Getting back into the swing of things

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
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Going back to school after the summer can sometimes be just as tough for the teachers as for the students. Julian Stanley offers some advice

It is often difficult to get back into teaching mode after the long summer holidays, though I do know many of you work at least some of the time during the break.

Even so, not having to face a class for five or six weeks does give you a break from student contact and it can be a bit of a shock to the system for even the most experienced teacher when they return to work.

As the new school year starts, students and pupils are often anxious about their new teacher. There is plenty advice on how teachers can ease students into a new class and school year and help to remove some of the anxiety. However this can be an equally daunting time for you too.

It is a leap into the unknown as much for you as your new classes. Teaching is unlike other professions in many ways, but this constant change in pupils and students is one aspect that does inevitably feed a bit more stress into the job. It is also why teaching can be so incredibly enjoyable, constantly challenging and refreshing.

Re-entry is tough for everyone after a long summer break – and perhaps more so this year after such an unusually warm summer. And you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have a touch of the back-to-work blues. So, here are some ways you can ease re-entry.

Meeting the students

All teachers need to be especially considerate to year 7 students who are facing a cultural leap from being the oldest pupils in primary to the youngest pupils in secondary. You will need to devote some time to getting to know the names of each student in each new class. Spend some time beforehand thinking about ways in which you can build relationships with each class and also getting class-mates to know and interact with one another. This will help develop positive and productive group dynamics in the classroom.

I also think it is a good idea to employ some ice-breaker activities to create a positive, communicative and respectful atmosphere. Learning that is fun as well as focused is often one of the most effective strategies for teaching new ideas and concepts.

If you can create an atmosphere of mutual respect and safety together with basic rules and clear boundaries, students are far more likely to respond positively in their lessons. And it will make your classroom contact more enjoyable. So prepare as much as you can. Good preparation and groundwork will make your students’ lives easier and yours as well.

Meeting the parents

It is not so easy to meet parents informally at secondary school as it is for primary teachers. This marks a point of independence for many students and they will probably travel to school on their own or with their friends. If parents do take them, they will probably be asked to drop them off round the corner from the school. Your main line of communication for students in each year group is usually via the head of year or their mentor. Set out clearly how and when you can be contacted if a parent wants to meet with you. Face-to-face tends to happen at the start or the end of the school day in most secondary schools especially with working parents. So it helps, if you can, to be available before the start of the school and afterwards at the end.

If it gets nasty

Sadly we have to accept that sometimes meeting parents can be very challenging and difficult. You need to take steps to ensure that if any meeting with parents turns nasty or abusive you have adequate back up and support available to call on, usually in the form of a colleague.

Equally, if it is an issue you find distressing to discuss, teachers should ask a colleague or maybe the head of year to attend the meeting so they have adequate support.

The ideal situation is to create a triad, where the teacher and parents/carers align with one another and engage in supporting and positively challenging the pupil so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet and working towards an agreed set of goals.

Teachers who aim to develop a growth mindset (see the work of Professor Carol Dweck) often find this approach engenders a much greater sense of shared responsibly for learning and improves students’ personal and social skills and overall development.

Setting boundaries

This is a tough term. New students, new curriculums, new parents to interact with and the nights drawing in. There’s also Christmas and end-of-year plays and activities looming which you will probably be expected to take some part in helping to organise. This term more than any other it is vital that you set boundaries for yourself to make sure you don’t overdo it. Accept that no to-do list is ever entirely done and try to set a cut-off point each evening when you will not just stop work but stop thinking about it too.

We’re here to help

If you do find re-entry is still causing you problems several weeks after you went back or if you are feeling stressed beyond the usual back-to-work blues, do please remember that we are always here to help. You can phone our helpline at any time. Our counsellors are very experienced with all issues arising from education and their help is free.

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership

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For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk


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