There are many books written for new trainee teachers for their first day on placement. I thought it might be worthwhile to compile a friendly little blog with unofficial advice as an alternative. I would have liked this when I was training.
Contact the school before your placement and request a visit and a meeting with your mentor. This will calm your nerves for the big day as you’ll know what to expect. Your mentor will also appreciate this. Take an iPad or similar to make notes and be ready to divulge any fears you may have. Check what time you should arrive, do they provide tea making facilities and a staff room for lunch. This is obvious advice but can be overlooked when you’re worried.
It’s day one. Get to know the staff room etiquette. I hope that staff rooms are all friendly places these days but be careful until you’re sure this is so. Be like the three wise monkeys. Hear all, see all and say nothing. I am of course referring to gossip. Staff room gossip can be a source of real trauma and is best avoided.
My next advice relates to clothing. This is vital. Remember you’re aspiring to be a teacher and need to earn the respect of your colleagues and the children. You also need to remove yourself from the student look. I’m advocating no ‘doc martins’ or killer heels for ladies. Smart and washable clothes are the order of the day. Definitely no jeans.
Try to remember that your mentor is the key to your success on the placement. Hopefully they will be your friend and guiding light. Listen carefully to what you are told. You may not agree with everything you’re told but the information is correct for their school. Don’t be argumentative. You can choose to discard some pearls of wisdom but there is no need to say you’re doing so. Be a good listener. Mentors are extremely busy people who receive little if any extra time to help you. They don’t have time for repeating information.
Once in the classroom observe like you’ve never observed before. Store up your questions for later. Check out the behaviour management strategies, reward charts and general atmosphere the teacher has created. Ask for the school’s behaviour policy to ensure you adhere to it. Try not to bring in SLT for behaviour management as this undermines your own authority. My advice is be fair, consistent and don’t raise your voice. If you do you instantly lose all credibility.
For your first few sessions in the classroom act as though you are a TA. Be an extra pair of hands for the teacher. This will help you form relationships with the children and show the teacher you’re willing to learn. In my classroom I carry no passengers. Even Ofsted have been asked to help.
As soon as you feel ready ask for some responsibility. Maybe start with the register and move up to the ‘starter’ or group work. Your mentor will guide this process but it’s best to move to the role of teacher as soon as possible.
Pace yourself. This is a piece of advice I’ve recently been given by a friend on twitter. (@natty08) Don’t burn out in the first few weeks or you’ll be a burden to the school and will feel you’ve let yourself down. Talk to your mentor if you feel out of your depth. They will appreciate your honesty.
Mentors are a wonderful resource for your steep learning curve. If however, you find you don’t quite see eye to eye, have a discussion with him or her. They can’t help if they’re unaware. A frank discussion is always best. At worst you can refer back to the Uni but generally problems can be resolved.
Ask if you may attend staff meetings. SLT like this and this is the arena where school policies and strategies are thrashed out. There’s much to learn from a trainee’s point of view. On a similar theme, if there is any CPD available during your placement ask if you can attend. For a trainee all CPD is good for your future prospects.
My penultimate piece of advice concerns your own knowledge and skills. Remember you have brand new, up to the minute information to offer your placement school. Any help you give them should be well received. I have been a student/NQT mentor for 5 years and I’m always grateful for the new skills my students teach me. They keep me up to date and on my toes. The student/mentor partnership is a two way process in my eyes and both have much to learn.
Lastly, I urge you to share your experiences on twitter. This is where you will meet friendly, experienced colleagues who are always willing to help. Join the education chats which occur most evenings as these are beneficial for extending your skill base.
Above all, enjoy the experience.