Top tips to get you through your teacher training, from Helen Waring.

Let me introduce myself. I started working in a Primary school at the age of 22 as a teaching assistant, with no real clue as to what the job entailed. Over the years, my job title changed from EYFS TA, to 1:1 SEN support, KS1 TA to KS2 TA. Throughout my eight years doing this job I learnt a great many things that put me in good stead (or so I believe) to start my career as a primary school teacher. I feel truly fortunate for my previous experience and will never take it for granted; training to do a PGCE in the midst of a global pandemic was no easy task. My previous role helped me to get through some hard times over the last year and I know that it was these experiences that will help me to become a successful teacher.

Understanding what it means to be a ‘teacher’

For anyone thinking of doing a PGCE, I would strongly advise some work experience prior to applying for the course.

The dropout rate for teachers (particularly now) is quite high. Although a great deal of this is due to the pandemic and ever-growing workloads, I personally believe another reason is that applicants do not always understand what the job actually is. Frustrating as it is, I have had so many of my friends and family members think that I play and paint all day.

Teaching is seriously hard work, and I don’t think you can fully understand what the job role is unless you’ve seen it for yourself. That being said, don’t be put off by what you hear. When I applied to do my PGCE, even after all the experience I had, people still used scaremongering tactics – ‘people treat students terribly’, ‘worst year of my life’, ‘I’d hate to train to teach now’ – the list was endless. It took a lot for me to ignore these remarks and bite the bullet. Don’t get me wrong, my PGCE training year was far from perfect. I cried a lot and fell asleep watching TV most nights (much to the annoyance of my partner), but I got through it. My strength to keep going, even when things were at their worst, came from my amazing friends, family, and very supportive, understanding other half. You need people who are going to encourage you to keep going even when you feel like you can’t, you also need people around you who are going to be understanding of your tiredness (like falling asleep watching a film!).

Dos and Don’ts

From my eight years’ experience as a TA and my PGCE year, I’ve created what I feel are some good ‘Top Tips’ to help you through your PGCE. They’re not incredibly wise words of wisdom; however, following them may help you keep that work/life balance (and your sanity!).

Dos

  • Get involved, go to the Christmas and summer fayres, stay to watch the year 6 production – these things get noticed, trust me!
  • Learn how to say no. If you have too much on your plate, don’t take on more responsibilities or you will burn yourself out!
  • Be organised, be patient, be well rested. Above all things, these are crucial to new trainees.
  • Be honest – if a child is struggling and a parent asks about their progress, tell them the truth. Some may not want to know will and ignore you, others will take it on board and ask what they can do to help. But if it gets to parents’ evening or the end of the school year and you haven’t said anything, be prepared for potentially upset parents.
  • Be flexible! Someone is going to want your hall time slot at some point – you scratch their back, and they will scratch yours.
  • Get to know your class, not just their abilities but their personalities too. This will help you to build good relationships with them, which is key to having a happy class.
  • Keep your TA in the loop. The classroom will work much better and the children will get much more out of it if the TA knows what the plans are for the week. (I have experienced this from both aspects. Trust me, when I knew what I needed to do, the children made much more progress).
  • Use praise to encourage learners. Shouting rarely gets you anywhere!
  • Make sure you don’t stay late on a Friday unless you absolutely have to. Weekends are precious. You need to rest or you won’t be on top form the following week.
  • Your TA is one of your best assets. Work with them and make sure you say, ‘thank you’. A good working relationship with your TA will change everything. Have a snack drawer – you will need it at some point. Thank me later.
  • Eat your breakfast. Even if you don’t have it until you get to school, even if it’s only a banana – eat it, you need the energy. Make sure you have a good work friend: someone you can go to at the beginning or end of the day will help you get through some of your toughest days. Prepare lunches the night before whenever possible. This saves so much time and stress. You’ll thank yourself the next day.
  • Be organised. Don’t leave that printing till morning. I know so many people who have done this and the printer is broken or there’s no paper or there’s a massive line to use it. Better to always just be prepared.
  • Be kind to office staff and cleaners .They are just as much a part of the school as the teaching staff. The school could not run without them.
  • Be in a union – you never know when you might need them. I know far too many people who learnt this the hard way.
  • Have folders and files to keep things organised. And label them; it makes it so much easier to find something when you need it.

Don’ts

  • Leave your TA to work with lower ability children all the time. This has happened to me in the past and it really used to irritate me.
  • Only contact parents when you have some bad news to give; make sure you share the good as well. Trust me on this one, it will keep them on your side.
  • Try to reinvent the wheel. If there is a good lesson plan readily available that will work: use it! You will save yourself a lot of time and energy.
  • Leave your class in assembly for someone else to look after – especially your TA! Again, this happened to me a lot and it felt very unfair.
  • Stay past 6pm. If you can’t help it, don’t do it every night.
  • Be a pushover. If something is wrong and unjust, do something about it – don’t let anyone belittle you.
  • Take criticism too personally. Remember that it’s there to help and guide you. This is a hard one and I’m the worst for being too hard on myself, but you have to remember that no-one is perfect. If you disagree with the feedback, ask what you can do to improve.
  • Forget the SEN children. I’ve seen many people who haven’t even tried to include these children within the classroom activities. Children need to be with their peers – how else will they learn?
  • Be that person who leaves loads of staples in the wall at the end of the year. Again, trust me: it is not fun going into your new classroom and having to spend hours removing staples.
  • Shout. If you do find yourself shouting, take a breath, count to 10 and start again.
  • Leave your classroom in an absolute state for the cleaner. It is not their job to clean up glitter and bits of paper from every inch of the classroom.
  • Get involved in staffroom gossip. It never ends well.
  • Do displays for displays’ sake. Instead, make ones you use, that you can add to/take away from – and use Blu Tack!
  • Start the day on a negative. If you’re in a bad mood or feeling upset, talk to someone about it and get it off your chest before the children arrive.
  • Leave all your marking for the weekend. Try to do some marking in the lesson – don’t get behind on it.
  • Suffer in silence. Ask for help when you need it. Flog a dead horse. If a lesson really isn’t working or the children totally don’t get it, leave it. Try something else. This is scary but it’ll work out better than forcing a lesson that isn’t going anywhere.
  • Spend all weekend working. Make sure you have a good work/life balance.

Summary

I know this list was long and if you got to the end, well done! These are tips I wrote down from my experiences both as a TA and as a trainee teacher. They’re lessons that I’ve learnt: some have been difficult lessons, and some were obvious, but knowing them all now, I feel ready for my very first class in September, confident that I (kind of ) know what I’m doing!

Author

  • Helen Waring

    Helen is a Year 6 primary teacher and science lead. She oves all things Disney and Christmas and can't start the day without a cup of tea. Children's mental wellbeing is of 'number 1' importance to her.

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