Ten tips for new teachers, three for new history teachers, and two targets for me

Ten tips for new teachers, three for new history teachers, and two targets for me

If you want my advice – which you probably don’t, either because you’re a first year teacher who thinks you know it all, or because you’re a second year teacher who knows you do, or because you’re a third or fourth year teacher who knows that although you don’t know it all, neither do I – here it is anyway…

The Reluctant Disciplinarian, Gary Rubinstein

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

The Sunscreen Song, (or, rather, Mary Schmich)

I received too much advice at my Teach First Summer Institute: much of it appeared contradictory, all of it was rooted in the giver’s context.  For some years therefore, I forswore offering unsolicited advice.  At Teach Like a Champion training in May however, I felt including teaching tips worked very well.  So this summer, as a tutor at Teach for Sweden’s Summer Institute, I renounced my previous policy and inserted brief advice within sessions.  To my surprise, in evaluations trainees repeatedly mentioned such tips favourably.

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This, alongside the enjoyment which giving advice can provide, tempted me into collating a top ten tips for my last training session.  These were the things left over, which hadn’t come up in training I’d run on things like behaviour management, vision setting and formative assessment, but which I felt were particularly important.  Around the same time, I was asked for subject-specific suggestions for Teach First history trainees.  On the off chance that they may be of interest, I reproduce them here.

New teachers may wish to…

10) Get on twitter and start reading blogs.  You are likely to find people suggesting solutions to  your problems and you may feel relieved to see how many others are coming across the same obstacles.

9) Get to know the people who make the school tick: photocopying staff, administrators, cleaners, caretakers.  You will need them sooner or later.

8) Plan and teach some easy, textbook-based lessons.  Aim for one exciting lesson per week per class.  The textbook has most of what you need in it. If you try to make three exciting lessons a week, you are likely to exhaust yourself in creating three mediocre ones.  Aiming for two passable ones, and one great one is likely to lead to better results.

7) Make one really good introductory lesson to use for all your classes.  Practice it with someone who will give you half an hour of their time to see it works well.  That way you can concentrate on all the other pressures, like names and classroom management and working out what is going on.

6) Make your set of lollipop sticks and use it to help you call on and get to know students.  It’s a shortcut to learning names.

5) Look for previous work produced by students at the end of the year you are teaching so you know where they’re aiming.

4) Call home early: catch students being good.  Having done this with new classes in the past, I can assure you that it works.  If parents’ first interaction with you is positive and early, you are in a much better position when you have to go back to them in December and say things are slipping.

3) Ask for help.  Other teachers in and out of school, colleagues, mentors, everyone else you know.  Requesting support the first time may feel like failure – it’s not.

2) Look after yourself – plan some nice things for evenings and weekends.

1) Have fun.  Teaching is a really hard job – but it’s a brilliant one and there is so much to be enjoyed about it.

New history teachers may wish to…

3)  Join the Historical Association and start reading Teaching History. It may not all make sense, but it offers a great mixture of articles on all aspects of history teaching. Many of these share and evaluate lessons and schemes of work and include classroom resources, so some of it is immediately usable. I also particularly like the ‘Move Me On’ section, which deals with problems facing new teachers and asks experienced mentors what advice they would give for specific historical pedagogical problems.

2)  Michael Fordham’s blog, clioetcetera.com, is fascinating, well-written, and invariably thought-provoking. Writing for history teachers, he has covered topics ranging from how we could redesign assessment to really understand student progress to reading suggestions if you are brushing up your historical knowledge. Whatever he writes it’s worth taking the time to think it through.

1)  Get back in touch with what you love about history and revive your knowledge of the subject. You’re likely to be teaching some topics you haven’t have studied for years: read a handful of well-written history books, visit a museum or an exhibition, look over your old essays. Reacquainting yourself with both the outlines of topics and the debates surrounding them will make planning your teaching easier and provide ready access to the wealth of anecdotes, images and bizarre events which bring the subject to life.

[These tips are designed to be used during the summer holidays – but I think they stand.]

This term, I wish to…

Be a good form tutor…  I haven’t been a form tutor for the last four years (long story) and I wasn’t a very good one in my first two years as a teacher.  I’m co-tutoring a Year 7 form this term, and I think I finally know what I need to do to do this well – I’m looking forward to trying to turn this into reality.

Use the power of narrative better.  Everything I’ve been reading about memory and interest points towards this and it is perhaps the natural form of history.  I will be significantly refining a course from last year about how London has changed socially and economically and trying to ensure that stories are built into the whole course and individual lessons.

David Didau has pulled together some excellent suggestions which I would advise reading and considering.

The Reluctant Disciplinarian is wry, wise and encouraging – I’d recommend investing in a copy.