Organisational Skills for Teachers
Once you have decided that teaching is the career for you (and our page on Teaching Skills may help you here) you will need to start taking some classes.
When you start, there may be a thousand questions that you keep asking yourself:
What will I say?
Will they listen to me?
Have I got enough to keep them busy?
What will I do if someone doesn’t listen?
You are likely to be fine, but this page provides some practical tips to make sure that you and your students find the whole experience productive and enjoyable.
Planning your First Session
Know your Classroom
Try to familiarise yourself with the place that you will be teaching in.
It is both annoying and embarrassing to hunt for a pen for ten minutes with students present. Check that you can operate any computers, projectors or interactive whiteboards that you plan to use and that you have pens for any white or chalk boards.
Prepare what you are Going to Say
It is unnecessary to plan everything that you might say in an hour, but rehearsing your first five minutes might be wise and will help you to overcome any initial nerves.
Decide how you will Introduce Yourself
Put your name up on the board or on the projector. Get your students to write it down now to save having to correct it later.
Set out Some Ground Rules
It can be useful to state from the very beginning when you intend to collect homework each week, for example, and what the sanctions are for late work. It may also be useful to specify from the beginning how you will collect work: are you happy to have it e-mailed to you or would you prefer it on paper?
Plan your Time Wisely
Make sure that you have activities planned for your class to do rather than just passively listening to you: it will keep your students’ interest and give you a break.
Planning too many activities is better than planning too few and having to hastily find something to fill the final minutes.
See our page on Time Management for more information.
State your Objectives Clearly
Most students will get more out of teaching if they know what the key aims of the lesson are.
You might state the objectives of the class at the start of the session or even write them at the side of the board, and restate them at the end of the lesson for emphasis.
Ask Questions of your Students
This can be the easiest way to involve them in the lesson and to find out what they already know.
See our page on Questioning for some useful tips.
You can also begin to identify individual students and learn about who participates in discussions, and how usefully (or not!) they do so.
Make it clear from the start that any misbehaviour is unacceptable.
You can always go from being very strict with your students to being friendlier later on, but students may find it surprising and unwelcome if you suddenly go from being relaxed to being very strict.
If you are teaching in a school or college, you may encounter a large number of students and you'll need to keep track of their progress.
The following guidelines should be a useful indicator of the kind of resources that you will find useful.
Get a 'Teacher’s Planner'
A Teacher’s Planner is a book of blank pages divided into sections where you can write in the day, date and brief details of what work you plan to do. Sometimes they have grids in the back for you to keep a register to record who was present during each session or for you to keep track of your students’ marks.
Access to a Photocopier
Despite the usefulness of laptops and e-mail, most students still prefer to have a paper record of their learning. So, unless you are going to set every piece of work from a textbook and make them write out any class notes, you will need to photocopy things for your classes.
Find your nearest photocopier, check you have any necessary access codes, and try not to do large loads at peak times out of consideration for your colleagues.
Some Coloured Plastic Trays or File Holders
Having one of these per class to hold any work that you have photocopied ready to give your students is very useful.
Your own copy of any textbook used by the students is vital. You may wish to label and/or annotate it to pick out useful exercises and so on. Do not lend it out in case it is not returned. If students are expected to bring a particular textbook to every session, having a couple of spare ones can be handy. Label them prominently and remember to take them back at the end of the class.
It may be very useful to have some additional textbooks from which you can pick out good notes or diagrams, subject to relevant copyright laws. A good annotated diagram can be a more effective learning tool than many pages of text.
A Private Desk and Drawer
This may be hard to achieve if you teach in a number of different rooms, but hopefully you will have your own desk or somewhere to keep your resources and your laptop, plus vital private supplies of pens, To Do lists, glue sticks, sticky tape, etc.
An Electronic Mark Book
Some teachers prefer to keep track of their students’ marks electronically, using a document saved online that can be updated from either work or home.
This takes time to set up but can be very useful: you can use it to produce graphs that track your students’ progress over time, for example, so you can see quickly and easily how their learning is going.
It is best not to leave classes unattended, even for a few minutes - especially new classes that you don't know well.
You may therefore consider in advance when you are going to answer ‘calls of nature'!
Finally, don’t forget that every teacher has their bad days.
There are particular students or classes that you may never love, but keep your head up and keep going, and you can make it to the end of the day.
Any class might contain a key moment of inspiration for a particular student, even if you never know of it!