It is mid-September and by now all new staff have met their classes and picked "their" chair in the staffroom; returning staff have given up looking for that perfect marking pen that they were sure they left in the workroom and recovered all the lids to their tupperware, but none of the boxes. We start the year full of good intentions…new ideas to trial, weekly tests, implementing brilliant ideas we had mid-August, but which present a workload that feels insurmountable once October comes around.
But those good intentions were good for a reason. When your first data deadline coincides with parents’ evening and the planning of open evening activities, you’ll need to decide what you will keep and what needs to be binned to avoid that route to pedagogical purgatory.
Here are my suggested dos and don’ts.
1. Do make those phone calls home
This is one habit that is easy to start, but can fall by the wayside as term progresses. But it shouldn’t. Regular phone calls to students’ parents don’t have to be long, or onerous, and they should save you time in the long run. Kids talk, and as soon as one gets a good phone call, word spreads. In tricky classes behaviour will improve, while in lovely classes effort will increase. Keep a "phone log book" next to the phone with telephone numbers of parents and notes of when you called and if it was positive, negative or needs to be followed up.
2. Don't neglect your routines
Keep a small whiteboard behind your desk or section off part of your main whiteboard, and use this to record key dates with classes. If you want to do regular vocabulary tests, use the alarm on your phone or outlook to remind you. Having the same routines week in, week out, is a sign of an organised classroom. Prompts and reminders everywhere will make sure that those routines last longer than your resolution to bring a healthy lunch every day and avoid the breaktime bacon sandwiches.
3. Don't make careless sartorial choices
From the first day back, power dressing is on: the smartest ties, groomed hair, shiny shoes. The reason we enforce uniform is the idea that looking smart and taking pride in our appearance is a good thing. That cheesy saying, "dress for the job you want" is definitely applicable to teachers. So please, don’t come as Batman. You wouldn’t want to be Batman. His hours are even more antisocial than a teacher’s.
4. Do take short cuts
Taking short cuts on the little things can mean that you have time to spend on the important stuff. Things like creating a five-a-day starter bank (thanks Rebecca Foster). And using a Friday 200 word challenge lesson (thanks Chris Curtis) really cut planning down. Make sure to check out Tes resources and Twitter hashtags like #teamenglish, for people inventing a variety of wheels so you don’t have to reinvent them. Then you can spend time on the things that do matter, spending time reading your students’ work so you can see what they have understood, and where they need to go next.
Grainne Hallahan has been teaching English in Essex for 10 years. She is part of the #TeamEnglish Twitter group