A Better September

11Jul14

There are some great things about teaching. Changing kids’ lives. Sharing the passion for our subjects. That ‘lightbulb moment’. Showing kids they can exceed their own expectations. Never ever being bored. Great questions and interesting answers.

July and August.

But all good things come to an end and the summer break – where we get time off in lieu for parents evenings, marking, revision sessions, mock exam scripts and all the other overtime  –  will indeed finish at some point. Of course, the shops are already putting up ‘back to school’ displays, which must be as depressing for the students as it is for the staff.

backtoschool

 

And the summer is followed by September, both anticipated and dreaded by teachers through the land. Anticipated because, no matter what the students think, we actually enjoy teaching. But dreaded because the days are nearly as long as the lists of jobs. Because additional tasks descend upon us from the SMT corridor with a casual “Oh, and we need this done by tomorrow.” Because the exciting introductions and carefully planned demonstrations get trampled by the inevitable timetable tweaks, photograph schedules and welcome assemblies.

So let’s make September better.

Now

  1. Make yourself a cuppa, look back at your planner pages from last September and write a list of the problems that showed up.
  2. Using next September’s school planner, can you eliminate some of these?
  3. Add deadlines now for coursework, reporting and exams. Calendarpedia might be worth a look.
  4. Double check you’ve got access (or copies) to schemes of work, lesson resources etc for the topics in the first month. Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote and so on are your friends.

The rest of these, in no particular order, very much depend on your approach. They’re based on things I do or have thought about. YMMV.

Summer Reading

  1. Find yourself a few good teaching blogs to follow. They could be subject-based or about leadership roles, pedagogy, behaviour… it doesn’t matter. The odds are they’ll be quiet over the summer so you can catch up with old posts and steal some ideas.
  2. Buy a book. Even better, swap your copy with a colleague, with a set of post-its, so you can add annotations and argue about the ideas come September. (HoDs – why not encourage a half-termly book swap for next year?)
  3. Sign-up for emails from a teaching organisation: NFER, SCORE, IoE are just three examples.

Starters/Bell Work

This is likely to be more of an issue in September, as you’re getting to know the classes and they’re getting to know their way around.

  1. Choose four good lesson starter approaches eg pictures/diagrams of apparatus.
  2. Create a Powerpoint with the title September Starters.
  3. For the first week, make slides for all classes using the first idea.
  4. Repeat for second, third and fourth weeks.
  5. Over the year, you’ll probably want more variation, with starters better tailored to the lesson. But this will mean when time is short you have an easier option.

Feedback

A lot of September is about establishing expectations and making habits, not learning lots of science. How will you make sure that the mistakes kids are making in September aren’t still an issue in July 2015?

  1. Clear expectations and shared checklists for layout and presentation.
  2. Department-wide (ideally school-wide) annotations and format for comments.
  3. If you could print feedback stickers for the ten most common errors (with QR codes to detail if wanted) what would they be? “Use a sharp pencil and ruler for the axes of a graph.” is one of mine.
  4. How will you use praise/rewards/credits for those students who have it sorted quickly to encourage the others?

Classes

The probability of a class list changing is directly proportional to the time you’ve spent creating lesson plans and organising directed support. Find a system that works for you, and do what you can ahead. This might include:

  1. Printing blank seating plans for your lab or classroom.
  2. Making sure you have photos you can cut/paste into a useful layout.
  3. Creating a board with ‘task groups’ of four pupils who will work together each lesson. (Teams named after scientists for KS3, numbered for KS4.)
  4. Buying a supply of pipecleaners for the fidgety kid to fiddle with.

Stationery and Equipment

  1. Decide now (with reference to school policy) what you’ll do about ‘forgotten’ pens and pencils. Visit Poundland for supplies if needed.
  2. Stickers and/or stamps; do what suits you.
  3. Try not to spend too much of your own money on shiny things. (Moleskines are my own particular weakness.)
  4. Wardrobe audit; clear out old ties and ragged shirts, repair buttons, spend money if necessary.

Personal Life

Over the summer it’s great to be able to catch up with family and friends. This tends to be murder in September, particularly if (like me) you have children of school age.

  1. Spend a couple of days making freezer meals (my son and I will be doing this together) so you have a little variety in September.
  2. Throw away all the takeaway menus and uninstall JustEat from your phone.
  3. Declutter accumulated ‘stuff’, school-related or otherwise, to charity shops, eBay or recycling.
  4. Put a good book to one side for the odd moments in September you’re not actually working.
  5. Try really hard not to be heavily pregnant over the summer (or have a partner who is) so that the autumn has a new baby as well as a new term.

 

 

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2 Responses to “A Better September”

  1. 1 Jill Berry

    I liked this – thanks for your practical advice and wise words.

    I’d absolutely endorse the idea of ensuring you protect your personal/friends and family time over the summer. We do need to do some thinking and planning, but I’d always advise that we decide on which days we’re going to do that, and try (as far as we can) to find time outside that when we don’t even think about school. We need to feel refreshed and revitalised when terms starts.

    So, yes, teachers have to work in holidays – catching up and planning ahead. But they also have to have a good rest to give them the energy to cope with the demands of the new term.

    Very best wishes for your own summer break – I hope it’s both energising AND productive.

  2. Hi,

    Great post – thanks! Have always had grand plans for every summer holiday but sometimes there is just so much to do that it is hard to decide what the focus should be. These are simple, straightforward suggestions. Will be forwarding this to the rest of my department.

    Have a great summer!


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