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By Sue Cowleyexperienced classroom teacher and behaviour expert

Sue Cowley looks at typical scenarios NQTs might face when starting a new placement

Sue Cowley

I’m about to start my first teaching practice. What’s the best way to approach it?

See it as a learning opportunity, watching closely to see how other teachers work. When you spot an effective technique, store it in your ‘bank’ of useful strategies. If you see a teacher struggling, consider why they are having problems. Look particularly at classroom management – the practicalities that ensure effective learning. How does the teacher start and finish the lessons, or move between activities? Consider the elements of a teacher’s ‘style’. Are they strict or relaxed? How do they establish and maintain their expectations? What verbal and non-verbal signals do they use? Observe the children too, learning how to ‘read’ a class or individual.

Once you’re teaching, don’t panic if you find it harder than expected. The children may sense a lack of confidence and play up to this. But, with experience, it does get easier. Don’t be afraid to take some risks or make mistakes – it’s all part of the learning process!

Behaviour management is a big concern for me as an NQT. I’m a quiet and fairly shy person and there was quite a lot of misbehaviour in my lessons when I was a student. How can I get it right in my teaching practice?

Try to think of your teaching as a performance, rather than an extension of your normal personality. When you step into the classroom, put on a persona of a confident teacher, even if you feel terrified inside. Perhaps think of a successful teacher that you know, and try to emulate parts of his or her style. Quiet teachers can be very effective, especially if they make use of lots of non-verbal communication. Agree a ‘silence signal’ with your class, for example, raising a hand when you want the class’s attention. Consider the positive aspects of your personality, and make the most of them. If you are quiet and shy, you are probably good at staying calm – a vital asset for every teacher!

What happens if I don’t get on with the teacher when I go on teaching practice? A friend of mine had a terrible time with her teacher, and almost quit the PGCE as a result.

This is tricky: there are bound to be occasional personality clashes in schools. Talk to your PGCE tutor if you have any serious problems. Why not concentrate on building a positive relationship, though, instead of anticipating the worst? Teachers can feel very territorial about their classrooms, so be sensitive about how you treat the classroom space. View your teacher as an ‘expert’ – ask lots of questions and soak up as much information as you can. If your teacher is not effective, you can still learn lots about what doesn’t work. Try not to be judgemental – once you’re teaching full time you’ll realise just how pressurised the job is. Focus on doing the best that you can, and above all else on enjoying the experience.

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