It all comes together

29th August 2008 at 01:00
You're ready for your first year; you just need confidence in your own abilities

The summer has gone in a strange blend of euphoria and general panic. You've alternated labelling books and researching topics with mooching aimlessly around the house.

If this sounds like you, then the chances are you're on the threshold of what promises to be one of the most challenging - yet rewarding - years of your life: your first year as a teacher.

You should by now have planned your first few days in depth and have a good idea of your direction for the first half-term. But it's not too late for last-minute revision. The more you do before term starts, the better the term will flow.

Of course, nobody can prepare for every eventuality, and there is always the risk that something will catch you unawares, but if you're on top of everything else, at least you're giving yourself a chance.

Your classroom management

Before children can learn effectively, they need to be in the right atmosphere. They also need to know what behaviour is expected of them. Read through the school's behaviour policy carefully and ensure that you know what to do should any formal issues arise. Then you can be creative and decide what reward systems you are going to use: raffle tickets, marbles in jars, team or house points or merit systems, depending on the age group and abilities of your children.

Be aware of any children with specific behavioural needs and design individual support systems and records for them. Read through any information passed on by their previous teacher so that you can plan ahead, but remain open minded and try to give every child a fresh start.

Depending on the age group, consider using Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) topics to help you bond with them in the first week. This could be making name labels, designing their own coat of arms or asking them to sum up their personalities. Or you could ask them to write their own rules and vote for school council members. These will all help reinforce the idea of your class as a team and help you get to know them as individuals. You could even think up a team name or a motto.

Formal seating plans are a good idea in all age groups. They enable the children to see who is in charge, and may help with behaviour management.

Aim to become familiar with the children's names and check out the tricky names with another member of staff. You don't want to embarrass yourself by referring to Persephone as Percy-phone.

With larger classes, memorising names is a challenging task. Try to use mental images of the child. Another technique is to set yourself challenges, such as remembering all the left hand side, or the back row. A seating plan can help. It is the children whose names you can't remember that you need to worry about - can you be assessing their needs effectively if you don't remember who they are?

Your classroom

The better organised you are, the easier you will find the first few frenetic weeks in school. If you haven't already, get into the school, befriend the site manager and the cleaning staff and find out what is where.

Have a good tidy up and, if you have your own room, try to make your mark on it. New backing paper and well-placed posters will help you feel at home and make the children feel more secure and curious about you and the learning you have planned. You could even put up thought-provoking teaser signs or symbols.

Ensure you have clearly labelled resources, trays and drawers (essential for the younger years) and have located the stationery cupboard - pencils can be chewed at a rate of knots.

Aim to encourage as much independence as possible, so coat hooks with names and photos or pictures that match initial letters can help your non- readers feel at home. If you work with younger children, it's important to have clean resources, so put paint pallets through a dishwasher.

If you don't have your own room, be organised, with your resources easily portable. Don't forget spare resources for the children and whiteboard pens and your USB stick. Consider buying a collapsible trolley for resources and marking to save your back.

Your class

The first few weeks of term is all about building relationships: with the children, parentscarers and other members of staff. It is hard work, but while you are still fresh it is worth investing time and energy in developing positive relationships with these groups.

The children need to develop individual relationships with you, as well as with each other. Just greeting them by name in the morning, making an effort to recall birthdays, holidays, new babies and more sensitive issues, such as illness or the death of a pet, can make the difference between a child who feels safe and secure in school and one who feels lost and distressed.

Should you reveal much about yourself to the children? Tricky. In the first few weeks, focus on getting to know them and their needs and setting firm boundaries, and then if you wish to, throw in the odd domestic anecdote about your own children or about your pet or partner.

They do not need, nor want, to know everything about your life, but showing yourself as a rounded human being may help them with their own personal and emotional education. This is, however, a personal issue and it might be worth asking what other staff do. If in doubt, discuss this with your induction tutor - he or she should be in a good position to give you the "party" line.

Your first week

The first week can seem endless as the normal school routine grinds into gear. There are lots of administrative tasks, such as giving out resources, filling in lunch registers, labelling books and exploring each of the areas around the class.

Don't overplan curriculum content the first week: it is a fine balance between fun, getting-to-know-you games and curriculum-based activities to get the sand out of everyone's ears. Yes, you want to get to grips with teaching, but you need to develop a bond and a relationship too.

The week will vary depending on the age and experiences of the children - reception and Year 7s need a different approach from Year 5 and Year 9. Discuss age groups with your induction tutor and listen to other teachers in the staffroom. Most schools cannot afford to waste too much time, so normal lessons will get underway by midway through the first week, with older children getting stuck in faster than the younger ones.

Save your super-detailed planning for week two and beyond, stay flexible and have lots of extras under your belt. If stuck for ideas, search the web for curriculum games, especially ones to use on the interactive whiteboard. Flexibility is essential and the first week is a test of nerves.

This is it. Your room is prepared, your lesson plans sorted, interactive whiteboard at the ready, support staff fully briefed, shoes polished, looking smart and every inch the professional. There goes the bell. It will be 3.30pm before you know it

Kate Aspin is a senior lecturer in the school of education at Huddersfield University


- Have breakfast. Even if you never eat it, even if you feel sick, try to have something, and take an energy snack such as a flapjack or a banana for break - you'll need it.

- Dress smartly but comfortably. If you wear trousers normally, then wear them, don't feel you have to wear a skirt or dress if that is not you. Men need to find the right level between professional and practical.

- Arrive early, ensure everything is prepared and well planned, check the technology is working, have a coffee and try to relax into the day.

- Know the routine for the day and what all the bells and buzzers mean. That way you won't have to do a walk of shame as you're the last class into assembly, and the children won't resent being the last ones out at break.

- Have some time at lunchtime in the staffroom, you need to have some "you time" in the day.

- Leave your room and resources tidy at the end of the day; try to be prepared for the next day before you leave.

- Have a decent meal and a chat to friends or family . relax and unwind.

- Most importantly, smile and try to enjoy it. It will get easier.

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