Tuesday, 14 March 2017

In at the deep end: top five tips for stepping into the classroom - Alex Nicholson

Stepping into the classroom as a trainee teacher for the first time can be daunting, and if you've signed up for a school direct course – it is a feeling you are going to get used to. From one trainee to another, here are five things I've learnt about life inside the classroom over the past six months of being in at the deep end.

1. Whatever you do, do it with passion
Hate maths? Find history boring? Worried about teaching English? It doesn’t matter, whatever subject you are delivering, give it a big dollop of passion. If you don't find the subject interesting – how you expect your students to? I've discovered that finding something within the topic or subject I'm teaching that captures my imagination, and sharing this with the class, has a great impact on how they respond to it. I don't know about you, but when I think back to my favourite teachers from my own childhood – they were the ones who loved the subjects they taught. And if you can't love it? Fake it, that enthusiasm can bring a lesson to life.

2. Flying solo
As scary as it seems, occasionally being left alone with a class is a great opportunity. Not only does it give you a chance to teach without the worry of being judged by another teacher, but it can also serve as your testing ground. This is the perfect place to try out new methods, tips and techniques you’ve learnt in your theory based lessons, and if they go a bit wrong, or don’t work, it doesn’t matter (play it cool and the students won’t even realise). If it worked you can tweak and refine whatever you tried out, ready for next time. Some of my most successful learning games and zany ideas were given an airing this way, and it proved massively useful.

3. Confidence is the key
I’ve heard people joke that children are like dogs...they can smell fear. There is definitely something in that! If you step into the classroom without confidence, the children won't have confidence in you. This applies to the knowledge you impart in your lessons and the same goes for the tougher side of behaviour management too. Children like to know where they stand, so draw a line in the sand by making your classroom rules - and the consequences for not sticking to them - crystal clear. Although it can be easier said than done, don't make threats you won't (or can't) stick to. If you say, “This is your last chance, if you do that again, you will have to stay in a break time,” you need to have the confidence to follow through, or in the future the children will disbelieve any warnings.

4. Be a Chameleon
Adapt to your surroundings, to be the best teacher you can be. This really comes with a bit of practice, but know that it is ok to go off-plan during your lessons. This can be really tricky, especially when you are being observed. Picture this: for your lesson you've handed over your carefully crafted lesson plan, you spent untold hours slaving over. The lesson is going fine to begin with, but suddenly – you realise the children just aren't getting it. You have two choices – plough on, or stop and rethink. The thought of having to throw your beautiful plan out of the window and freestyle brings you out in a cold sweat, what will you do? How will you cope? Know this – DO NOT plough on. If your lesson needs to take a different direction to help the children progress, then that is the path you have to take. Thankfully, the more you teach, the less of a scary prospect adapting as-you-go becomes. I’m still getting there, but with experience it is getting easier.

5. Keep it positive
It can be really tricky to be positive when fidget Freddy won't sit still, little Lucy is taking a stroll around the classroom for the fifth time in an hour, or chatty Charlie keeps calling out. When managing classroom behaviour though, positivity can go a long way. Do your best to ignore those who are making the wrong choices, and instead praise those who are making the right ones; "Well done to Sophie, you are sitting so beautifully," "Thank you James for patiently waiting your turn to speak," and "I can see Oliver is working really hard, I love how he has taken charge of his own learning by helping himself to a dictionary". It takes some practice, but giving out effort points, stickers or rewards to children who are doing the right thing will encourage others who are not, it will also create a more pleasant atmosphere in your classroom and in turn, you'll feel more positive too.

I hope these nuggets may be of use to those of you taking your first steps into the classroom.  Some of them may seem obvious, or cliché, but from my own experience, these are the buoyancy aids that I have to remember are lifesaving to have on me. Now it is your turn, so arm yourself and jump right in!

Alex

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