As the new school year approaches and over 30,000 new teachers begin their career in the classroom, Katie Ashford gives us the second part in her three part series. Katie is an English teacher in a secondary school in London. These are her individual views. At the end of summer institute, the prospect of entering the classroom was pretty frightening. However, I tried to put this to the back of my mind and soothed my nerves with a healthy dose of energy and enthusiasm; I was feeling completely inspired at the end of training, and although I didn’t feel as ready as I would have liked, I was determined to go in and do the best job I possibly could. I wanted to inspire, motivate and challenge my pupils, so I spent the summer planning lessons that I was sure would achieve all three of these objectives. In my head it looked a bit like this: kids telling me that this was ‘the first time they had ever enjoyed English’; EAL and SEN pupils discovering answers to complex problems that they had never previously come close to tackling; disengaged boys providing insightful comments on great works of literature; little birds landing on my window ledge as I would sing songs: it was a utopian vision of education, one that my naivety and enthusiasm lapped up and used as a bandage to conceal the fear that lurked beneath. I told myself I was going to be a truly inspirational teacher that would transform the lives of my pupils, giving them a deep and enduring love of the subject and propelling them into a universe of high aspirations and attainment. I kept telling myself this and ignored the nerves that would otherwise have consumed me and rendered me utterly useless in front of a pack of teenaged beasts. It wasn’t until I entered the classroom that my rose-tinted specs fell to the ground with a resounding crash, shattering my dreams into a thousand pieces of broken glass. The vision I had spent the summer dreaming of did not immediately become a reality. Period 2, 5th September: my first ever lesson The kids tumbled into the classroom in a frenzy- two of the boys were fighting and landed at my feet, jostling about and knocking things over. One boy (who later became one of the trickiest kids I had to teach all year- his name was Jayden) decided to take advantage of the ensuing anarchy and jumped on top of a table and started fiddling with the ceiling tiles. I stood meekly at the front of the room, trying to get them to calm down. After ten minutes it became evident that this was not going be a successful strategy and I ran out into the corridor asking for help. My mentor obliged and got them in their seats within a few minutes. The first task involved them looking at some pictures and trying to work out what they meant. Some of them did so begrudgingly; many of them ignored my commands. Jayden ripped his picture up and started eating it. When I asked them what they thought the pictures could mean they said they didn’t ‘get it’, didn’t care, or couldn’t be bothered. Most of them were just swinging on their chairs and chatting about their summer holidays instead of doing what I had asked. I gave them a bunch of questions for them to answer, which I hoped would stimulate their thinking. I asked them things like: ‘what do you think the man in the picture is thinking?’, ‘what could the colour ‘red’ suggest?’, ‘would you like to live on a ranch in California?’ Jayden began spitting out the bits of paper he had been chewing and throwing them at other kids. He was removed from the room and started making faces through the doors of other classrooms as he loitered in the corridor. After they left, I cried on the shoulder of one of my colleagues, who then summoned the rest of the department into my room to comfort me and tell me it was all going to be fine. I wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not. In my naivety, I presumed that this would be an inspiring and engaging lesson that would enable my new pupils to see that English really was a fun and vibrant subject. But the lesson was evidently a complete and utter train wreck. I was disheartened but not defeated: I would keep going until I got it right. Inspiration isn’t a job for day one Unpicking exactly what was so terrible about that lesson could have us chatting until midnight. There were a myriad of things that went wrong, the biggest of which was possibly my complete inability to manage the behaviour. On top of that, I had planned a lesson that required them to be quite independent and to draw on a lot knowledge that they may never have previously learned. So, other than apathy, one of the reasons they struggled to answer the question ‘would you like to live on a ranch in California?’ was that they had absolutely no idea what life on a ranch was like. I was trying to get them to answer questions about things they hadn’t been taught, which in retrospect, was quite unfair. It would have been much fairer to simply teach them those things upfront and then get them to think about it more deeply, rather than getting them to work it out for themselves. Instead of going in with the intention of inspiring my students from day one, I should have made sure the basics were in place first. If kids aren’t behaving, no learning will happen, and you can bet your life they won’t be inspired, either. Spending time at the beginning of term getting to know your pupils and making sure they understand the routines of the classroom and how you operate must be your priority. The idea that inspiring your students is what will lead to good behaviour and great learning is misguided, particularly in your first few weeks of teaching. It’s the other way around; instilling good behaviour and teaching well is more likely to lead to the objective of inspiring and motivating students. So, if you are going in to the classroom for the first time this September, make behaviour and routines your priority. Once you have embedded your routines and have built positive working relationships with your classes, you can start to think about how you move them on. You will be able to start pushing them to work on problems on their own, you will be able to trust them to work properly in groups, and sooner or later, it will all come together. But it takes time. Don’t punish yourself for not being able to do this in the first week- it does not make you a bad teacher, it just means you need more time to get to grips with the mechanics of teaching. Hang on in there. You might not inspire them in the first week, but if you believe they will one day be capable of it, and you know you will keep going until they get there, you will already be doing everything you can to be the best teacher you can possibly be. _____________________________ Edapt is the trade union alternative providing individual support and protection for teachers in allegations and employment issues.