor to be your friend

Your mentor is not your friend. That may sound harsh, but it’s not what they are there for. There may come a time when your mentor needs to have a frank and honest conversation with you; it’s much better to have that coming from someone you have a professional relationship with, rather than feeling betrayed by your friend.

5. Do some reading

One of the best things any teacher can do is to read, and read widely. Use the time before you start your course to brush up on subject knowledge (I wrote mini revision files for myself the summer before my PGCE) and keep up-to-date on areas that are coming up in the schemes of work that you’ll be teaching. Forewarned is forearmed as they say, and you’ll feel a lot more comfortable knowing that you’re crystal clear on the material. Don’t forget: you have to be able to explain it to teenagers who don’t have a clue about it themselves!

I’d also recommend browsing a few teaching blogs or books to keep your ideas fresh. No one wants to be the teacher who does the same dull activities week in, week out.

6. Watch and learn

Once your placement starts, ask your mentor to help you identify good teachers and observe as many of them teaching as you can. Always have a focus to look out for, learn from them, and don’t be afraid to get some ideas for your own teaching practice!

7. Know when to stop

Don’t EVER download your work email to your phone. Have a certain time each night when you put your work aside and do something fun. Yes, it is a lifestyle as well as a career but don’t let it take over! Spend at least one whole day of your weekend doing something other than work. You’re no good if you burn out halfway through term two.

8. Reflect!

Reflective practice is one of my favourite things about mentoring trainee teachers. When someone observes you it forces you to look back at your lessons and identify the strengths and weaknesses in what you did. Then you can learn from them. Improvise, adapt, and overcome as they say. A great habit that I picked up during my training year was to sit down after each lesson and bullet point three successes and three things that could be improved. I’d then try to make sure that I didn’t make the same mistakes again. It didn’t always happen, but just being aware helped me identify areas I needed to focus on.

9. Work Smart

Something my Head of Department taught me this year is the importance of having a list, then prioritising that list. Look at your jobs and decide what category each one fits into:

1. Important-Urgent

2. Not Important-Urgent

3. Important-Not Urgent

4. Not Important-Not Urgent

Work through the Important-Urgent tasks first, then the Not Important-Urgent tasks, then the Important-Not Urgent tasks and, finally, the Not Important-Not Urgent tasks when you get some time. This system has been a gamechanger for me and is something I now implement with all of my trainees.

10. Ask for Help

Remember that no man (or woman) is an island. Don’t try to tough it out because you want to appear strong. Ask for help. Ask your mentor, your professional mentor, other colleagues etc. — just ask for help if you’re struggling. Everyone around you will be very supportive, but you have to ask!

Good luck, trainee teachers! I hope this was useful and do let me know how it goes!

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