The start of a new academic year can be overwhelming. Here are some ideas to help you through the first few weeks.
Get a planning buddy
If you teach the same level or age group as a colleague, arrange a weekly planning session. You could plan the first week of lessons together, and then take turns to plan classes. For example, you plan the lessons for week 2, and your colleague for week 3, and so on. Whoever is planning that week can also do any photocopying that’s needed, for both of you. You can meet up or chat about the lesson plans, including talking about any differentiation that may be needed.
This not only saves time, but you will learn from each other. Another person may consider things when lesson planning that you just don’t, and may use different activities or games than you usually do- which can make for more variety for your students!
You will also have the chance to talk about any issues you may be having. For example, if you tell your planning buddy ‘Oh, that speaking activity last week just didn’t work’, but it did work for them, then you can have a conversation about what they did that made it work.
This is also beneficial because you both have someone to talk to about your lessons/learners. So often we can feel overwhelmed and overworked, and we don’t share it with anyone we’re working with! Having a weekly dialogue with a colleague will help you feel more connected.
Look through the coursebook
At the start of the academic year, find out from your academic manager what materials you need to use in the first term. Find out how many units from the coursebook you need to do in the first term, for example.
Then look at those units and identify what the actual aims are, for every unit. If you need help with this, ask your academic manager. For example, in one unit there may be a reading activity about eco-friendly hotels. The aim of this activity is not ‘do a reading’ or ‘read about eco-friendly hotels’. What skills are being developed? Write a list of the aims of the unit. Having a list of the aims of the units for the first term will help you visualise the course, and where the students are heading. It will help with lesson planning.
Once you get to know the students a little, you can look at this list and think about extra support some of your students may need to achieve these aims. You may also identify some unit aims that will not challenge some of your students enough. Considering this early in the term gives you time to plan for more support, or more challenging adaptations, to the unit aims.
Get to know your students
Be sure to set up plenty of activities in the first two or three weeks of term to help you get to know your students. I like to make notes after each lesson, or during the breaks, with anything interesting that came up in class. This can include activities they seem to enjoy in the lessons, interests the students have outside of class, or other information such as whether there are existing friendship groups in the class.
The earlier you get to know your students, the more informed your lesson planning will be. You will also bring an understanding of the individual needs of the learners, which will help you build a warm learning environment.
Get to know the parents of young learners
I like to send a letter home to the parents of my young learners. In this letter, I just tell them a little bit about me and explain what kinds of activities their child will be doing in lessons with me. I also invite them to contact me if they have any questions, or if there’s anything they’d like me to know about their child. I send the same letter to all parents.
You may also have the chance to chat briefly to parents when they are picking up their child.
Parents really appreciate it when you reach out to them like this. Starting the academic year this way helps you to build a relationship with the parents of your students. It also makes it easier to talk to them later in the term, if some kind of issue pops up.
Give students roles
Look at your lesson plans and identify parts of the lesson in which pupils can take an active role. Here are some ideas:
- Instead of the teacher taking attendance, ask a student to do this. This could be something as simple as asking ‘Is Ana here?’, or they could ask each classmate on the register one question, too.
- When checking homework, give one student the answer key and ask that they lead the feedback stage. To do this, you will need to give them some language to use (such as ‘Does anyone know number 1?’, ‘Yes, that’s right.’) and you’ll need to give the rest of the class some language to use, too (‘Can you repeat that, please?’, ‘Can you speak more slowly?’).
- Ask students to think of a warmer or game. You will need to show some examples (e.g. a short quiz, a thought-provoking short video, a simple game like hangman). Each lesson, ask one student to lead the class in doing their warmer/game. This could be at the start of the lesson, after the break, or at the end.
Giving students different roles in the lesson helps take the focus off you, the teacher. Students can have ownership of a part of the lesson, and it helps them feel more involved. It also helps foster the idea that the teacher is not the ‘leader’ of the lesson, and that students are expected to participate and be drivers of the lesson, to some extent.
Take a bottle of water to your classroom
Start the academic year by taking care of yourself, physically.
Once I’m in my classroom, I tend to stay in there all day. I make sure I take a big bottle of water. It sounds so simple- but if I have water with me, I will drink it all. If I don’t happen to have water with me, then I won’t go and get some in the break, so I end up tired and dehydrated by the end of the day.
What simple steps can you take to look after your physical health, at the start of term?