Before I started my first placement in a school, I naturally researched what to expect and was unsurprisingly nervous. Now it’s the end of Autumn half-term and I’d like to think everything is going well. With my recent experience I thought it would be a good idea to do 13 steps on ‘How to Survive Your First Week’ for prospective PGCE students! I’d like to say this is just my take on things which other students may or may not agree with, please comment or feel free to add anything. 🙂
- Be aware of ‘Staffroom Politics’
The first few points feature tackling the staff room dynamic. All staff rooms are different and feature their own unspoken rules. However, I’ve mentioned the main ones I’ve thought to be big no-no’s that probably apply to most. Perhaps take the stance of ‘approachable on-looker’ the first few days, not the over-eager student bombarding staff with questions before they’ve had their morning coffee.
- DO NOT sit wherever you please.
Rule 1. of staff room politics, respect the seating arrangements. You do not want to sit in the spot of the hypothetical grumpy Maths teacher who has sat in the same chair for the last 30 years. Sit on the radius of the room, or better yet, wait to be seated. That way you know your space is staff room approved.
- DO bring your own mug/tea/coffee/milk/etc.
Waltzing in and using someone’s ‘Best Teacher in The World’ mug may result in a warranted side-eye from a staff member. After all, I wouldn’t want to find a stranger drinking out of my mug when I go to make a cup of tea.
- Biscuits, biscuits, biscuits.
Last of the staff room tips – this may seem like an odd point but who doesn’t love biscuits? Staff had not-so-mildly hinted about bringing in biscuits. You’re contributing to the dynamic and it’s a conversation starter.
- DO introduce yourself to the Headmaster.
I feel this is a good way to acknowledge and respect the Headmaster’s role in the school and thank them for the opportunity. It shows that you’re professional and that you appreciate them letting you develop your teaching practice in their school. It may also come in handy to establish whatever relationship you can if there is a possible job vacancy in future. However, do not force this meeting. Figureheads of the school are often very busy and may not always be around.
- DON’T be afraid to ask questions.
Entering a large system like a secondary school may feel overwhelming at first and staff understand that. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, after all, the quicker you ask, the quicker you learn. That being said, don’t go overboard, ask in moderation.
- Be kind to the School Office admin.
It’s a good idea to have the staff at the school office on your side. Do not disregard the school admin as staff that you will not be in contact with much because (that’s rude, but also) they have a wealth of knowledge about the school and have access to all the information you may need such as class lists, school photos, etc. The office staff at my placement school have been lifesavers.
- DO check you’ve parked in an OK spot.
Are you parked in the right space? Is the gatekeeper going to lock you in? Have you parked in the sixth-form car park? It doesn’t hurt to check with the office that where you’ve parked is suitable.
- DO research the school beforehand.
Reading up some information about your placement school shows you’re serious about your teaching placement. It benefits you in gaining a greater understanding about the successes of the school and the challenges it is facing. It also prevents you from looking like an idiot when staff ask you ‘what do you know about the school?’ or start a conversation with you about something you should already know about the school.
- Bring a diary and an empty file with poly pockets.
The diary can be used as a trusty companion during meetings and noting down impromptu invitations on school trips and charity runs. The file allows you to store all documents/policies/guides given to you throughout the day, which you can later take out and review when you have a free period. You’ll gain grown-up points for being organised and neat, as well as avoiding death by drowning in school policies.
- Wear a watch.
Trusty companion #2. Familiarise yourself with the school day and keep an eye on the time. School life demands you to be in several different places throughout the day, in fairly short spaces of time. A watch will also help when it comes to pacing your lessons. Checking your phone for the time seems quite hypocritical, when most schools encourage you to forbid students from using their phones.
- Find out the names of the children you will be teaching ASAP.
Even before you’re teaching classes, knowing your students’ names will help establish authority. A simple ‘Good morning, Jack!’ can help with behaviour management before you enter the classroom as their teacher. ‘Who is this mysterious woman?! and how does she know my name?!’
- Smile, enjoy yourself!
It’s very unlikely that you’ll mess up in your first week if you put the work and effort in. Now is the time to develop your teaching practice in an encouraging environment surrounded by people who have been through what you’re going through. So, get stuck into your school’s schemes of work and resources, chat with staff and be humble… just don’t eat anyone’s lunch!