'Insist on support from your SLT' – and seven other ways to make a winning start this term

4th January 2017 at 14:13
Top tips for winning this term
One teacher provides his top tips for surviving that tricky class you were dreading facing after Christmas and getting off to the best start this term

So, the partying was so good you almost forgot that soon you will be standing in front of “that class”, trying to convince yourself that you remember how to teach.

Of course, just like riding a bike, you will get back into the swing of things effortlessly. But, on the eve of battle, you will probably wake up a million times thinking about the first 10 things on your job list. Even those 30 copies you need to pick up from the photocopier may cross your mind more than once.

Above all else, you will probably obsess over when you need to see that class whom you just dread teaching. Maybe you will catch them in period one on the first day back when they are all still half asleep? Wishful thinking.

Here are some quick tips to give yourself the best chance of turning the tables on that tricky Year 9 or hyperactive Year 8 group.

1. They have forgotten everything that happened before Christmas

That lesson you thought was the worst one you’ve ever taught? It was actually forgotten that very same afternoon, such is the teenage capacity for flighty thinking.

Unfortunately, most of them don’t care as much as you imagine they do. Most of them were thinking about their PlayStation tournament that evening whilst you were teaching what you considered to be a godforsaken lesson which would go down in the annals of time as one of the worst ever. On exiting your room, their minds immediately wandered to who's going out with whom.

Of course, that’s not to say that as a professional you shouldn’t care about your own practice, but most of us teachers are perfectionists who view the importance and gravity of our jobs as akin to the Apollo 9 Moon mission. We need to learn to chill out sometimes.

So my advice is to breathe a sigh of relief. Don’t let what happened two, three, five weeks ago, haunt your dreams. The great thing about teaching is you are only as good as your last lesson; the gift and the curse.

2. You’ve reviewed the mistakes you made and oh, how you messed up. Embrace the melancholy!

And remember all the other amazing things you did.

Decide that from the first day back, your classroom will be a fortress, your teacher planner will be your armour and your whiteboard-pen your sword.

Walk into that classroom like you mean business, perhaps smiling or perhaps just with a breezy confidence and surety that you are going to win. Children smell fear and leap on it. If you portray a business-like infallibility, that's half the battles won. Persona is everything and January gives you a unique opportunity to recreate yours.

3. Insist on support

This is the term where you won’t accept half-hearted attempts to discipline the children in your care. Referrals to the senior leadership team that lead to nothing? Constant interruptions to your class so your tormentors can get “extra attention”? No. You’re going to say, “No. Sort it out – I want something to be done, now."

4. Try something new

Don’t think traditional/progressive, black/white, win/lose. Reflect on what you have been doing with that class that hasn’t been working.

Have lessons been boring, safe and stale? Switch things up. Have lessons been all jazz hands, glitz and glam? Go back to basics. Children love routine, boundaries and a plan. Have one and implement it to the letter.

While you’re at it, plan some decent lessons and find some great resources to reignite your love for your subject, which probably got a bit lost last term with the imperative to keep them contained. Start afresh and press the reset button.

5Have confidence

If you are going back into school after last term, you are winning already and deserve respect. If you had a disheartening observation or some other excuse for making you feel crap, it's time to move on. 

You are a qualified teacher who is much loved and respected by many children. Act like it. Don’t be so hard on yourself – in fact, listen to that song by Jess Glynne in the car on the way to work.

6. Ignore what other teachers are doing

I often fell into the trap of comparing my status with that of colleagues on the first day back, wondering how much further ahead they were than me and how much more work they had managed to do over the holiday.

My mum (a retired teacher) would always say: “Just make sure you have planned the first few days' lessons and forget about the rest – do what you can." Great advice. Once you are actually back into the routine of things, all those insecure doubts will fade.

7. Change a seating plan or two

It only takes a minute to dig out that class list and tinker with seating arrangements. There will be no complaints from kids on day one after Christmas and again, it sends the message that this is a new term and a new start so they had better be prepared for learning.

8. Plan to go home as early as possible after school in the first week back

Go home when the bell goes and give yourself an extra few hours at home. Make a transition. Don’t feel you have to do everything at once.

Now I just need to follow my own advice!

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets at @RogersHistory

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