Monday, 4 September 2017

Super School Routines to Soothe Classroom Chaos

Routines are so important in making sure your classroom runs as smoothly as possible.  There are endless routines you could implement and I'm sure you will find that some are naturally developed as you go through the year.

Some that I have found to be invaluable and are a must for your first few weeks:

Lining up

This cuts down so much time.  I have a line order that they always line up in (no squabbles) and they know they need to line up in silence.

Key Commands

Anything you say that they need to do something in return.  For example, I use '3, 2, 1 Look this way', by the end of this the children should be in their seats and looking at me as I'm going to talk to the whole class for a little while.  'Freeze' is when I want to say something quick and the children just stay still and look at me.  'Off you go' is used after I am giving an instruction so they know it is the end of the instruction.

Beginning of the day

What do you want them to do as soon as they come into the classroom?

I have done a number of things - at one point the children did their jobs, signed the reading chart, got their reading records out and go on with a spelling task on the board.  Later in the year I got rid of the reading chart and jobs at the beginning of the day as too many children were out of their seats and it was feeling chaotic.  I've found keeping it as simple as possible works well on a morning.  It needs to be calming and set the tone for the day.

Beginning of lesson

Where are the children's books?  How are they putting them on the table?  Where are any resources? Who is collecting these things?  Do you start the lesson with a particular task?

I have boxes for each table that hold their books, in these boxes I also have a clipboard which, at the beginning of the day, I put on any resources they will be needing during that lesson.  I have boxes for Maths, Writing, Reading and Project and Science.  Each table has a box monitor who collects the box at the beginning of the lesson and returns it at the end of the lesson.

I also usually start the lesson with a particular task - which will be on the board - they 'boards' for these will be in their boxes and they know to get them out as soon as they sit down.  All you need to do is teach the different tasks and which boards they need for each, then they sort themselves out.


The best way I have found to do this is to allocate it as a 'job' (they love to help!).  I had two children who would get any glue sticks, scissors, pens and pencil crayons, two children who would give out any paper based resources and two children who were in charge of arts and crafts.  It was a lifesaver and saved me from spending too much time giving things out.

End of lesson

Do you want the children in their seats?  Behind their seats? Lined up?

I always got the children to tidy their tables away then move into the next lesson if we had two lessons back to back.  If it was before break or lunch, I would get them to stand behind their chairs and once they were all ready they lined up.

End of the school day

This was chaos to begin with but I gradually got better at managing this.  The children know the end of they day is near and begin to misbehave a little more than usual!  I would make sure they were all tidied away and sat in their seats then send them a table at a time.  Eventually we had a routine where the tables were in an order and would follow on from the one before them when most of that table were back in their seats.  I would read to the children while they were sorting themselves out, which ensured they did it quickly as most of them wanted to get back to hear the story.

Before sending them out I would get the children who walked home on their own to line up and let them out first.  The other children had to stay in their seats until their name was called.  It was ridiculously loud if they were allowed to do anything else.

I'm sure there are tons of other smaller routines I have but these are the major ones that need a little thought about them.  What routines do you use?  Are there any other routines you would recommend? x

My NQT Year Experience - Part 2

With only a couple of days before I'm back at school I've been reflecting on my NQT year and what I have learnt which may be of help to this years NQTs and ITTs.  I've already highlighted the importance of being flexible and taking the lead in Part 1, there's so much more I can take from my first year of teaching though...

  • Smile and laugh along with them

So so important!  The old saying of 'Don't smile until Christmas' is wrong on every level.  You need to build a positive relationship with your class to get the best from them.  I work in a school in a very deprived area so behaviour can be tough, this means I do need to be firm and make my expectations very clear.  However, it does not mean I can't smile and laugh along with my class.  This really makes the job 10 times more enjoyable.  I've lost count of the amount of times I've laughed out loud with my class.  Some of my more memorable moments:

Reading 'The Christmasaurus' in front of my class and their visiting was probably the most embarrassing section of the story where the elves are singing silly songs about Santa's giant bottom...I'm fairly certain my face was as red as his Santa suit but I just laughed along with them.

Our end of year Pirate Party where I took on the swashbuckling role of Captain and made them all walk the plank (very satisfying!).

When they do something utterly ridiculous - for example, dancing when they didn't realise you were watching or putting on a high pitched voice in the dinner line because they were daydreaming and just following the pitch of the voices before them!

Image result for caught dancing gif

  • Go in tough on behaviour

On the other side of the point above, it definitely pays off to go in tough on behaviour in Autumn term.  Once they understand where the boundaries are, they settle into the routines (another very important point!) and work for you rather than against you.

One of the most important lessons I have learnt is to remain consistent.  If you say you want them to line up in silence, do not accept anything less!  If they don't do it how you have asked, make them line up again, and again, and again, and again.  I saw what happens first hand when rules aren't consistent when I was joined by a second year BEd student who didn't do this.  It becomes chaotic as the children end up feeling confused because they don't know where the boundaries are.

Every child needs to be treated equally (to a point, certain children may need slightly different methods).  Make sure your class rules are sanctioned consistently - if the quiet, well-behaved child does something you would normally sanction, then sanction it.  It's really important that the children see you treating them all fairly.

Just as equally, reward consistently as well.  Whilst prizes and reward points work well, I have found telling them what they have done well and praising their strengths works incredibly well too!

If you have any other questions or comments please get in touch!  I'll carry on my NQT year reflections soon x

Thursday, 20 July 2017

My NQT Year Experience - Part 1

Wow, what a year!  It has flown past and I can't believe it's been so long since I have written a post. My NQT year was nowhere near as full-on as my PGCE year but I do feel considerably more exhausted than I did this time last year.  The paperwork is less but it is more intense.  You go from having the security of having the class teacher with you to flying solo and being the only responsible adult in the room.

I have had so much thrown at me this year (as I'm sure every NQT has!) but I have come out of it on the other side and still feel the joy of teaching.  I honestly feel so lucky to have found the career for me and owe part of this to the school I work at.

It's funny, because I swore I would get a job at a small village school just like the one I went to as a child.  However, a couple of weeks into my second placement made me realise that a small school wasn't for me.  I am able to make such a huge difference to the children I teach and it has opened my eyes to the struggles some families deal with.

I've pulled together a list of what I have learnt from my NQT year, which will hopefully help future NQTs :)

Just to give some context - I work in a school where they use a two-teacher model, so each classroom has two fully qualified teachers.

  • Be flexible!

So important.  I have had everything thrown at me this year and being flexible helps you to bounce back quickly.  We began the year with a move into the hall, where we taught for half a term until the building work on our classroom was finished.  We then had a relatively calm half term on the run-up to Christmas.  

Spring term was possibly the craziest.  My teaching partner and I gained and extra 8 children from year 3 for half a term.  Then my teaching partner (and the 8 children) moved back to year 3.  Looking back I feel slightly ridiculous at how nervous and anxious I felt because most other NQTs would have begun their year on their own.  After a few weeks of adjusting to being at one teacher, my confidence grew and it was the best thing to happen to me this year.

  • Show off your passion - Take the lead on something

Anyone who knows me will know I am quite quiet.  Having organised an amazing STEM week for my class during my PGCE year, I knew I wanted it to be bigger and better this year.  When they asked for someone to take the lead and organise a STEM week for the school I knew I could do it and do it well.  So I went for it.  

I was petrified when I did my first assembly during the week but it came together and actually went well (even though it felt like it went on forever and someone in the front row produced a very audible yawn).  I managed to get engineers in for everyday and there was a huge buzz as the week ended. Next year will be even better!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The calm before the storm...

Well the final day of my summer holidays has been spent in school.  We have a total of 7 days in the classroom before we are getting kicked into the hall and building work will commence.  My team teacher and I are feeling more than a little fraught at the moment as we have been able to do next to no preparation for our new class and classroom.

The beginning of the holidays held such hope, the building work was going to be put off, we had all of our boards beautifully backed and even got on top of some of the classroom prep work.  We now have half a day to move loads of furniture from our room (another classroom's) and get our classroom semi-ready for Thursday....

It all feels a bit mental, and this being my first teaching job, I feel a bit like I am at sea being thrown about with no idea what to do.  However, after reading this post on 'Finding your Marigold', I feel I have the best teaching team ever!  We are on the same wave length and she is most definitely my Marigold!  If you've not read this article and are an NQT, then read it now!

I spent most of today helping another teacher sort out her classroom, as we can't yet do anything with our's.  I've had a great day getting to know my team even better though and even got talking to the caretaker who told us he used to do gardening projects as an after school club.  It pays to talk to others and find out their talents, as we have now invited him to teach our class how to make seed bombs!

Tomorrow it all begins, INSET day before the chaos begins on Thursday, oh no wait it's already started!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

PGCE Survival Guide

Wow time flies! This time last year I was where you are, just starting your PGCE.  It's such an exciting time as you are raring to get going and I remember feeling like it was taking forever to get to the important things and to get into school.  Well you will very soon be where I am and wonder where the year went!

You've probably read loads this summer and have been out and bought a million folders as well as a large shopping trolley's worth of stationary!  We've all been there.

It's good to have this excitement so hold on to it for the whole year as things will seem tough beyond measure sometimes, but you absolutely can do it, you can come out the otherside as an NQT and join the most rewarding profession.  Having lived and breathed the PGCE for the past year I have some advice and helpful tips to pass on to those of you just beginning your journey.  Let me know if any of them have been of any help during your year and any other PGCE survivors please pass on your advice too by leaving a comment!

  • Stay on top of your paperwork! There is a mountain of it and the longer you leave it the quicker it will build up.  The type of paperwork will vary depending on your university.  I had to prepare things for my folder in the orientation weeks of placement, get this done ASAP so they are out of the way, then you don't need to worry about these for the rest of the placement.

  • Lesson plans - I wrote as many of these as possible on a weekend, even if it was just writing out the structure of the lesson then planning in key questions and filling in the rest of it the night before.  They take forever to write out, let alone actually planning the lesson so it flows. 

  • Your Key Stage 2 placement will most probably be tougher than your KS1 placement!  There's more marking and I was making PowerPoint Presentations for most lessons as well as writing the lesson plans.  In Key Stage 1 I barely used the interactive whiteboard, I only used it for video's and images as a lot of my lessons were very interactive from the start.

  • Work-Life balance - This is really difficult when you are on placement.  Everyone will tell you it is very important to have this and to make time, but sometimes it is impossible.  I managed this by working smart, some of my friends would stay up until 2am but I had a cut off point of 9pm (apart from when I had an observation, then I worked until 11pm).  I had a coffee and chat with staff after work for 20-30 minutes then got on with my work.  I would have a break for dinner when I got home and then worked until 9.  I never worked Friday's after school but worked 11am-4pm on a Saturday and Sunday.  The key is to get your life back during the holidays!

  • When the going gets tough - I had a really tough moment around April time, we were only a few weeks into our last placement and behaviour was tough in my class, we had an assessment week at university and I had an interview at my placement school.  I didn't get the job and my confidence was rock bottom (they later changed their mind so I did actually get the job!).  This will happen to you at some point and you need to lean on people, whether this is your boyfriend, housemates, family, friends or coursemates.  Do not let this moment break you and instead come back fighting after a couple of days rest!

  • Jobs - Your coursemates will start looking after Christmas probably, jobs will trickle in slowly and you may have someone dripping on you all the time about getting a job.  Don't panic, lots of jobs come in around April or later.  My advice is try and visit schools before you apply, if there is an NQT pool in your city, go for it as it's great interview practice if nothing else and take your time over your application and make sure you tailor it to each school.  During your interview try and stay calm and just sit and think about the question for a minute or two, I did this during my interviews and it really helped me to focus on the question and hit the key points rather than charge into the question and waffle.  I was told I interviewed very well and I put it down to this technique!

  • Essay's - As obvious as it sounds, keep the objectives at the forefront and make sure you hit them.  Also research how to write critically, it's not all about including as many references as possible, it's about digging deeper with your reference and picking it apart then comparing it to another piece of research.  This was one of the biggest things I learnt this year and my essays jumped from 55 in the first one to 76 by asking for help on how to write more critically.

  • Books - Don't buy books! I bought a couple from Amazon for a pittance (luckily) but barely used them and the library had umpteen copies of them anyway.   I looked out at charity shops and carboots and found some for 50p each, so if you feel you need books then find them this way and save yourself some money.  If you feel you must buy a book then Sue Cowley's are worth a read, but any others you will find in the library!

  • The essentials are a laptop or I had a Window's tablet that was much easier to transport.  It's ideal to take your laptop in to do work in school (my second placement gave me a laptop so it's worth asking, they might have a spare).  I had a laptop rucksack which was really big so I managed to get my folders and packed lunch in it too.   USB stick to transfer documents, Dropbox to store all of your PGCE work so you can access it from anywhere, this was probably the best thing I could have done!  My mentor and I shared a folder too so he could see all of my plans without me printing it all out.

  • Volunteer your skills - This was one of the best things I could have done, it made my job applications stand out and helped to build relationships.  I was a graphic designer before moving into teaching so volunteered this skill whenever I could.  I worked with the PTA on a new logo and I made resources for school-wide use.  I also volunteered at any school event, so did face painting at the summer fair, organised the costumes for the Year 6 play (this was a bit manic and did add a huge amount of stress), baked cakes to raise money, donated items to raffles.  Literally anything you can do to help, just offer your help whenever you can.

  • Go the extra mile - Think outside the box sometimes or push it a little, you can when you're a student so it's a good time to plan a daring lesson or organise something yourself.  For example, I got some firefighters to come with the fire engine when we did the Great Fire of London as our topic.  I used my contacts to get engineers to come in and help us build bridges and shelters during STEM week, I also planned a code-breaking treasure hunt around the school during this week.  I held a formal debate during a Literacy lesson, I set off an air raid alarm in an observations and the children had to shelter under their tables, I dressed up as King Charles II and invited my class to the palace.  If you think of an idea and it scares you slightly when you think about doing it, then go for it.  It brings the learning alive for the children and the buzz in the room is unbelievable.  Please share your best lessons with me! I would love to hear about them :)

If you have any other questions then don't be afraid to ask! Comment below and I will update this post with any information you might want to know.  If you need any help with anything during the year just get in touch, I'm more than happy to share my ideas with you.

Any current teachers who would like to share their advice then please post below too!

I hope this helps and I wish you lots of luck for your PGCE year, it will be incredible and you will make it out of the other side with a ton of amazing stories to tell!

Monday, 15 February 2016

The job hunt begins...

Wow it has been quite a while since I last spoke to you all! As soon as I began my PGCE I threw myself into it, so I haven't had a whole lot of time to blog.  I have kept a diary though so I can remember all of the events from the past 6 months.

I hope to talk through my experiences from my PGCE and hopefully answer any future trainee teachers questions in the process.  I remember reading loads of trainee and NQT blogs before I began the course, just to get an idea of what it would be like and how I might cope.  There are A LOT of negative posts out there, which will no doubt terrify you and put you off so don't believe everything you read, it's easy to over exaggerate when you are feeling stressed.

Whilst I'm not promising that I won't post anything negative, I do have a lot of positives to share with you and hopefully some tips on how to stay on top of paperwork and make the most of the experiences.

I will begin with where I am at the moment though, because it is a rather exciting time right now.  I am hunting for my first teaching job.  It is such a huge decision and I have promised myself that I will find one that is right for me.  I was given some advice to apply for everything and anything that comes up, and whilst I can see the benefit in that, as I'm sure you will get a better feel for the job from the interview.

I can see some flaws in this plan though, surely I want to make sure I am right for the school and the school is right for me.  I am therefore carefully selecting where I am applying to, I've found an incredible school and have applied today (my first application!) so I have my fingers, toes, everything crossed for this.

The application is a bit like a UCAS one, all of your details and then a personal statement, usually 2 pages long rather than to a set amount though.  It is so difficult to get everything down in that length but I found a brilliant way of easily writing one.

  1. Take the personal specification which will come with the application and jot down all of the points in a word document.
  2. From there use bullet points under each item and note down an example of where you have shown this attribute.
  3. It's then much easier to make sure you cover all of the points in your statement.
I have yet to hear whether I will be getting an interview from my application so I will save the details of what I have put in mine for when I know it's a good personal statement!

If there's anything you wish to ask just leave a comment and I will be sure to answer them in future posts.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Mentally preparing myself

Yes I confess....I have an arts degree, I studied Textile Design at university.  I absolutely loved my degree but can feel the concerned looks from you all about how I will cope with a PGCE course.  I've heard from almost everyone that it will be the toughest year of my life and I that I must be mad!

My degree was very heavy on 'Independent Study', which I feel is quite a lazy way of teaching.  My taught hours at university were quite sparse in my first year and this only diminished through my second and third year.  Yes we had a lot of coursework to produce compared with some degrees where exams were the main form of assessment, but I'll admit I was able to coast along for the most part.

So you can imagine what I'm thinking, how will I cope with a demanding PGCE course when my undergraduate degree was a fairly smooth ride.  I'm coming at a PGCE course from a completely different place than I would have been straight after my BA though.  My confidence was rock bottom when I graduated and I went on to set up my own freelance design business where I worked from home.  This definitely didn't help matters, although I enjoyed it at first I could feel myself shrinking.  I barely saw anyone, I didn't want to go out and I began to hate designing and being on my own all day.

I had to make a change, so two years after graduating I began looking into other careers.  Teaching has always been on my horizon and I had looked into it at different stages of my life, but it had never been the right time, or I had been too swayed by the arts.  Now was the right time.

I gained school experience and have been volunteering at a primary school for almost a whole school year.  My confidence has soared since I've left the safety of my design studio and entered the chaos of the classroom, and I couldn't be happier!

How will I cope with a PGCE?

I've tried to prepare myself as much as possible.  I've read tons of blogs on the subject to try and get a picture of what the weeks will entail, what the placements will be like and the amount of work I'll have on my hands.  I don't think I will truly know until September and the course begins, but I like to be as prepared as I can be. Only three and a half months left!

How should I prepare for it? Any suggestions are welcome!