The six-week-plus holiday that had shone like a beacon at the end of the summer term is already drawing to a close. Hopefully, you’re refreshed, recharged and raring to get going again, rather than wondering what happened to August and if anyone will notice if you reuse last year’s lesson plans. Either way, here are some back to school tips to help make the transition to the classroom as smooth as possible.
Robert Baden-Powell was on to something when he made “Be Prepared” the scout’s motto. You don’t need to practice starting a fire using only twigs or fashioning a tent out of discarded crisp packets and an elastic band though. Instead, prepare your timetable, your lesson plans and your classroom.
Have a good sort out in your classroom. Make sure equipment is complete and where it needs to be, and know what displays you want for the forthcoming year. Getting your new class’s work up on the walls as quickly as possible is a great way of making them feel valued and as though they belong in that room.
Consider designing a marking timetable. Looking at your overall timetable, work out when to mark each set of books, allowing yourself sufficient time to turn a whole set of books around between lessons. This will ensure you never get overwhelmed by marking, and will enable you to plan and adapt lessons according to your students’ needs, as you’ll have seen well in advance to the lesson, which areas need further study.
The better prepared you are at the start of the year, the better you will feel. Don’t leave it to the last minute!
Find a reason to praise every pupil you teach to give them a boost and start the year on a positive note. If possible, link that praise to something they’ve improved on, no matter how small.
Motivate your new pupils by sharing stories of other students’ achievements, especially when they’ve had to overcome challenges and obstacles. This can inspire and encourage pupils who have fears about their own abilities or circumstances.
Banish imposter syndrome
Even the most experienced teachers face challenges and have concerns. (Ofsted anyone?!) Don’t let self-doubt consume you. You’re having a positive impact on the lives and outcomes of many children, some of whom are vulnerable. You’re making a difference. Don’t be afraid of change. See it as a new challenge and embrace learning new skills. And remember that you’re not on your own. Your teaching colleagues and senior leaders are there to support you, and you them.
View the new year as a fresh start. This is a chance to build on your experience. What went well last year and what didn’t? What can you improve, in your teaching methods, as well as planning and behaviour management? This is the ideal opportunity to try a new approach or a different technique if you think it will improve your teaching. Aim to be the best possible version of yourself every single day. Encourage your pupils to put in the best possible effort they can, and help your school to be the best it can be.
Setting up a good rapport with your new students is crucial, but there are other important relationships to establish too. Aim to have a respectful communication with the parents. Invite them to attend a meeting as early in the term as you can so you can introduce yourself, outline your plans and aims for the forthcoming year and address any concerns they many have. Assure them that your door (or your inbox at least) is always open to them. Ideally, you’ll get on with your colleagues. Break time in the staff room will be a lot more enjoyable if you can share stories, advice and biscuits. Make the effort to include any new staff who are starting in the school. If you’re the new member of staff, involve yourself as much as possible. Bringing biscuits should guarantee a warm welcome!
All of your students are in a unique situation, each with different resources and individual family needs. Some will be dealing with increased financial burden due to the cost of living increase. Others may be concerned about theirs or their family’s health. Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic.
Be understanding and flexible and offer emotional support. Your kindness will go a long way.
Look after yourself
In the same way you should put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, you should make sure you’re in the best place mentally and physically at the start of the new year. (Ideally you will be at the end of the year too, but, for most of us, there’s more chance of having a unicorn as a classroom pet than getting to the end of the year without being even slightly frazzled.)
The priorities that you set during the summer holidays – to be fit and active, socialise, make time to rest – need to continue throughout term time for your mental health and wellbeing. You’ll work at your best when you look after yourself. There are 24 hours in a day. Only eight of these should be spent working. Don’t sacrifice sleep or time with your family or for yourself by working more hours than is healthy.
Our last back to school tip is a very simple one. Go to school armed with a fabric pen and ask the students to write their names in the back of their jumpers. It’ll save everyone a lot of time working out whose is whose over the course of the year!
Hopefully you’re looking forward to the new school year. If, however, you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, remember it’s only seven weeks until half-term!