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How Do You Prepare for the New Term At School?

By Alan Peters,

24 Jan 2020

When I was young and enthusiastic – too many years ago now – I enjoyed the summer holidays.  For about a week.  Then I was ready to prepare for the new term.  I kind of hope that plenty of today’s teachers hold the same enthusiasm as I did back then.  I am sure that some do.  Some.  I used to create myself a planner, listing every day of the holidays.  The last two weeks were set aside for preparation for the new term at school. It was exciting; those days when I could get back to work would slowly get closer and I would feel the buzz building up inside of me.  Of course, in time, marriage, kids and age combined to make those last weeks more of a stressful grind than a joy, but the memory remains. Time for the Timetable My piece de resistance was a large timetable I would make for the class (I tended to be responsible for Year 8s, or Sixth Form as they were known at the school.

Don’t ask why.)  We are talking pre-colour printer days here, in fact while the halcyon era of wheeling in the BBC and getting on Doctor Logo with the turtle were behind us, computers still existed mostly in a single room where the kids would go for one period a week. Note:  I’m aware that the above paragraph will be meaningless to younger readers.  That’s how I feel when you start talking about social media, twittering and Instasnap. I would get a sheet of A2 paper from the art department, draw grids and colour each in a vivid hue to represent a lesson, a teacher and a venue.  I’d get the classroom ready, put up displays, fill in the register and then, if there was any time left in the two weeks I’d have a little think about what I might be teaching in new term. A More Professional Approach But preparation for the new term has, like breathable football shirts and mobile phones, come on a bit since those days.  While you probably don’t have to worry too much about displays and the register in this digital age (read Barry Hines’ wonderful ‘Kes’ to get an insight into paper registers and stress!!) a bit of planning is necessary.  I tend to think that if you can roughly plan to half term, with a framework for the year, then you’ve a more than 50-50 chance of survival.  (Remember Peters’ Rule – preparing  a lesson plan takes less than a third of the time it takes to deliver.  Never, ever, more than half.) But for the remainder of this blog, we’ll have a think about some of the less obvious elements of preparing for the new term.  And I don’t mean getting together a draft of your resignation letter. Emotional Well Being
  • Rehearse the ‘polite refusal’.

    We’ve been there.  Somebody is needed to help out with the U12 football club; the librarian can’t work Wednesday lunch time; a newspaper group would really help to address the comments about writing in the last OFSTED report.  But you already run two extra curricular activities and mentor a second-year teacher.  You get asked because you say yes.  And you say yes because you can’t say no.  So, practice.  Rehearse the scenarios in your mind where you politely but firmly decline the generous offer to run Gardening for Dyslexics or Extra Work Club (i.e., detention).
  • Plan your work life balance.

      Because it doesn’t matter how good your preparation for the new term might be, if domestic stresses get in the way your professional life suffers as much as your home one.
  • Look at a site such as Headspace, or talk to a friend who practices mindfulness techniques.  The cynics among us might think that mindfulness is one of those fads involving joss sticks, crystals and overly flowery dresses, but its benefits are now not in doubt.
  • Develop Emotional Resilience.

    Teaching is considered a ‘helping’ profession, and these tend to be the most stressful.  Learning to cope, and to turn off, are important parts of preparing for the pressures ahead.  You may have heard of the Law of Attraction.  This states that people seek out similarly minded sorts as friends.  That’s common sense, really.  Positivity breeds resilience so seek out and spend time with positive people.  Their outlook rubs off, and helps us to develop the coping strategies to deal with future pressures.
Physical Well-Being Perhaps the best way to get our minds in shape is to get our bodies into a good condition.  Obviously, every one of you reading this will keep your alcohol input to one a day (glass not bottle of wine), with every other day off (alcohol, not just a switch to an extra G and T) and eat sensibly and well.  By that, I don’t just mean cutting down on the salt on your chips or having one less naan with the eat all you can curry. But, believe it or not, some of us find ourselves drawn to the bottle or the biscuit barrel a little more regularly than we might want to admit.  And that gets worse when term starts to dig in.

 When we consider how to prepare for the new term, becoming physically fitter is a definite winner. It’s not as hard as it seems.  I lost a couple of stones almost overnight, but having a heart attack is a bit extreme for most people.  Yet there is no reason to worry about keto diets or carbs or any of that.  Eat a bit less and exercise a bit more – walking is as good as anything - and we will feel better within a week. The summer holidays are a perfect time to start on such a regime. Psychology In The Classroom From September, full time teachers will spend approximately, on average, forty-five hours per week in their classrooms.  They’ll spend a couple of hours in their car, about forty hours spread between sitting room, kitchen and garden plus about fifty hours in bed.  Perhaps even some of that time asleep. Hence, the biggest proportion of teachers’ waking hours are spent in the classroom.  Why not make that a pleasant experience?  We can’t ban the kids, but we can improve the environment.

I know that in theory teachers are not supposed to be responsible for displays and such like (although many, many still are) but actually making your classroom a home from home can really help the term fly by.  A few pot plants, a comfy seat, a bean bag, colour (how about using wallpaper for backing paper?  It’s a lot easier to put up than a roll of cheap display sheeting, and most of us have offcuts of designs we have at home.)  If you haven’t already done so, put up a few photos of the family, or the summer holiday (not the one of you throwing up in Ibiza, perhaps). Not only will that help to make your time in the classroom more relaxing, it also creates a better environment for your students. How we prepare for the coming term is down to us as individuals.  It would be great to hear some readers’ own strategies. But it is worth remembering that plans made now will make the pressures of the term ahead just a little more bearable.