Trainee, Ruth, discusses the highs and lows of her first days in the classroom:
I knew I wanted to get into teaching: all my prior experience standing up in front of a class had delivered a fulfilling mix of smiles, inspiration, surprises and of course the inevitable challenges too. Yet the build up to teaching my first class in September presented a whole new kind of challenge – one which temporarily made me question all that self-confidence and knowledge of ‘you can do this’.
It felt like strapping into a rollercoaster - the big, adrenaline-fueling, slightly worrisome kind. Preparations included as many observations as I could feasibly get in on back in July – getting to know the classroom culture of the school proved to be invaluable in developing my own standards of behaviour, learning, teaching and just how other teachers, my future colleagues, ‘own it’. It was inspiring, familiarising and undoubtedly gave me a head start – talk to teachers, talk to students, make notes, re-read the notes and get stuck in!
Having done all of the reading for the curriculum during summer (reading Shakespeare at the beach made it a lot more memorable!), meant that the week before my first lessons I spent a surprising amount of time on things like my seating plan - not something I would have expected! Interpreting my students’ data including specific needs, following that up with conversations with their Heads of Year to help me arrange the seating plan, moving around desks and chairs (try sitting in each corner etc. to see if it’s sensible), memorising about 100 students’ names (it was surprisingly doable! Put name Post Its on their desks for the first week or two!)… It was weird to put so much effort into ‘getting to know them’ without actually having met them. But it paid off. For sure. Group work works. Independent work works. ‘Naughty’ kids are sat with those that will help rather than hinder. They love when you ask them how their day is using their name. It makes a big difference.
And so, then finally the rollercoaster took off. I had my lessons planned (reach out and ask questions within your department), equipment at the ready, I’d learnt the behavior expectations as best I could, name Post Its were on their desks and I stood at the door to greet them one by one.
All I can say is – smile, enjoy it. Within ten minutes, nerves were forgotten and all that earlier stuff about smiles, surprises and, yes, the challenges seeped back in. Four weeks in and I’ve had students holding their gasping mouths, gripped by how awful it is when Belle breaks up with Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; I’ve been inspired and touched, listening to one student convince another why homeless people shouldn’t just give up; I’ve seen a student tell another struggling student that “they liked their metaphor, well done”, in response to guided peer assessment marking, and of course I’ve seen them try it on, see what they can get away with and be cheeky in my lessons too. To that I say – you can do this. Reach out, know your behaviour policy, get teachers and leaders to pop in, guide you, reflect with you and advise you. My vice-principal observed one of my worst lessons, just after an amazing lesson which of course went unobserved. Wishing they’d observed the other lesson, I had to remind myself that I’m here to learn - I need that advice and feedback more than I need that praise (though she gave me that too. Remember, they’re on your side!)
In short – it’s been amazing, overwhelming, beyond fulfilling, challenging, exciting… worth it. Hearing ‘Wait, what Miss, the lesson’s already over!?’ at the end of your lesson sends you home with a smile way bigger than any bag of marking.