I’ve now been teaching for three months. They have flown by, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve been teaching forever. I can barely remember my old life as an office drudge; those days of sneaky gossips with the girls in the kitchen, endless cups of tea at my desk while tearing my hair out trying to get bottom lines to balance and spending hours in pointless banging-head-against-wall meetings are long gone. Instead, my days are filled with endless activity that leaves me with barely any time to breathe, let alone have a cup of tea. From the minute I step onto the school premises in the morning, I am besieged. ‘Miss, my locker’s broken! Can you fix it?’ ‘Miss, I forgot my PE kit, can you call my mom and ask her to bring it in?’ ‘Miss, I thought today was yesterday and I’ve brought all the wrong books, what should I do?!’ ‘Miss, I’ve lost my bus pass! Can you help me find it?’…and this is before the bell to signal the start of the school day has even rung!
Over the last month, my main areas of focus have been around organisation and engagement. I was really struggling with making sure that my lessons actually started when the students entered the room. This is easier said than done. When you have handouts to pass around, a register to take and children clambering to tell you that they haven’t done their homework for such and such a reason but they promise they’ll hand it in tomorrow, it’s very difficult to get everyone settled, calm and started on the topic within the first couple of minutes of walking into the classroom. I wasn’t really sure what to do about it, so I observed other teachers to see how they managed. This was a real eye opener for me; no one else seemed to be having the same issue! The students came in, stood behind their desks, waited to be told to be seated, and then got started straight away on the lesson, while the teacher did the register visually rather than calling their names out. There was no chaos, no disorganisation, no wasted time; all of this was just going on in my classroom!
I realised straight away where I had gone wrong; I had failed to instigate a routine. I hadn’t set any expectations, so how were my students supposed to know what to do? Secondly, I hadn’t been preparing the classroom properly. Other teachers had their first slide up on the whiteboard, clearly setting out the plan for the lesson, before the students came in. Resources were laid out ready, preventing the need to spend time handing out loads of paper or distracting students by having them hand it out themselves. As a not particularly organised person, I had not really thought much beyond getting my lesson plan sorted and enough copies of everything printed off. Since those observations, I am now 100% more organised and have copied the trick of having everything set up before the start of the lesson. When the bell rings, I open the door for my students and wish them all a good morning/afternoon as they enter, and then stand at the front of the room smiling inanely until they get the picture and stand quietly behind their chairs. I then refer them to the whiteboard, which has their lesson objective and their starter activity on it, and get them cracking on the lesson while I take the register. So, now, from about 60 seconds into the lesson, I have my students working towards their lesson objective rather than still having them talking and faffing around six minutes later. I feel much more calm and in control, and I know that my students are getting more from their lessons. Looking back, I can’t believe I didn’t realize how important all of this pre-organisation and expectation setting was! However, because I was so busy focusing on making sure I had planned a three part lesson, was secure on the topic of what I was teaching, had come up with exciting activities for the students to do, and had made my behavioural expectations clear, the issue of getting the start of a lesson focused and productive had slipped my notice completely. The more things I become proficient in, the more I realize how many things I am still useless at, but it’s all part of the learning process!
My other main focus has been working on making lessons more engaging. The more confident I become, the more willing I am to experiment with activities that are potentially chaos-ensuing. I am a huge fan of creativity; I have had great plans from the start of my training to introduce music, art and drama into English lessons, but I’ve felt the need to play it safe in these first few months. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been slowly introducing drama and debate into my classes, and it has worked brilliantly. My younger students loved the debate lesson we had, and as they haven’t yet lost their inhibitions, they were practically jumping up and down when I said we could act out some of the book we are studying. Heartened by this, I tried doing some drama with my older students, but they hid behind their hair and were very shifty about it, so I’m going to have to come up with a new tack for them. I think they will enjoy doing drama eventually, but I need to consider perhaps doing it in small groups rather than having a few students perform in front of everyone. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to try this over the next term, and I’m looking forward to experimenting until I get the formula right. This week I am pushing the boat out and am planning to use music and art to help my younger students interpret and express their feelings about the novel we are studying. I can’t wait to see what their response is; I’m hoping they’ll love it, but I can never really tell – some lessons that I’ve thought were going to be incredibly boring have turned out to be brilliant, and others that I’ve spent ages coming up with really ingenious activities for have fallen totally flat. The unpredictability certainly keeps me on my toes!
So, it’s all going swimmingly; I’m having enormous fun, I’m learning more about myself every day, and I’m able to see my skills improving with every lesson I teach. It’s so gratifying to feel that you’ve achieved something at the end of every day; even if things haven’t gone to plan, I’ve still learned from them and have a strategy in place to improve next time. This constant reflection and evaluation is not something I am used to having to do at work, and I know plenty of other trainee teachers find it frustrating and disheartening, but I actually think it’s brilliant. Taking the time to think about what you do, why you do it and how you can do it better is not practiced enough in the workplace, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with striving to be the best professional, and the best person, you can be. I had always laughed about how rubbish I was at organisation when I worked in an office, and never felt compelled to do anything about it. I just accepted the fact that I was disorganised, relied on other people to remind me of things, and spent many a panicked night working late when I realised I’d inadvertently forgotten a deadline. However, now I am actually being forced to address my laziness in this area, it’s doing me the world of good. It’s no longer an option for me to turn up to work unprepared for the day ahead, and so I have become a machine of precision practically overnight. I keep a diary. I have post it notes everywhere. I have a running to do list that gets updated every night. I wake up at 2am and dive for my notepad with the latest idea I’ve had. I set reminders on my phone. I am ON TOP OF THINGS for the first time in my life and it feels amazing. No longer am I the friend who forgets everyone’s birthdays and is half an hour late to everything. I am a whole new me! Who knows what changes the next month will bring?!