We all have to start somewhere…

For the last two weeks, we have had the privilege of having a PGDE student teacher on placement in our department. I’d like to think that this has been not only a learning opportunity for her, but also a chance for each of us in the department to reflect on our own learning and teaching in order that we demonstrate the highest quality lessons. It has prompted me to consider some of the most important aspects of our practice in this blog post and the valuable pieces of advice which might help new student teachers as they approach the midpoint of their first placement. I hope it might be useful for student teachers and NQT’s, but sometimes we all need a reminder, regardless of the length of our experience.

Remembering back to my own early student teacher days, I am constantly reminded of just how tough it was as a student teacher. I had a brilliant first placement but even so, there was So much to learn, so much to remember, so many new people and not enough hours in the day. Not to mention how exhausting it all was. Then of course there’s the small issue which our current student teachers face: learning how to be a teacher during a pandemic. With this in mind, I hope this post will encourage and inspire our student teachers, yet remind more experienced teachers of the challenges those new to the profession are facing so they may act with compassion and empathy. Yes it is tough. Yes it is challenging. Yes there are lessons which don’t go as well as others. But it’s also the best job in the world and an absolute privilege for us to play such an important part in the lives of young people. Hang onto the good moments. See the positive. Remember the difference you are making.

Something that we as teachers perhaps don’t admit as often as we should: Everyone has bad lessons. Things don’t always go to plan. Sometimes learners just don’t get it, no matter how much time we’ve spent preparing. There are times we overestimate how much we’ll get through in a lesson. There are occasions when a disruption to the lesson makes it really difficult to get back on track. We have all experienced it. Student teachers shouldn’t think that after so many years, teachers magically become perfection personified, and don’t encounter these trying instances anymore. And it’s equally as important for us as supporters and mentors to remember this too – so we are able to empathise and relate to the difficulties faced in a way which supports and helps move forward. A bad lesson doesn’t make you a bad teacher. It is how you use the experience to shape you as a teacher.

A really important quality which I think is integral to the success of any teacher, is the ability to self-reflect. It’s so important to be able to look back honestly at lessons and pick out the areas of strength and areas of development. I believe this is one of the key areas which will help any teacher to get better. And although reflection can be something which slips down the priority list when demands on our time become pressured, it’s so important to help us identify where to turn our attention to in order to further improve. Many teachers become so experienced at this, that they do it almost without realising. Were we clear enough on what it was we wanted the young people to learn? Did we communicate this clearly? Did we model our expectations? How did our questioning help to make students think? How could we do it differently next time? Often these questions subconsciously fuel the planning of our next lesson. But early on in our careers it can be more useful to dedicate time for this and make a conscious effort to consider how it could be better. Striving to continually develop and become the best you can be is a quality which will ensure you are an excellent practioner, long after your student placement.

I do fear that with experience and a lack of self awareness, it can sometimes be tempting to look less at our own part in the lesson, and instead blame the young people. This is sometimes easier to do than admit we ourselves might be able to make changes to improve learning. The pressure to get through courses, stick to plans and plough onwards despite issues can sometimes seem more important than slowing down and stopping to reflect. By unpicking the pedagogy and content of the lesson, it can help us to see things through a different lense, giving us alternative strategies to try. The aspiration to become better and better at what we do is a very visible and very desirable quality. It will take time. But the desire to want to be better is the first step in getting there.

Becoming a better teacher however, doesn’t always mean having the flashiest lesson with the best resources or an activity which encourages the most engagement. Remember that sometimes these tasks can actually distract from the knowledge you want the learners to retain. Your time as a student teacher, and indeed an experienced teacher is finite. You can’t possibly create elaborate, handmade resources for every lesson. So concentrate on the learning, not on the activities. Start small. Think about what will have the biggest impact on the learning. Your presence, your voice, your words, your pedagogy, your modelling, your relationships, and your encouragement in the classroom will all be far more powerful, and sustainable, in the longer term.

A fairly new development in the world of teaching and is Edu-twitter. Twitter is a place of huge encouragement, support and connection for teachers. Like me, you may already use it to share ideas and approaches, connecting with others to adapt ideas and ask questions. But like all social media, there are downsides. It’s important to acknowledge that often teachers only post the best bits of their practice, which can sometimes create a false illusion of the reality of the classroom. It’s important not to be drawn in to comparing ourselves to other teachers. Yes, use social media to reach out to others and create your own important professional learning network. For me, it’s been invaluable. But beware of the curse of becoming obsessed with creating lessons solely to share on twitter. And don’t be disheartened when you see examples of amazing practice – remember this is just a snapshot of the best bits! We don’t see many posts from teachers of the chaotic tidying up routine, or the mess left over at the end of the day! Focus on the learning and everything else will fall into place.

Remember, It’s a huge learning curve. You are doing brilliantly. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Celebrate every small success. And reach out to others – conversation always helps! Have realistic expectations of your progress and take it a lesson at a time.

I hope this post has been helpful. If any of it has been useful, please feel free to connect – I am always happy to chat further.

Have a great week.

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