Back to school – One thing - Make it a cake walk rather than a plunge

Paul Chandy
28th September 2016 at 18:36

Subject Genius, Paul Chandy, Back to school – One thing - Make it a cake walk rather than a plunge

“Always be prepared”, a motto I learnt in cub scouts and only fully understood when I became a teacher. After a relaxing holiday of lie-ins and leisurely lunches a sudden start to the term with a new timetable, systems and students can feel like a plunge in an icy river however you can make it a cake walk by prioritising your preparation and planning.

Planning but not lesson planning

Lesson planning should be the least of your priorities, I hope you did not do any lesson planning during the holiday. It always best to start lesson planning at the beginning of the term when your mind is fresh and you are certain about your timetable.

Instead, make a to-do –list of all the major tasks. I made a to- do –list of the major tasks I had to do at the end of the last academic year in July for the beginning of the academic year in September and blocked the tasks in the calendar.

A task a day keeps the stress away

I am in favour of to-do-list as long as it centres on one major task aside the daily tasks given to you by your line managers. I got this idea from the book “One thing”by Garry Keller that says you can accomplish better results if you focus on one thing rather than letting your attention be scattered or overwhelmed by multiple tasks. Here is a sample of what the first week at school could look like.

Monday – Be environmentally friendly – Connect with your colleagues and be a scavenger

In our jam packed schedules talking could seem a waste of time. In many schools due to budget cuts or increasing demands there are less opportunities to socialise: for some heads ice breakers are an abomination and buffet lunches and staff parties are from a bygone era. Yet Margaret Heffernan, a writer and serial entrepreneur is in favour of building ‘social capital’, simply put, that is getting to know people by taking the time to chat with them. She said in a Ted Talk, ‘Forget the pecking order”, that “what motivates people are the bonds and loyalty and trust they develop between each other.“ May 15 2015 at Ted Women 2015. She says that a organisation that has social cohesion will also lead to better results as everyone is prepared to help each other. I am lucky I have muted ideas with the science department, collaborated with the media studies department to produce MFL videos and been rescued by teaching assistants and the administrative team in preparing resources for observations.

I have noticed a phenomena in schools where teachers have been in an institution for years and barely know a fraction of the teaching staff due to remaining in the comfortable confines of their department. It also surprises me the amount of colleagues who fail to acknowledge you or even muster a smile especially when you greet them. This is very different from teaching abroad, in India returning a smile and a greeting was the norm.

So, especially if you're an NQT, break down the barriers: introduce yourself right from the senior management to the cleaner, furthermore remember to shake the person’s hand, it creates a connection and makes a memory. Remember to also reach out to introvert characters who maybe feeling as lonely you and get the ball rolling by asking questions about that person’s life. Taking the time to network will pay dividends in the long run and the beginning of the term is the best time to do this before the hustle and bustle sets in.

Another thing I would advise is to be a scavenger by locating and collecting key resources. Make a list of every conceivable piece of equipment you will need to do your job and then set about finding the right people to deliver them to you. If you did not do it at the end of last term, do it at soon as possible.  In the past I have managed to scrounge extra notice boards and bookshelves from the caretaker. I also made sure that I had a comprehensive stationary list, I would jot down item during the day as they came to mind, ready to hand over to the relevant administration person to collect for me. It can be frustrating during the term having to borrow sets of scissors from others and can be annoying for the person lending them. Here is a list of essential items and get them before they run out.

  • Scissors
  • Board pens of various colours
  • Glues sticks
  • Rulers
  • Blue tack
  • Drawing pins
  • Pens of various colours
  • Highlighters of various colours
  • A big box of colouring pencils
  • Mini white boards
  • White board pens for mini white boards
  • Board rubber
  • White board cleaner


It may seem an obvious point, however over the course of the year many teachers from many departments have borrowed items from me especially my colouring pencils or they have stolen stationary, so make sure to label as many pieces of equipment as possible with your name and room number. You’ll be surprised half way through the year as scarcity sets in, stationary becomes as valuable as gold and that’s when the stealing begins.

I avoid the stress of long photocopy queues by exploring the territory. For example I found a underused photocopier, unknown to the majority of the staff, in the science department as well as a shortcuts to other parts of the building. 

Tuesday - Lesson planning for introductory lesson

 I make sure I prepare lessons that are easy and fun. If they are old groups I revise an old unchallenging topic and give them an easy win so as to warm up their brains, if the groups are new I make sure the themes  entice students and make them  feel confident about the subject. Hitting them with grammar and vocabulary could switch them off. Topics for KS3 in MFL could include:

  • Students think of reasons for learning a language and discuss and explore in groups, for example in the form of a “snowball activity”. I also follow this up with my own personal story of why I learnt a language and then pop in a video of a polyglot from the language company “Babbel” showing off his language skills.
  • How to a greet someone with a proper handshake and say your name in a foreign language. This is a fun way for children get to know each other and good way to practice intonation. After this lesson, students feel proud that they can already speak French after a matter of minutes and experience the relevance of learning a language.
  • You already know more French than you think with cognates. Without using dictionaries students translate lists of words in French and discover for themselves how similar French is to English and how seemingly easy learning French can be.


For new KS4 learners who have not studied the language before I use my holiday snaps and give a presentation about my holidays in the foreign language, give them a listening comprehension and then get them to translate a text about my experiences without using a dictionary. The students are then amazed at how much French they have learnt after one lesson and they learn a vital lesson about the importance of the use of cognates, inference and gist in language learning.

Wednesday – Making dates and mid term plans

After two days of easing into school life, I am ready to tackle the heavier stuff. You could gather information about new classes, especially special needs students, familiarise yourself with new timetables- I make three copies – one for my planner ,one for the notice board and one for my diary. In addition I put term dates from the newsletter in the calendar and analyse schemes of work. After analysing schemes of work you could create mid-term plans, alongside ideas for homework or classroom activities or games and note down page number of key resources. A key mistake I failed to do when I was a new teacher was familiarising with the text books, I missed out on many vital resources that could have saved me time because I had failed to include textbook resources in my mid- term plans.

Thursday- Weekly planning

On Thursday I make a comprehensive list for the week ahead of all the major tasks I want accomplished in the following week and then block them in the calendar. I find l am less likely to procrastinate when I have a running order of tasks and I feel less stressed since I know what is coming up in the following week and how much work I need to put in to achieve my goals. I also brainstorm ideas for lessons and put them in my weekly planner along with reminders for example about collecting books in or delivering notices. I use the school’s Microsoft outlook calendar and task list and my diary for weekly planning. Some people prefer to use just their diaries, however I prefer outlook because you get ping reminders, you have categories, you can colour blocks and it is easy to see an overview of the month or week.

Friday – Tidy Friday

This gem I got from a veteran colleague, Barry who believed that Friday should be a period to wind down, take a step back and gather your thoughts. As a teacher it is quite easy to get drowned in paperwork. Friday is mainly for getting sets of photocopying, filing away papers, tidying the classroom, checking inventory, restocking items and reading the TES. On Friday I tried to  make sure I have my lessons ready for Monday and I flick through my diary and planner to remind myself of upcoming work, I also tick off the major tasks that have been accomplished and readjust my schedule for the following week accordingly. While in such a calm state I play with ideas for lessons and do mock up lesson plans and resources for the following week. Tidy Fridays make Mondays less manic.

Subject Genius, Paul Chandy, Back to school – One thing - Make it a cake walk rather than a plunge

Finally there are tasks that I do not do at the beginning of the year.

My not-to-do list

Do not create posters

Do not create posters, or decorate your walls apart from essential information. During the term you can fill your walls with students work and if you want to have a notice board of key resources get students to look up resources related to grammar and verb tables for a poster display and then you can put up the best ones. Or I found some old resources of verb tables and connectives from a former teacher that I have been using for years. Decorating your classroom is for when you have down time as everyone is relaxing in the last week of Christmas and this is a great time to call upon your tutees to do the decorating. Finally after all my observations I have never been criticised for having bare walls.

Do not waste time over seating  plans

Initially I usually sit students randomly in a boy-girl order. During the first two week I observe students and change their seats according to needs and ability and who they will work well with, then I write my seating plan as I go along which is only a rough drawing.

Do not make masterpiece documents

I see some younger enthusiastic teachers act like graphic designers creating fancy class lists, timetables, seating plan templates and mid-terms plans using the latest technology. You won’t win brownie points for your efforts! Sometimes a pen and paper is much quicker or using the timetables provided by the schools and then highlighting the different areas.

Do not overstrain yourself and create vast amount of resources.

Some teachers overstrain themselves by over preparing and creating too many resources to teach new Year 7 classes at the beginning of the year. Use simple resources from the text book or base your lesson around one quiz, song or video. The beginning of term is not to the time to cram children with knowledge but a time for them to explore. You may fear that you need a variety of resources in order to differentiate, in the first week I’ll doubt you get observed and secondly by giving students all the same activity you will soon figure out who is weak or strong and in what areas.

Do not waste time lugging around heavy boxes or resources

Get the students to do that. For an inexplicable reason students love manual labour even the most defiant ones. You will be faced with your first quandary of the term when deciding who to help you as so many students thrust their hands high into the air.

I hope with the tips above you will feel your start to the term is a cake walk and that you will elude a certain calmness that will continue throughout the year. Remember one thing at a time done a step at a time and soon you will also develop a routine that will last you throughout the year.



Paul Chandy teaches modern languages in South East England.