by Alex Lockey
Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been teaching in FE for a while, it’s always a good idea to remind yourself of the ‘Top Tips’ for your chosen profession. You never know what ideas you might glean from them. And whether you’re looking into how to be a lecturer in college or a tutor in community education, these top tips will suit all kinds of further education teaching jobs.
Even if a lot of your time is spent working and teaching independently, odds are you’re part of a larger team. That team is your lifeline. If you’re truly going to be successful, you need to be sharing good practice, sharing resources, and generally supporting one another.
Working well as part of a team means you won’t constantly have to be creating new resources or coming up with new ideas of your own – you can borrow things from your colleagues. Your colleagues should also be good sounding boards if you have any issues with any of your students – there’s always that one lecturer or tutor who’s seen it all.
Finally, spending time with colleagues, even if it’s just touching base for a few minutes, helps keep us grounded, helps stop us feeling isolated or alone, and can be a good stress relief or energy boost.
Regardless of which age range you teach, and whether your course is compulsory or not, you need to accept that you are always going to have challenging behaviour and challenging students. It may not be anything you’re doing; that student may be having a challenging time outside of class and it’s bleeding into their classroom behaviour.
In which case, gentle reminders of how they should behave or guidance to relevant support may help the problem. Or you may have students who had bad experiences previously and this has perhaps given them a bad attitude you can help them with. You may have students who are finding things difficult and so act out rather than asking for help. These are the ones you will need to work with in terms of confidence and motivation, as well as behaviour and engagement. Perhaps draw on their peers for support, and find time to talk to them alone to work out how best to help them.
If you want your sessions to go well, it’s always good practice to make sure they start smoothly and that you have starters and hooks which engage their attention and their interest. You want to wake up their minds and sharpen their curiosity so this engagement carries them through the rest of your session. Rather than always starting in the same way, change things around a bit. Rather than ending with a game, start with one.
If you want your students to be engaged, eager or at least willing to learn, then you need to share your passion for your subject and enthusiasm for teaching them. We’ve all been in classes where the teacher or tutor has seemed bored and disinterested – more than likely it affected your willingness to work and your effort levels.
Some days it will be a real struggle to do this but you need to remind yourself how you would feel as a student if you didn’t, how important it is to them that you give your all, even if you’re not ‘feeling it’ that day. I promise, if you can share your passion and enthusiasm, you will see most students responding positively to you.
There are so many things to do in a day, that sometimes the little things get forgotten or put off until later. At the end of the week or unit or half term, you may find yourself with a mountain of a to-do list. My top tip is to make sure you keep up-to-date lists of what you need to do and highlight it in terms of priorities.
While there’s likely going to be something to carry over to the next day or the next week, if you organise and prioritise what you need to, maybe even highlighting when you’re going to do them, then you may find yourself powering through your lists and avoiding that mile-high pile of marking or paperwork to do. Perhaps even try doing just a little at once, but doing it often, rather than trying to do everything at once.
…have a Kit-Kat, as the saying goes. With such a lot of things to do, it’s easy to put off your own needs for the sake of your marking, of setting up your classroom, or speaking to your students. It is a must, however, that you do make time during the day to prioritise yourself.
Spend that 5 minutes just sat flicking through Facebook, or texting a friend. Make sure you eat and drink: you don’t want to run out of energy or have to power through a dehydration headache. If you can, and as often as you can, take your lunch or snack break away from your classroom. Spend it amongst your colleagues or with a book, or even outside getting some fresh air.
Taking that time for yourself means you’ll be able to give the best of yourself to your students during class time.
By this, I don’t mean avoid setting homework for your students. What I’d like you to try and do is avoid taking work home with you. It’s all too easy to spend hours of your evening or weekend planning, preparing resources, answering emails and the myriad items on your to-do lists, but you need that time off.
Just as you would advise your students to take breaks and find a happy study-life balance, you need to work on your work-life balance. If you take regular breaks and spend time with friends and family, or enjoying your hobbies, you’re more likely to work effectively, efficiently and happily when you get to it.
When marking or giving verbal feedback, it’s easy to get bogged down in what your students need to do to improve and where they went wrong. Make sure to spend just as much time telling them where they went right and where they have made progress.
It doesn’t always have to be related to work they have handed in. Praise about attendance and punctuality, or engagement, or how well/much they take part, is equally valid and can go a long way to keep their spirits and motivation high, as well as boost their confidence.
You don’t want your students too focused on where they went wrong or always looking at what they have to do next, that they become disheartened or can’t see the big picture of their achievement.
The end of your session is equally important to the start in terms of engagement and motivation. If you end on a high note – whether it’s something that sparks their curiosity, something that inspires them, or validation on their progress – your students are more likely to go away wanting to keep working, more willing to do their homework or assignments, and more likely to return eager for more.
This high note could be in the form of a quick game or challenge which allows them to see what they have achieved that session or at the end of a unit, it could be a hint or quick look at the next session, or a challenge you have laid down to inspire their competitive nature. Plenaries don’t always have to be about quiet reflection.
As well as praising them and boosting their confidence by celebrating their achievements and progress, make sure you take the time to enjoy how far they have come, how much they are enjoying your sessions or enjoy seeing their confidence bloom. These moments will bolster your resolve, boost your energy levels and motivate you to keep going. Remember, you have had a part in their success and this is the best reward for all your hard work. After all, this is why we teach, isn’t it?