Get smart and get set for the new session

16th August 1996 at 01:00
Just as the Queen has two birthdays each year, teachers have two new years. There is the traditional festive season involving wine bottles and beer cans, crisps and peanuts; and that's just the stuff found on the floor of the mini bus after the staff Christmas night out. Yet for the majority of teachers the new school year has more important repercussions. Classes change and with them the whole quality of school life can alter for the better . . . or the worse.

The new school year also offers an opportunity for a watershed in teaching practice and habits. It is a new beginning galvanised by the long summer holiday. Those little or big things they promised themselves they would do differently. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Whether you travel backwards and forwards to school, with a handbag, briefcase, satchel, sports bag, suitcase or seaman's trunk, the load you carry always expands to meet the capacity you have available plus one supermarket carrier bag.

Items can languish, undisturbed, for some time. More pressing necessities such as marking pieces of imaginative writing win the attention of the teacher in the evening. It is possible to sift through a teacher's bag like an educational archaeologist to discover the history of a teacher's term. The bottom contains the earliest artifacts, often still in remarkably pristine condition, dating to the BC period (Before Corrections begin in earnest).

These belong to the very beginning of term when there is still enthusiasm for curriculum documents or recently published Government statistics. Above these a later period can be identified through a number of environmental studies topic books while this may then give way to a larger, more contemporary, period of material from reading, writing or maths schemes.

Children's work completes the final layer of the dig site. So there is a possibility for a resolution. Don't take home what there is little likelihood you will ever be able to look at and tidy that bag out more often.

2. Keep to time on parent's evenings. You may recall the embarrassing situation last year when the janitor pulled the lights fuse at 10.05pm just as you were answering Mr and Mrs Stewart's query about what part their son had played in producing the large mural of the French village other than scrubbing out the glue pots.

Parents you should be particularly wary of are those who introduce numerous anecdotes of their own schooldays and relate that they too had been "very talkative" at school. They may also claim it has never held them back. Unfortunately the same can not be said for the three-person tailback which has developed outside your room.

3. Prepare well ahead for that school concert or pantomime. Props may come less easily to hand than you imagine. Looking for three green balaclavas the week before the show is probably too late. Equally make sure that the props you are going to recycle from previous years are still there. It can be alarming to discover that the Egyptian Casbah scene you were sure was in the school somewhere was actually cut up last year to make an ox and ass for the nativity scene.

Start rehearsing in good time. Don't leave it until a fortnight before the concert to start your dramatised poem "Cats Sleep Anywhere" only to discover that the cat of one of the best speakers in the class had recently fallen asleep under a car and got run over.

4. Keep a better eye on these scissorspencilsfelt tips etc. A point comes, normally towards the end of the school year, when you suddenly look at your pencil drawer which contains a few runty brown colouring-in pencils or your scissors container which has more left-handed than right-handed pairs and ask: "Where have they gone?" The net of suspicion can be cast wide but rarely with much success.

Did someone borrow them, have they fallen down the back of the worktops, are children keeping them in their trays? The more draconian schemes of having children sign their name in blood before they borrow an item or numbering each item to a specific child like some piece of military kit may seem an overreaction.

I have heard that doing no more than Sellotaping numbers or letters on pencils can work wonders in infant classes. If they think you have an organised scheme, apparently things are less likely to go missing. A regular round up of pencils, pens and scissors may also cut down the work of the Interclass Missing Resources Bureau.

5. A common piece of advice from more experienced teachers is never to smile in class before OctoberChristmas. The sceptical may well feel that such advice is offered by those who find it onerous to smile much before the third week of June.

However, this treat 'em rough approach where you can kick the door shut on the first day apparently gains, among other things, respect. There are some great role-playing opportunities. I have often fancied saying "My name is Budge but I don't" on the first day of term although have never quite picked up the necessary bravado.

6. Do preparation earlier in the weekend rather than later. During term time someone seems to push their foot on an accelerator at weekends. Other tasks begin to appear more attractive. Wash the car, cut the grass, watch a black-and-white subtitled film on BBC2. It can spoil a whole day so try to get it done earlier rather than later in the weekend.

7. Remember it is only a job. Stick a photograph of someone or something personal in, on or near your desk. When you try to figure out a playground fight, deal with a child who says they are sick, another who has lost their maths jotter, another who has the most incredibly wrong answers and know that you still have three reading groups to do before lunch time, have a look at this picture.

You may well need reminding that there is another life outwith these classroom walls.

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