Becoming a Teacher



October 2016

Making the most of down time…

What I would like to focus on this week is planning for your half term week. Whilst it is important to spend some time next week ensuring you are organised and ready for the next half term, it is also crucial that you establish some good working habits in relation to school holiday periods from the outset.

If you hadn’t already realised, you will by now be aware that learning to teach is hard work and incredibly time consuming! The current climate for teachers is not always an easy one – changes to systems and policies have come thick and fast in recent years, there is a climate of performativity in schools and a need for progress to be seen and measured on, what often feels like, a daily basis. To be successful in this context it is of paramount importance that teachers look after themselves so that our pupils are working with happy and healthy teachers who are enjoying their job! A key way of doing this is to make the most of holiday periods, organising your time in such a way that you start the next period of school time well prepared and ready to go, but also well rested and ready to take on the next challenges.

With this in mind, let’s consider what is important for you in order that you keep hold of your ideals and, not just survive, but thrive as a beginning teacher. You need to:

  • remind yourself of what you are doing well;
  • remind yourself of what no longer seems scary and is becoming second nature;
  • look after your own well being;
  • see yourself as part of a community of educators and through this community get support and self-affirmation.

So, some challenges for you for this coming half term:

Celebrate what you have achieved so far:

Look back at early reflections:

  • What has changed?
  • What ideas have solidified?
  • What thoughts do you now feel confident about?

It doesn’t matter if there are lots of things that still feel unanswered. Just find one thing in relation to teaching that you now feel you can confidently articulate your current views on. Notice how your ideas have grown since the start of the course!

What are you not worrying about any more?

Were you worried about meeting all the staff at your school?  You have met them now and worked alongside them!

Were you worried about teaching your first lesson? You have done it, you’ll never have to teach your first lesson again! Perhaps it went really well, perhaps it didn’t – it doesn’t matter, you have taught it and have things to work on for next time!

Identify three things that have gone well in any teaching episodes you have had:

  • Write them big on your wall (remember the post its!)
  • Tell people what you have been good at
  • Take your partner or kids out for a meal to celebrate what you have done ….

It doesn’t matter how small these achievements are, the important thing is to focus on them!

Plan your time:

As soon as this period away from University and school starts, look at the jobs you have got to do and formulate a plan of attack:

    • Write a list of everything that needs doing, however small
    • Record when each job needs to be done by and who needs to see it (e.g. a tutor, a mentor, a class teacher)
    • Reorder your list so you prioritise jobs that need doing sooner
    • Consider each job and assign it a realistic time scale – this is crucial. If you are planning a starter activity then you should be aiming to have done this in a much shorter period of time than if you are planning a full lesson
    • Be very strict on the amount of time you spend looking for a resource or lesson idea. Hours can be lost on the internet looking for the ‘perfect’ lesson and ending up with nothing. Be very clear with yourself about what you want to teach and achieve and only look at things that fit your requirements. As soon as you find one or two things that could work, STOP! Invest your time in making them work and fit your needs. This will result in a much better lesson then spending ages finding a slightly better resource but having no time to really plan how you are going to use it
    • Once you have a time scale for each job look at your week – if you are left with no time off then return to your list and be stricter with your timescales!

Golden time

Having planned the jobs that need doing, identify some time that focuses on nothing to do with teaching – this is absolutely crucial and you need to find a way of making this happen even if you feel you have so much to do you need to work all week!

The crucial thing, once you have identified this time is ensuring you properly take it …

Decide whether you want to take the time as a bulk or spread out over the week

  • How will you make sure you stop working?
  • What will you do with this time?

Plan activities and make them happen – doing something with others is a good way of doing this. Tell family/friends that you are not allowed to cancel on them or rearrange!

Make sure this time is guilt free

There is no point in allocating time if, throughout it, you are thinking about what needs doing for the course and not switching off!

Make sure you have stuck to your time scales and plans for work so that you do not need to think about work in this time.

Let others help you

Agree some ground rules for this time, e.g.:

  • You must not look at the Internet for teaching resources
  • You must not discuss the course
  • You must not look vacant and not listen to the other person (because you are thinking about work)!

Agree how they will challenge you if you break the rules!

If you have children…

Consider calling the time something special – e.g. ‘golden time’

Make sure they know the rules and allow them to tell you off if you don’t adhere to them.

Force yourself to enjoy your time with your family – you will only end up feeling guilty about that too if you don’t!

Whilst it would be easy to dismiss this advice, remember that actually this is all part of meeting the Teachers’ Standards and being professional as, if you do not look after yourself, you will not be able to fulfil all the expectations that are required of you as a beginning teacher!

Prevention is better than cure


This week I thought it would be good to think a little bit about classroom management and, in particular, how to pre-empt issues arising. Now you have had some experiences of teaching it is important to start thinking about behaviour for learning at the planning stage, so I offer ideas that you can embed into lessons you are planning for your return to school after half term.

I recall a time when I walked into my twelve year old’s room and told him we needed to leave straightaway to go to his football match. Instantly conflict blew up, I was ‘the worst mother in the world’ and getting out the door became a frustrating battle!

 Why am I telling you this? Basically, because I could have foreseen this happening and prevented it. Who likes to be told that they need to stop what they are doing instantly and leave? If someone asked me to do that I would find it frustrating!

Normally I would have given my son a ten minute, and then five minute, time check and we would have had a very smooth exit from the house. This time I was doing other things and assumed he would be keeping an eye on the time – a fatal mistake:

Why would a twelve year old keep an eye on the time??

I would like to suggest that one key to successful classroom management is pre-emption. As a teacher if you decide in advance what behaviours you would like to see, and think about how you will make them happen, success often follows. In the example of my son, the behaviour I would have liked is:

  • he would have been fully dressed and ready to leave the house;
  • he would leave calmly!

How could I have planned to make that happen?

  • given him time checks;
  • asked questions about whether he had all the equipment he needed (i.e. kit, shin pads, etc) ready.


So how does this translate to a lesson?

Before the lesson

Visualise the next lesson you are going to teach. What would a perfect lesson look like with this class? How can you plan for this?

For example:

How would the lesson start?

You want the pupils lined up outside the classroom…

Where do you need to be when pupils start arriving?

If you need to be standing outside ready to greet them, what must you have already done?


  • how you are going to arrange the classroom and set out resources before the pupils arrive;
  • what you are going to say to the pupils as they start arriving;
  • the point at which you will direct the pupils into the room;
  • what you are going to do about late arrivals.

You want the pupils to come in quietly as they arrive, get sat down and start on a task…

What needs to be ready for this to happen?

What do your actions need to be to make this happen?


  • the task that the pupils will do as they arrive – can they get on with it without your help?
  • what you are going to say as pupils appear so they come in and get straight on with the task;
  • where you are going to stand to greet arriving pupils and ensure others are on task;
  • what you are going to do with late arrivals.

What would transitions in the lesson look like?

How would the class behave when you set them off on a task?

Perhaps you would like them all to get straight on with the task and no one would need to put their hand up and ask a question as soon as they begin?

If this is the case how will you plan for it?

You need to make sure everyone knows exactly what they have to do. Perhaps you could:

  • ask one or two pupils to explain what they must do to the whole class?
  • talk to pupils about what they must do before they put up their hand – e.g. look back at the example/identify the exact point at which they are stuck/ask a friend/etc?

Whatever you decide, you need to plan for what you are going to say, and do, to make a transition smooth.

During the lesson


I think the key here is that you need to develop your skills of noticing what is happening, and intervening before a problem arises. To do this, however, you need to know what you see as acceptable behaviour, praise it when you see it and spot behaviours that are veering towards unacceptable before they reach that point.

For example, what sort of atmosphere do you want in your classroom when pupils are working on a task?

Perhaps you want a calm working atmosphere where pupils talk quietly to each other about an activity whilst staying on task? What does this look like? Sound like? Feel like?

Spend time thinking about this.

What might the signs be that the class is shifting away from what you desire?

It is at the point that things first start shifting away from your desired behaviours that you must intervene as this enables you to pre-empt any unacceptable behaviour.

Reflect on some of the experienced teachers you have observed in the last few weeks. How did they do this? For me, key tricks are to intervene with praise, time checks and signposts and to make pupils feel you have eyes in the back of your head!




Thinking about explaining…

As you begin to learn to teach, the planning of lessons (or even parts of lessons) will take a long time and you will be thinking about many different things. What I want to think about this week is what makes a successful explanation – whether that be explaining a new concept or just explaining an activity. I would like to suggest that, if you don’t spend time on ensuring your explanations are good, then everything else you are planning to do might fall apart!

I can recall times when I spent ages thinking about a lesson, designing activities and planning interesting ways to progress pupils’ understanding. I would feel certain that I had a good lesson planned and that I was well prepared. What I hadn’t done was think in as much depth about my explanations… the lesson would come and all my hard work was wasted: the pupils were unable to engage with my carefully created tasks because they didn’t understand what to do; the pupils were unable to make progress because my explanation of a new concept was too complicated; the pupils decided not to engage in making progress because my explanation was not pitched correctly and bored them; the list goes on!

So what do you need to think about when planning a good explanation?

The blight of knowledge

Often we know so much about our subject (or the task we have designed) we can’t imagine what it’s like not to know!

As a teacher we need to be an expert but be able to think like a novice.

As you plan your explanation ask yourself questions, e.g.:

  • What prior knowledge have the pupils got?
  • What am I certain the pupils already know that I can build on?
  • Have they done a task like this before that I can remind them of?
  • Do the pupils know the meaning of all the words I intend to use?

Treat your pupils as if they are as smart as you, just not as informed

When I was learning to teach I remember thinking that I needed to show the pupils how clever I was so that they would respect me. It took time to understand that it is not about showing off your own knowledge, it is about building your learners’ knowledge.

Big picture or fine detail?

When planning your explanation you need to decide what to focus on. Are you introducing the pupils to a whole new topic? If yes, then don’t add fine details until you are sure they are ready. Perhaps think about keeping your explanation short, engaging your pupils’ interest, giving them an activity and then coming back together again to ‘add the next layer’.


Are you explaining a specific technique? Tell your pupils they need to concentrate on the fine details and spell them out, step by step.

What’s the why?

Make sure you ‘sell’ your explanation to the pupils:

  • why does this make sense?
  • why does it work?
  • why should I care?
  • why does it matter?

Make it sticky

Ensure your explanation is ‘sticky’. If an explanation is good then people can:

  • remember it;
  • think about it;
  • explain it to each other (how else can an explanation become “common sense”?
  • repeat it, even days or weeks later.

Contexts and visual aids

Where you can, enhance your explanation with visual aids like images, pictures or videos.

Find a good context to support your explanation – what are the real life experiences of the pupils you are teaching? Can you draw on their community for contexts? What’s an appropriate context? (For example, if I am teaching in a school where pupils have never been abroad is it sensible to base my explanation around a context of foreign travel?)

There is a health warning with visual aids and contexts though – don’t put all your planning time into thinking and creating these at the expense of thinking about what you are going to say!


It is important to think carefully about how you are actually going to ‘deliver’ your explanation.

  • How can you use your tone of voice, or body language, to emphasise key points?
  • Can you signpost things for your learners?:
    • ‘I am going to explain …’
    • ‘now we all understand this bit so the next bit we are going to think about is …’
    • ‘You now know how to …’
    • ‘The key things you must remember are …’

Script or no script?

When you are starting out it might be helpful to script an explanation detailing exactly what you are going to say. This can really help you think through and practise your explanation, but is often not helpful when you are actually in the classroom as it prevents you from being natural and responding to your learners. What you could think about doing is scripting what you want to say and practising it and then creating a cue card for yourself with a set of key signposts for you to refer to. You could make your writing big so even if you are nervous you can glance at it and the words will stand out! Have the card on the desk in front of you or perhaps stuck on the wall by the board if you are going to be modelling on the board as you talk.

Finally …

So you have a carefully planned explanation but how will you know the pupils have engaged with, and understood, it?

Think carefully about how you will know an explanation has been successful before you set pupils off on a task. If you don’t, then you will find there are instantly hands up and you are rushing round the room repeating your explanation to each child independently!

Plan three or four very targeted questions that will enable you to know that the pupils understand your explanation. If they don’t then there is no point in setting them off on their own. Go back and work out together the point where they got lost and then build up their understanding from there.



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