As we stand on the precipice of returning to full classroom teaching after the most recent lockdown I’ve begun wondering how our beginning and early career teachers might be feeling. It seems I’m not alone in this thought. Indeed, shortly after having conversation with one of my own PGCE students, I read the OBHD blog summarising the ‘Dealing with the issues from lockdown’ HA webinar, where the following question was asked:
As summary responses go, this is pretty great and hits all the key markers of advice ITT students need to hear right now. And so, I write this to share more widely the advice I’ve been giving my PGCE students over the past week.
What do beginning teachers (and their mentors) need to know and be prepared for as they return to face to face teaching?
- Most teachers feel anxious about returning to the classroom after a break. End of the summer holiday anxiety dreams are a well-known phenomenon because extended breaks from anything practice-based leads to worries that you’ll have become rusty or forgotten altogether. Indeed, just before pressing the publish button on this blog, this tweet popped up on my feed:
You have been in the profession for far less time than these experienced teachers and have had a significant gap in classroom practice at an early stage of your career, it is therefore understandable that you feel anxious. However every September, up and down the land, teachers prove these anxieties are baseless. You will too.
- You may not have physically been in classrooms with children but you have still been involved in teaching them. Whether producing remote learning resources, supporting and observing online lessons, or even teaching online, you have been thinking about the ways that children learn your subject and how to make substantive content and pedagogical choices to support them to learn and make progress. All of this experience is valid and helpful for returning to in-person teaching. It’s the same principle just applied in a different environment. Prioritise understanding this new context, especially if you’ve moved placement during lockdown. Revisit induction tasks given by your provider to help you transition to a new school and, when you aren’t teaching yourself, watch department colleagues keenly to observe how they realise the school’s ethos and use systems (e.g. behaviour policy) in their teaching.
- Recognise that in many ways you have developed a much more advanced understanding of what we are trying to achieve as teachers in your subject/phase, than would usually be expected of an ITT student in early March. You have also demonstrated more adaptability, resilience and professionalism than is usually demanded of beginning teachers. However, it is important that everyone involved in supporting your development recognises that in other respects (e.g. classroom based checking for understanding, live classroom management etc.) you are in the position of a beginning teacher’ coming back in January after the Christmas break. This is all to be completely expected given the conditions in which you’ve been training and does not mean that you are not going to meet the Teacher Standards. Be open to taking opportunities in school to increase your exposure to those aspects of teaching practice you haven’t been able to work on during the lockdown period. And be kind to yourself and accept this is part of your journey to becoming a teacher.
- Try not to become discouraged by the development feedback you’ll receive over the next little while. As the number of lessons you’re teaching builds the amount of feedback you’ll receive will also increase. It can be hard to take on board all this ‘criticism’ no matter how kindly given, especially when there are lots of development areas to work on. Trying out ideas, being overly ambitious about what can be achieved, missing the point of a lesson, and making mistakes in your planning and live enaction, are all normal parts of the process. Focus on how this feedback is allowing you see your lesson differently and therefore improve the quality of pupil understanding. If the targets seem overwhelming, work with your mentor to identify two target areas that you will focus on and receive feedback on that week. Through self-reflection and evaluation of your lessons, combined with listening to and responding to feedback, you will become a better teacher.
- Appreciate that within a school day, when teaching young people in person, there are many variables that you cannot control. From the photocopier jamming to needing to follow up on a pupil concern during break, your day will be less predictable than it has been over the last few weeks teaching from home. Your personal organisation and management of deadlines is something you can control. Being on top of these aspects of your work can make a big difference to your ability to focus on developing your practice and making the most of your time left in school.
Excitement rather than anxiety
It is normal to feel anxious about the return to school; the pupils are feeling concerned about being back with their peers, the commute, and the intensity of school life, so why shouldn’t the teachers and other school colleagues? However, the return to school is also exciting. Covid-19 willing, in the next few months you will be able to build relationships with your pupils and put into practice all the things you have been longing to try during lockdown – you will get to teach! So, go to bed on Sunday night focused on the opportunities ahead of you, knowing that you are not alone. The fact you care that this ‘return’ to school goes well is wonderful thing for the profession you are about to join. Good luck!