Things I Wish I’d Known On My First Placement

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Why didn’t you tell me this before?

As many PGCE students get stuck into their first placements, I thought I’d share some of the most invaluable advice I received throughout my training and NQT year.

It goes without saying that there’s never a one-size-fits-all policy when it comes to teaching – your techniques and approaches will vary from class to class depending on the students. I was fortunate enough to have some phenomenal mentors throughout my training year, and I’m even luckier to be working alongside some true masters of the teaching craft at this early stage in my career. Below are the top 5 things I’ve learned from them (as well as from my own mistakes!)

1. Build a learning environment that oozes with positivity!

Praise those students who are trying hard, using manners, staying on task, getting started first etc. and make your positivity a daily act that percolates into the class culture.

As Paul Dix says in When The Adults Change Everything Changes,

“Being relentlessly bothered is the key to sustaining and maintaining positive rapport with your students. It is easy to expend a great deal of energy recognising poorer behaviour.”

Make this praise more meaningful by exchanging the vague “good work” and “well done” for “What a fantastic work ethic!”, “That’s a brilliant idea because…”

It’s much harder for students to disrupt a lesson that is brimming with success and praise. Moreover, few students will want to attract negative attention when there’s so much positive attention up for grabs!

2. The standard is the standard

At the beginning of the year you will outline your expectations, and often students will follow this to the T… for about two weeks. When standards started to slip, I took time out of the lesson to go back through those expectations and remind my students that my standards would remain as high throughout the year as they were on that first day.

I told them simply: “Do not expect me to lower my standards because you will not meet them.”

It may sound laborious, and tiresome, but it will be worth it when these high standards become subconscious habits with your students. If you like your students lining up before a lesson don’t settle for a raucous rabble outside your door. If you ask for silence, don’t settle for 95% quiet and 5% whispering. They will meet your standards for as long as you reinforce them.

3. De-escalations is everything

Don’t ever back a child into a corner and expect them not to come out fighting. When it comes to conflict resolution with those difficult students – whether it’s a 4 year old or an 18 year old, de-escalation is everything.

Give them your instruction, lay out their options and walk away.

4. Give children a choice

One of the most valuable pieces of advice given to me by an invaluable colleague  was:  “If you want something from a child, you have to give them a way to hand it to you – often without losing face in front of their peers.” One example I had was a child who was being incredibly disruptive in my classroom. I followed the behaviour policy to the final stage, which was removing that child from the room. When told to leave, the student laughed and replied “make me”.

Though every part of me wanted to lose my temper, instead I replied in the way this aforementioned colleague had suggested:

“[student name], you can either leave now, while you are still in control or I will have you removed. Either way you will be leaving, because this is my room and you are no longer welcome . You have 30 seconds to decide.”

I walked away, continued my lesson and gave him no further attention. To my surprise instead of a conflict or a torrent of abuse, he grabbed his bag and coat and left the room with minimal disruption.

By giving the above student a choice (where both options resulted in my chosen outcome) he chose to take the one which would result in less embarrassment in front his friends. He hadn’t lost total face because in his eyes and theirs, he’d chosen to leave my room.

5. Be relentless in building your reputation

If you tell a student you’re phoning home this evening, phone home that evening. If you tell them they’re staying behind for ten minutes after the lesson, keep them behind for ten minutes.

In my first term as an NQT I was mortified at the amount of time I thought I was ‘wasting’ by chasing students, marching them to detention when they tried to skip it, ringing home, emailing form tutors, arranging meetings with heads of year, support staff and subject leaders. I had so much other work to be doing!

In hindsight all of those hours were far from wasteful, they were invaluable to making the rest of my year so much easier for myself than it otherwise would have been. Once my students knew that I wasn’t going to let up, that I wasn’t going to let things slide and that they would be chased until they completed their sanctions, behaviour improved enormously. By Christmas, my ‘reputation’ with my students was already taking shape.

The evidence of this came just before the Christmas holidays. On walking the corridor behind two boys, one of whom had a detention with me that Friday, I overheard the conversation:

“I’m not doing that history detention, no chance” to which the friend replied “yeah but she’ll just hunt you down on Monday. And it’ll get doubled. You know what she’s like.”

The boy turned up. But two months previous he definitely would not have…

Are you a PGCE student? Let us know how your placements are going by leaving a comment below.

Hollie Jones

Hollie Jones is a History teacher, currently working in Birmingham. Prior to earning her PGDipEd from the University of Birmingham in 2016, she worked in a range of schools from inner city comprehensives in some of the most deprived areas of the Midlands, to exclusive international summer schools based in St Andrews and Cambridge to rural village schools in Fiji. Her ultimate goal is to increase the value of education for all students and to generate those vital discussions about how we can go about this.

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