Ten things to do before September

9th May 2003 at 01:00
If you're approaching the end of a PGCE, it was probably at some point around the middle of your course that a tutor casually slipped an awful fact into the conversation. Contrary to received wisdom, 10 months at university won't have been the hardest year in your journey towards becoming a great educator. Your NQT year is the killer.

Writing a few meaningless assignments is child's play compared to controlling a class for a seven-week stretch, while carrying out weekly planning, daily preparation of resources and stemming the Canute-defying tide of marking.

If you can get through that, preparing for nuclear war, a medieval siege, or a plate-spinning world record attempt will appear as nought.

Don't panic, it will get better. But as great sports stars, politicians and plasterers will tell you, it's all about preparation, preparation, preparation.

There are things to get sorted before you start work - just to survive or because it'll be months before you will have time or energy to do them again. Here are a few:

1 Get married ... or at least move in with someone - preferably with the patience and selflessness of a saint. Chances are you'll be too tired to go out in the week to visit friends. So, if you live alone, after a day talking to infants or juveniles where will you get any adult conversation?

Most interactions with fellow teachers will involve weight loss or unbelievable things one of their herd has done. Before you know it, you'll talk of little else but unachievable IEPs and low-fat cheese.

2 Do something nice for friends. They might not see much of you for the first few weeks of term, but you'll probably be on the phone to them in tears at some point.

Earn some early Brownie points. Give a large stock of alcohol or tea, for them in turn to feed you - along with sympathy.

3 Spend time at your new school. After your PGCE or BEd sets you free, there are still three weeks of term. Don't be so keen to go on holiday that you waste this chance to learn where the stock cupboard is.

You should also ingratiate yourself with the two most important people in your life from now on... the school secretary and your teaching assistant.

They're used to being taken for granted by overly-stressed teachers so they are easy to impress.

If you have the chance to spend a few days teaching the kids you'll get next year, grasp it like a playtime cup of tea. Learn their names and idiosyncrasies and you'll hit the ground running in September. Just remember not to cut them too much slack.

4 Sort out your classroom. Whatever you do, don't leave it till the day the kids arrive.

Sweet talk the caretaker and come in at the end of the holidays if you must. Better still, be around at the end of the summer term. If you aren't, you may arrive to find resources stripped from your classroom as though it has been attacked by a plague of locusts. Scavenging for filing cabinets, bookshelves and guillotines assumes Biblical proportions at the end of the year.

Guard your corner and lock the classroom door. Oh, and nick a few things from other people if they're not around like a stapler and staples that fit.

5 Shop for a siege. You'll not quite be at the stage of needing UN assistance. Even so, once you've emerged from your bunker to sort out marking and rearranging the seating arrangements for the fourth week running, the last thing you'll feel like doing is tackling further hordes at Tesco.

Get everything you think you'll need... don't rely on whipping toilet roll from the loos and teabags from the staffroom.

If you run out of toothpaste, remember how quickly your own teachers could pick up a reputation and a nickname.

6 Catch up on overdue reading. Remember the huge reading list at the beginning of your PGCE that you always meant to get round to perusing? Well, summer would be a good time.

Doubtless you've already realised that you learn ten times as much teaching for one day than in a week of lectures or reading time, but a bit more theory wouldn't go amiss, would it?

If nothing else it will impress your next headteacher when you move on.

7 Get drunk midweek. Your days of skipping lectures for a chill-out day in bed are over. Just because you've survived days in a previous working life nursing a hangover, don't assume you can do it now.

Ever seen those wildlife documentaries where the lions single out the sickliest member of the wildebeest herd before pouncing? You are now a wildebeest.

8 Learn to love direct debits. You think nominal hours of 9 till 3.30 leave you plenty of time to visit the bank or post office? No, you can kiss them goodbye until you get a routine organised. Sort out your finances before you start work. A criminal record for non-payment of bills plays havoc with your child protection register check.

9 Get out while you can. You might think half-term plus Christmas and Easter holidays will give you plenty of time to travel, but if you're not recovering in an exhausted heap then you're wasted as an NQT. Join the SAS.

This summer, see the world for the last time till next year. The Great Barrier Reef may remain a future plan but it's your final chance ever to go to Glastonbury, unless you live within decibel range.

10 Have a relaxing break. Whether you travel or slob out this summer, relax. After being a hard-up student, it's tempting to think of getting a summer job. Don't do it.

The July and August break is your time to get batteries fully charged. You need to hit the chalkface fresh and enthusiastic. The Christmas run-up will constitute the the longest and fastest four months of your life, so tell the bank manager to chill out.

And finally...

Survive until Christmas without Red Cross parcels and you'll find it all suddenly starts clicking into place. It does get easier quite quickly.

Have faith, halfway through your NQT year nobody will tell you it will be harder next time round. Not unless your school is due an Ofsted visit anyway.

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