Classroom practice - A teacher's best-laid plans start early

15th August 2014 at 01:00
It may seem perverse to begin working before term even begins, but a little effort now will save your sanity later in the year

The summer holidays are a time of good intentions. Next term, we say, we will not fall behind. We will be more organised and ensure that the to-do list is always ticked.

In reality, this is impossible. You will be lagging behind by the time September turns the green summer golden. Soon, the pile of marking will grow bigger, the data to analyse will multiply and the hours of planning will extend deep into the night until you find yourself creating worksheets as the sun rises. And that's before the ad hoc meetings, phone calls, admin and behaviour showdowns start fighting for space in your schedule.

I am not going to claim that anything you do now will eradicate the threat of a meltdown. However, you can take steps to make it less likely while we are still a couple of weeks from the start of term. It's all about preparedness and contingency planning. Here are some tips to get you started.

Tackle admin in advance

Most schools release timetables and class lists before the start of term so you can start working on the basics. First, familiarise yourself with the pupils in your classes and ensure that you have a note of their tutor groups and other useful information such as special educational needs or entitlement to free school meals. It is a good idea to get hold of students' previous data, be it from primary or earlier year groups at your school, so that you can see the ability range you will be dealing with.

I also try to read students' individual education plans before September and contact the special educational needs coordinator and heads of year with any questions. For students who are coming up to exams, it is useful to contact the exams office and get a list of candidate numbers and details of students with access arrangements in place.

Think tactically about your timetable

Check which rooms you will be teaching in and work out how long it will take you to travel between them - this should be accounted for in your lesson planning.

Try to work out when your "heavy" days will be - the ones with limited planning time and timetabled meetings between lessons, for example. Once you have identified these crunch areas of the week, start thinking about how to work around them to manage your energy levels. For a start, consider which days it would be better to collect homework from students on. There is nothing more depressing than teaching a full day, attending a lunch meeting and an after-school meeting, then going home to mark 60 books.

It is also useful to plan lessons with this in mind. Make sure that on crazy days you schedule some quieter activities where students are working silently or cooperatively and the teacher input required is minimal. Teaching is a long-term game and if you go all out with six high-energy lessons on a Monday, you will be done in by Wednesday and crawling towards the weekend by Friday.

Prepare for the unexpected

There will be days during the year when, for whatever reason, you will not be at full capacity. It may be that you are feeling ill, have been left shaken after a serious behaviour incident or have had some bad news and are not emotionally 100 per cent. It's sensible to have something ready for these emergencies - my tactic is a book box. I spend a few days in the summer picking up books at charity shops, Then, when a difficult situation arises, I get the students to choose one and read quietly for 10 minutes while I compose myself. I also take some time at the beginning of the year to collate a heavy wedge of worksheets and old textbooks and keep them on a shelf in the cupboard. These are for students who get sent out of the classroom and need to take some work with them, or students who are unable to attend lessons and need work to do at home or elsewhere at short notice.

Look to the long term

It is impossible to plan your lessons for more than about a week ahead of time; sometimes even that seems ambitious. School life moves rapidly, so you have to be ready to adapt and make changes quickly. Despite this, you can get the foundations of planning in place. Make sure that long-term plans for the year are written so that you know what you are doing and when. By having an overview of the year (and deadlines for assessments, coursework and exam preparations) ready, you can ensure that you cover all your subject's requirements. Many schools will write these as a department so that every teacher is delivering the same topic at the same time; some won't. In the latter case, take the initiative and get organised by creating a plan for each half-term.

Spruce up schemes of work

With your long-term plans sorted, it is a good idea to spend some time organising the resources for each scheme of work into a sensible order. This is also a perfect opportunity to edit lessons that need refreshing, updating or rewriting. In our school, as a department we each nominate a scheme of work to rewrite before September, which we upload to our shared resources area for everyone to use during the next academic year. It is enjoyable to spend time on this more creative aspect of our job - and really enjoyable to find a well-organised, planned and resourced scheme of work in the middle of winter when you are knee-deep in marking.

Cover the cover

Finally, ensure you have cover protocols sorted. It may seem mad to be thinking of this ahead of time but it is almost inevitable that a day will come during the year when you are too ill to go to school. Make sure you know who to contact when this happens - save the number to your phone so you can access it easily. Work out what your school policy on setting cover is - my school has a specific cover form that I have saved on my home computer should the need arise. Furthermore, over the years I have created and collated a series of worksheets on generic aspects of English (such as grammar, word choices, accuracy with punctuation, and reading and comprehension activities) that can be used as a base for cover lessons.

Katie White is an English teacher at Kingsbridge Community College in Devon

What else?

Twenty ways to make the most of your summer holidays.

Settling in to a new primary class.

Resources to help you get off to a good start with students.


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