Are you starting a new role in September?
24 May 2022
Starting your first teaching post can be an exciting but apprehensive time. Rachel Jackson, Primary Subject Specialist at STEM Learning, offers tips to get you off to an early start and help support you in your first year.
Plan your first week
A great way to start is by finding out what topics you will be teaching and planning your first week of lessons. Your school may follow planning for different subjects, and if not, there are lots of free lesson ideas to be found online. The Teach Computing Curriculum has a lesson for every topic in each year group of primary school. Another website to look at is Barefoot computing, where many activities link right across the curriculum. Whether you are teaching Vikings, space or dance, there is a computing lesson for it.
Don’t be hard on yourself
One of the best pieces of advice I received when I started teaching was never to go home feeling like you cannot do it - always talk to someone. It was at the end of a very exhausting first half-term in which I had put too much pressure on myself to have everything perfect. Talking to a colleague and realising that they had previously had the same experience helped me to see the bigger picture. Perfect displays, perfect behaviour, perfect lessons; each one of these things takes time, and, as teachers, we are constantly learning and refining our practice. It can be overwhelming, to say the least, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Teachers never stop learning or finding better ways of doing things. It is exciting because you will always be learning along with your class.
Take time for lunch
We all need time to switch off and talk to other people. Lunchtime can also be when you get some of the best ideas for lessons. Listen to your colleague's tried and tested ideas for teaching and share your ideas. Things get a bit samey if you are in the same school for a while, so they will value your new ideas, which they can take and adapt to make their own.
There are also discussion opportunities for computing in the forums on the CAS website. For other primary STEM subjects, look at the Primary Community group on the STEM Learning Community website and ask if you need an idea for anything. It can be anything from finding a good lesson to how to manage behaviour in practical subjects.
Be firm but fair
There is an old teaching saying "Don’t smile until Christmas". This advice is extreme and often said in jest; smiling shows that you are friendly and approachable - you are modelling positive behaviour and kindness to your class. The point is not to start by trying to be friends with your pupils. You need to earn their respect, not gain a reputation for letting children do what they want and get away with it. Find out the school behaviour policy and create a code of conduct for your classroom based on mutual respect. If you start off letting pupils break the rules or not respect the class code of conduct, it will be hard to become stricter later. Children need clear structure, firm reminders and lots of positive praise for doing what they are asked to the best of their ability.
Get to know your class
Circle time, quick games and activities in-between lessons are great ways to get to know your pupils. The start of a year often begins with children asking each other questions to discover what they did in the summer holidays. They can then report back on what their partner has done, for example, on the thing they enjoyed the most. Find out what drives each of them and try and include this in your lessons. This is important because if you teach a class something they feel is relevant to them, they are more likely to be involved in their learning and remember it. The children may even talk about it at home, helping to embed the learning. Sometimes just a tweak to a lesson will make it relevant to children in your class. For inspiration, read this guide on culturally responsive pedagogy in computing.
Value the experience of all the staff
Teaching assistants often know the children in a school or their families, and they also have a lot of experience working with a wide range of children. Ask for advice - most TAs are very approachable and want to work with you to support your class. They may also have insights which can help you teach. For example, they often see things happening at playtime that can change your understanding of your class. They may also have some great ideas for working with children gained from supporting learning over many years.
Remember that you do not need to be an expert in everything
At primary, you are teaching outside your area of expertise most of the time. Everyone has a subject that they feel more and less confident in teaching. A little reading about the subject can help in the short term but consider how you can improve your confidence in different subject areas through professional development.
Once you have a role in a school for September, take a look at this introduction course for computing, which can be done face to face or remotely. If you want to learn about programming using Scratch, this online course is perfect, and you work through it in your own time, even fitting it around your summer holiday plans. This page is also a great source of inspiration to help you teach computing in your first role and beyond with courses and resources.
Good luck in your first year and enjoy it!