To Get You Started… NQT Day #1

Things you need to find out today:

  • Clarify with your Subject Leader at what stage they would expect you to involve them when dealing with misbehaviour.   Personally, I think it’s important that a pupil/class sees their own teacher taking a lead and only involving the Subject Leader where the misbehaviour is more serious… but you have to know what “more serious” means in the school where you are.  It is not a sign of weakness in front of your class to refer to more senior members of staff, but it can become one if pupils realise that they will be referred up even when their misbehaviour was pretty minor.
  • Find out from your Subject Leader how they expect you to start lessons – are you supposed to be on the corridor? In your room?  At the door?

Things you need to do today:

  • Setting boundaries with yourself  Decide some cut-off times and stick to them ruthlessly – what time you’re going home tonight and what time you’re finishing work for the evening are the major ones you have to guard.
  • Setting up for the day  Make sure your day is set up, set out and ready to roll before you start.  It will free you up to respond to things as they happen and you’ll react better.
  • Breaks!  Make sure you get your breaks and lunchtime, and eat!
  • Staying organised  Keep a small notebook and pen in your pocket – you’ll be amazed how many staff and students come to you in the corridor to tell you things you really mustn’t forget.  By the time you get back to your room or the staffroom, you’ll have been “got” by at least another two people.  And by that time…  Don’t use scraps of paper, you’ll lose them, a notebook will keep everything together.
  • Liability  Never leave your room with a class in it.
  • Expectations In your first lesson, go through your expectations clearly and formally.  They must be specific.  “Try your best” is far too vague – what does “try your best” look like in practice?  Pupils need to understand clearly what the limits are and what you want them to do.  In deciding what yours are to be, think about what you need so that you are able to teach and pupils can learn.  I always refer to behaviour, punctuality, respect for others, calling out and talking, target language use, homework, presentation of work.
  • Standing by your expectations  Your expectations will be put to the test.  Definitely.  It’s how pupils find out whether you mean what you say and how you respond when what you say is contradicted.  You must follow everything up.  How you do that is for you to work out with your Subject Leader within the ethos of the school but you absolutely must stand by your expectations.
  • First lesson outline  As an outline of your first lesson, I suggest: Get pupils in, take your register (sending any extra pupils wherever you’ve found out you need to send them), seating plan, expectations, give out equipment, record expectations in books, coping strategies.  For me, this always takes a whole lesson and I do the lot in English.  I don’t attempt to get to any foreign language until the second lesson.  Skip through this first lesson at your peril.  No, your great peril.
  • Lesson beginnings  What will you do when pupils start to arrive to your lesson?  You need to keep them busy until everyone is there.  If nothing happens or it’s too relaxed, there is little motivation for those who arrived on time to continue to do so.  My preference is for a ball game: e.g., give me a word beginning with (a) / give me the next number in the sequence / give me a word associated with (papier) / alphabet / numbers / months, and so on.
  • Lesson endings  Rather than let pupils go tearing out of the door when at the end of the lesson, I recommend a line by line approach. It’s another way of showing that you are in charge of everything in your classroom, it prevents pushing and shoving as 15 children try to fit through the door at once, unsuccessfully, and as long as you are standing at the doorway yourself to usher them away, it encourages the corridor to clear quickly as you don’t let any more out of the room until the first lot have started to shift.
  • Lesson timings #1 Keep a clock or watch somewhere where you can see it without being obvious about it (I never keep one on the wall!) and check that it’s synchronised with the bell.  It’s a good idea to keep a list of lesson times stuck to your desk so you don’t get caught out!
  • Lesson timings #2  It’s better to finish your lesson 2 minutes early and fill in time with a ball game so they can leave exactly on the bell, rather than cutting it too fine, or disastrously, until the bell itself.  Corridors aren’t usually designed to accommodate two year groups at the same time (one leaving, one arriving).  Get everything tidy before they leave.  You’ll feel calmer.
  • Low-level disruption  Never, ever, never ever, never ever ever ever talk over the top of pupils talking.  If you want them to be quiet, make that happen FIRST, then talk.  There is very little that will be more damaging long-term to establishing yourself with a class and to them learning what you are teaching than allowing pupils to talk while you are talking.  It’s EXTREMELY difficult to correct this later on and it is THE most common obstacle to progress in NQTs’ classes by the end of the first half-term.  Get this one sorted from the beginning and you stand every chance of succeeding in everything else.
  • “I’ll check”  You will spend most of your first two or three weeks checking information with colleagues.  Do!  But try to keep to a minimum how often you say to the class, “I don’t know, I’ll check”.  Avoid asking your pupils for information which you can get from your colleagues first!
  • Establishing yourself  Don’t worry about being popular.  You will be, probably, but not because you tried to be.  What pupils most want is not another friend but someone they can have confidence in as one who knows what they are doing and can enable them to learn.  They compare, and they have certain (reasonable) expectations of what a teacher is.  Only a teacher can fulfil the role of the teacher.  Be their friend first and you won’t be their teacher.
  • Nervous?  The pupils you meet today will be more nervous of you than you are of them.  Try to relax inside.  Give yourself thinking time whenever you can.
  • Before you go home, close all windows and doors.  The last class puts the chairs up.
  • Sleep well tonight!

See you tomorrow!

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