If I could go back three years and give my trainee self a few pieces of advice, I would tell her this:
Behaviour is the keystone.
Before you set foot in the classroom, know what you expect from the kids in terms of effort, attitude and interaction. Make sure you know what your school expects as well, and what the systems are that reinforce those expectations. Then, don’t let up – keep pupil behaviour at the forefront of your thinking, and don’t compromise on what you want and need to feel comfortable in the classroom. If you need to go in more strict than you thought you would in the first few months, there’s no harm in that. If you can maintain clarity and consistency, you can smile as much as you like before Christmas.
Keep it simple.
Even as a trainee, when you have a light timetable and time set aside for reading, researching, writing essays and compiling evidence, you will have enough to do to fill a 90-hour week. If you let it. So start with your lessons, and keep them simple. Don’t waste time creating resources and reinventing the wheel. Use your colleagues’ resources, or download them off TES if you must, but don’t spend your evenings making cardsorts etc. – you’ll probably never use them again and the kids will spend far less time using them than you’ve spent making them. Even better, just use a textbook. Choose a decent one, read it, get a feel for how the topics, knowledge and skills are taught, and then think about how you’re going to use explanation and practice examples to make them a bit more interesting. Think about how you learned, and harness that experience to teach your pupils.
Get the kids reading out loud, or writing in silence, as much as you can.
You can speak your language well and with a fine accent. The pupils will learn their pronunciation, intonation and accent from you. So read out loud with them, lots, and get them to read out loud to you. Individually is fine, as it’s a chance for each pupil you call on to practise, and for others to listen to their reading and your corrections. Get them writing lots as well – whether it’s translation sentences, exercises from the textbook, even just copying words out correctly to learn the spellings, it’s a great discipline, can yield great results, and gives you the opportunity to circulate and help in a calm classroom. If this isn’t possible, you can always try to get short bursts of writing into your lessons at regular intervals.
Try not to work evenings and weekends.
Many trainees will, at the behest of their schools or themselves, work all the hours they can. If you have the choice not to, don’t allow work to fill all of your available time. I liked to do a few hours on a Sunday evening to prepare for the week ahead, because it made my life easier, but sometimes found work expanding into my evenings too. And, of course, because there were what we called ‘pinch points’ (lots of work to do in a very short time) I sometimes found myself working both evenings and weekends. If you find yourself having to work all hours, ask for advice – perhaps there’s something your colleagues or the school can do to help.
When work and assignments and the other exigencies of your training years get on top of you, these are often the first things to go. However, there’s no better way of managing the possible stresses of the year than putting these things first. You have to come first. And, related to that…
It’s all about what you do in the classroom.
If you have to make a choice, prioritise what happens in the classroom over everything else. If you fall behind on marking, don’t let it impact on what you do in lessons (of course, you’d be best off not doing it at all…); if you gather other responsibilities, don’t let them impact on what you do in lessons; if you have a million and one things to think about, think about what you’re going to teach and how first. It’s in lessons that you have the most to offer and the most to learn, so make sure you’re in a position to give it your best.
You’ll have a ball. Good luck.