Noticeboard - September
Welcome to the September noticeboard! This noticeboard will be continuously updated throughout the month, so make sure to check back to stay updated with everything that is going on in the Geography teacher community.
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Official September newsletter
September - Control what you can control
The restless temperament, the excitement, the sleepless nights, that one class, will my clothes still fit, do I still know how to teach… And just where have I put my school bag?
September is upon us! September, for many of us (some of you go back in August!), means the new school year. It means we’re back in the thick of things, we’ve left behind the glorious summer days and we’re up with the lark, back at the heart of our communities and our schools.
Maybe it’s your first September, maybe your second, or maybe your old hat. Whatever it is, it will feel different this year. The school day will likely be truncated, your classroom (if you have one) will be strange, the way we set work, the way we teach, it will all feel different. However, this post isn’t to sow the seeds of doubt, it’s to remind you of how many things you are in control of - and to remind you of all the support that’s out there.
It’s completely natural to worry about all of the things that could go wrong. Will they behave? Will the previous teacher leave the whiteboard pens? Will the IT work? Do we have enough exercise books?
I have been very fortunate in my career to have worked with a number of trainees, NQTs and early career teachers - all of whom have shaped the lives of their young people in positive ways. I have pondered on my ‘top tips’ for Early Career Teachers - and I can offer a single piece of overarching advice - focus on what you can control.
Schools, by their nature, are rapidly changing, busy places - it’s part of their charm - but they can be a little overwhelming too. However, here’s what you’re in control of:
This comes with a caveat - schools vary and some of them might insist on common features across every teacher. However, you can still establish how you want things done. Take exercise books - will they be on the desk ready? Will they be handed out by you, or a student? Which student will hand them out? Same one every week?
Time spent thinking about these small actions that make up your day to day, and communicating these explicitly, will help smooth out the flow of your lessons. It’s well worth discussing this - and practising - with colleagues too for how they make it work.
This comes up a lot amongst teachers - and rightly so, it’s a big deal. You will very quickly come to realise that teaching never stops. There’s always something to do - someone to email, a resource to make, a piece of work to feedback on - and you can’t ever get everything done. Early on in the year, try and draw up a list of common tasks - where are you spending your time? When you’ve done this, prioritise - which ones are the most important? Now you’ve got an idea of what needs doing and when it needs doing. This will help you to make best use of your time. Also, set yourself non-negotiable working times - for me Friday through Sunday morning are absolute non-starters. I am flexible about when else I work but I never, ever work in that time slot. Final thought on this, when it comes to resources and classroom materials, it’s likely been done and shared - reach out. Some of my best work has come from a starting point given to me by someone else!
What you expect
This is a big one. Schools should have a behaviour policy. Make sure you know it - iron out the uncertainties in your head with it. “If x happens, what do I do?”, “If I need support, how do I get it?” - model this with your colleagues - practice, practice, practice.
Going further - you are responsible for expectations. Set the bar high - you will be surprised how brilliant young people are when they are challenged to be - spend time thinking hard about what you expect students to do when: a) you’re talking b) someone else is talking c) they are working independently (does it mean silence). When you know what you want - ensure it is clear and is enforced. Don’t ever lower your expectations of your students - we show we care by the standards we hold our students too.
My last piece of advice - spend time learning about the topics you’re going to teach. This past academic year has been an eye-opener for me - taking on A level geography for the first time - exposed chasm-like gaps in my subject knowledge. Water and Carbon cycle? Wowzer, I needed to get learning.
Early on in my career, I thought I could get by with a sense of humour and a copy of the textbook. No chance. I was blessed to work with a wonderful mentor who taught me the importance of subject knowledge - the more we know about geography, the more we can do. The more we can think, the more conclusions we can draw, the more we can link big ideas together. Knowledge is power. Final piece of advice? Reach out to the GA, RGS and colleagues on Twitter - ask the subject knowledge questions, you’re human, of course you can’t know it all! I promise you won’t regret it.
I hope this whistle-stop guide to September is a useful starting point.
Please reach out on Twitter - @GeographyTom9 - I can’t wait to hear about your adventures.
Tom Highnett, Assistant Principal and director of Post-16 (and always a geography teacher)