Exclusive Staff Room Spy teacher blog from Tutors and Futures

Staff Room Spy: Targets

One out of three isn’t bad…

New pencil case? Check. Shoes polished? Check? Excessive amounts of positivity? Check check check. Yes, it’s back to school time all over again and I’m ready for it. I love the start of the new school year; there’s so much promise, so much expectation and so much new stationery. Nothing can go wrong when you have new mechanical pencils.

At the start of each school year, I like to establish a few goals to keep me on the straight and narrow. I expect my students to set their own targets and know how to achieve them so I like to work on the same principle. Without fail, the first target is always to work less during the evening and at weekends. And what happened this week? I drove home each night eye-balling anyone who was within a 6 metre radius of a pub, bar, restaurant, even the cinema. I wondered what jobs they did, how early they got up in the morning and how on earth they had the energy to be out socialising and enjoying their youths when I was in the process of frying my own brain trying to prioritise the first 47 tasks on my ‘to do’ list. I felt a bit jealous. The first weekend was no different. Hello sunshine pouring through my window. I can’t come out to play today because I have to analyse my exam results from last year, plan a couple of schemes of work and respond to the emails that have piled up in my inbox over the course of the past 5 days. But maybe I’ll be able to enjoy you soon, perhaps in May when you come back out again (please come back out again). On reflection, target one is going abysmally. But it’s only the first week.

Target two is “just say no.” Sadly I haven’t recently been offered a starring role in Grange Hill’s anti-drug campaign (nor is it still 1986) and I’m well aware that this might seem a strange word for a teacher to advocate. I don’t mean saying no to a student asking for help in a lesson or my head of department requesting I take minutes in a meeting. I’m not completely unreasonable. But when it’s checking science homework (I’m an English teacher) or running errands to the post office (I’m an English teacher), I think I’m well within my rights to say no. So how did I fare this week? Terribly. A student from another class asked for some extra reading material; I was straight to it. A colleague needed help sorting groupings for a new A-Level class; that’s an hour of my life I’m never getting back. It turns out saying no is far harder than I imagined and it’s definitely something I need to work on, mainly because I have enough on my own plate without doing other people’s work as well. But it’s only the first week.

My final target is one that I have been a bit scared to admit to myself. This year I have taken on a new Year 10 class full of “naughties.” These are students whose reputation precedes them. Yet on paper this is a class capable of achieving C, if not B, grades at GCSE so the pressure is on. The target then was to establish a positive relationship with these 23 figures of my nightmares. I was expecting carnage so I went in with the “clean slate” chat where all preconceptions become irrelevant and we start afresh. They were silent, but not in a comatose way, in a manner which suggested they appreciated this opportunity and were ready to embrace their flourishing maturity and perhaps even a bit of learning. I took the bold move of beginning with Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” Not only was it written in the early 1650s (they’d already told me that they hated “old stuff”) but it also contains such charged metaphors as “let us sport while we may.” It was a risky strategy but it broke down barriers effectively. They made insightful comments about the characters in the poem, they analysed the language and they nearly fell off their chairs when I allowed one girl to go to the toilet (turns out my reputation precedes me as well). As first encounters go, this felt pretty positive and I’m now filled with a new found optimism about enabling these students to work hard and achieve great results. And it’s only the first week.

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Teacher Having Fun

Back to School Survival Guide: 5 Top Tips for Junior Teachers

Starting school is recognised as a nerve-wracking time for new students. They are stepping into the great unknown, with only myths and rumours to guide their preparation. But often it is the new teachers who can be as nervous as their students. Standing at the head of a classroom with thirty young children gazing up at you expectantly can be as daunting a task as any. Responsibility and pressure is thrust onto your shoulders from the off, but these tips should help you glide through the year like a seasoned pro.

Is Your Classroom This Engaged?

Is Your Classroom This Engaged?

1) Go Digital

When you picture the stereotypical teacher’s desk you see an Everest of books, paperwork and God knows what else. A black hole that sucks in your work, never to be seen again. But with a simple swipe of a tablet or laptop, the clutter is gone. Filing and marking on technology will de-clutter your desk quicker than you can say “I’ve lost your book”. Less clutter means better organisation, which means you’re on top of your teaching schedule. Using technology need not stop at organisation, though. There are a million ways to make your lessons more exciting and engaging only a mouse click away. From interactive animations, to Google Earth, to My Maths, there are all sorts of resources you can tap into. The internet has it all. In fact, you can even use technology to consolidate what you do in the classroom by sharing notes and articles with your students online via sites such as DropBox.

Digital Technology is a Must for Modern Teachers

Digital Technology is a Must for Modern Teachers

2) Be Comfortable

Whether you’re walking between periods or teaching your class, you will spend most of the day on your feet. Whilst your comfort may seem like a minor issue, if your feet starting crying out at overuse, your day could turn from a walk in the park to a trudge up a mountain. This not only makes the day close to unbearable, it also makes you less likely to be your usual effervescent self and so your teaching will suffer. But worry not! Style does not have to fall victim to comfort. Find the right footwear and you will be walking on clouds all year.

Comfortable Footwear Can Help Teachers Last the Distance

Comfortable Footwear Can Help Teachers Last the Distance

3) Sleep

It is only natural for rookie teachers to want to impress. But often working hard into the night to finish marking those last essays can be counter-intuitive. Tiredness will directly inhibit your teaching in much the same way as point 2. The teaching day will stretch out interminably before you and the temptation will be to assign your students some silent work and then sit at your desk in a stupor, dozing the day away. Of course, there are times when burning the midnight oil will be unavoidable. But by prioritising sleep over that last test you have to mark, your high standard of teaching will never waver and you will impress students and other teachers alike all year round.

Sleep Is Important to Keep Teachers at Peak Performance

Sleep Is Important to Keep Teachers at Peak Performance

4) Decorate

When people talk of decorating classrooms your thoughts may immediately leap to pre-school and toddlers. But no person is too old to benefit from a vibrant workspace. A grey and dingy classroom is no place for your exciting lessons. The effect of entering an exciting and engaging room on a student is immeasurable. And the possibilities are almost endless! Displays don’t have to just be decorative, though. They can motivate and educate. Quotes and posters are great starting points for class discussions, and how about creating an area for banned words to hone your students’ vocabulary? The walls of your classroom are your canvases and you are Leonardo da Vinci. Get to work!

Classroom Decoration Ideas

A Well-Decorated Classroom is a Productive Classroom

5) Have fun

This point may come with all the cheesy optimism of a High School Musical classroom and there are certain to be days when you can’t think of anything less fun than teaching to your class of loud, excitable 12 year olds. But on the whole, if you enjoy your lessons, chances are your students will too. And if your lessons are enjoyable students will bounce into your class, they will engage and contribute more and ultimately they will learn a hell of a lot more. Having fun does not necessarily mean playing games or making posters. Simply fostering a lighthearted and relaxed atmosphere will go a long way. So suck it up, put on a brave face and your teaching will soar to new heights.

Most of All, Teachers Should Enjoy Themselves!

Most of All, Teachers Should Enjoy Themselves!

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Back to School: Top Tips for Students

Back to School Survival Guide

1) Track your achievements!

From the beginning of the year keep a record of all your marks and achievements. Keeping motivated is one of the hardest aspects of education and being able to see all your achievements, as well as any areas where improvement may be needed, can help sustain your motivation.

Productivity Bar Chart

2) Be organised!

This is another area where students of all ages struggle. Keeping on top of what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and where things are will ensure that things run smoothly. Being disorganised saps away your creative energy, as you waste time and get frustrated. On the other hand, being organised allows for greater productivity and improved results. We recommend that you create some kind of system, which is easy to manage and understand, so you can always access what you need when you need it.

Open Diary Page

3) Socialise!

Whether you’re attending a school or university, or studying online, you’ll have classmates who will be going through the same experience. Try to attend any social events involving your fellow classmates, and join any social media groups set up, as you will be able to expand your support network, which will be invaluable in times of difficulty.

Community of People

4) Get Feedback!

Many students overlook the importance of seeking feedback from teachers and lecturers. As lecturers in particular teach several large groups of students they generally don’t have enough time to volunteer feedback on how you are doing. Asking for feedback on your progress, assignments and weaknesses will give you a better idea of what you need to spend more time working on.

Empty Speech Bubbles

5) Take a break!

The final and arguably most important tip is to walk away. If you are over-worked, stressed out or tired, don’t be afraid to have a break. You can achieve more by going back to your work refreshed and thinking clearly than you can by sitting passively at your desk feeling physically and mentally drained.

Girl Chilling Out


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