Helpful hints on what to expect on your journey to becoming a qualified history teacher from SCITT Secondary Lead and History Tutor Gary Craggs.
My current view and reflecting:
There have undoubtedly been changes in the journey to becoming a qualified teacher since I was an overwhelmed PGCE student in September of 2002 (VAK lesson plans and Brain Gym!), though a lot has remained the same.
With that in mind, I will try to guide and advise on those common questions and complaints which fall under the umbrella statement of…”there’s just so much!”
Embarking on my PGCE and NQT year filled me with the same dread I feel at a pub quiz. “Well you are a history teacher – you should know that” (you know, the tiebreaker about the Neolithic Age type of question).
As a trainee and young teacher this translates to “what if they ask me a question I don’t know” and “what if there’s a subject on the Scheme of Work that I don’t know?”.
Realistically, you cannot be expected to know every area of history and nobody would expect you to. To help with confidence, I would recommend:
1 – Contact your training provider and ask about a Subject Knowledge Audit and/or what placement schools typically study. Use this to direct as and where your pre-course and early course research will take place.
2 – Try to use, if available, current textbooks and the likes of BBC History. Again, your training provider may be able to assist here. This will help with a base level and pitch.
3 – Make use of podcasts. Whether walking, exercising or commuting, great podcasts like Dan Snow’s History HIT can supply you with takes from respected historians.
This can help layer on to existing knowledge and also give confidence. Furthermore, it can provide those interesting little facts which help wow a class. Another Podcast that’s good is You’re Dead to Me on BBC Radio 4.
4. Make use of the internet – this can include social media and helpful websites like Practical Histories and the Historical Association. Often this will take you beyond just knowledge and will also delve into the pedagogical theory/theories that underpin teaching side of things.
At some point, you will make mistakes. Everyone you meet in your teacher training was once in your shoes and, if they are honest, will remember the feelings they had as a trainee teacher.
Mistakes will happen and nobody expects you to be the finished product in November, but you must remember to be professional. You may wonder what this would look like and as a starting point I would suggest Px3.
1. Punctual – find out when your school wants you there (not when it starts) and turn up on time.
2. Prepared – plan your lessons and plan ahead. Give the mentor and the department time to give you the feedback. This will not occur at 11pm the night before you teach and nor should anyone expect it to.
Be the person who plans ahead, and if reading Teach Like A Champion, think of the bigger picture of learning, rather than just getting through the lesson – as we all do when we first start.
3. Positivity – this does not mean being ultra-smiley 24/7. Rather, it is approaching your placements with an open mind and knowing there will be bumps along the road.
Everyone will have their own opinion of the schools you are training in. Put the opinions of others to one side and form your own judgements – no two experiences are ever the same.
Feedback you receive is intended to be constructive, try not to focus on what did not go so well. The most important thing is that you reflect and move on, and focus on what went well that day.
There will be times when you need to ask for help and even the biggest perfectionist will have to realise that being good on a consistent basis is better than beating yourself up for not being perfect.
Remember, what do you want your learners to get from their experience with you and how will you help them attain that? Sometimes, to get this, you will have to ask for help and that is absolutely fine.
Securing a Job
Every year, by March, the panic has started. History is not quite the shortage subject that STEM subjects are. Have faith, the job will come up but sometimes it can take time. In recent years, trainees I have worked with have secured their new roles in July.
I was also one of the last trainees in my group to get a job, a mere few weeks before the summer. When applying for a job, do your due diligence.
Yes, you want the school to know about you but make sure you research first. Is this the school and department for you? If satisfied, then consider what the application is asking for and what the school website, prospectus, Ofsted etc say.
Make this application personal. I would also encourage a proof-reader with time to read it. Also, do ask your training provider if they offer interview practice. It can help massively, especially before your first interview.
And finally, behaviour:
Having worked outside of mainstream and in some challenging schools, my key takeaways would be:
1 – What is the school system used for both reward and sanction? Read it, observe it in action, ask questions if unsure, and then stick to it. Be consistent, even if it is uncomfortable at the start. The pupils want to know if they can test your boundaries.
2 – Establish routines. Again, what are these in your school or department? How should lessons start? How will you manage activity transitions? How will you ensure equipment is collected and students exit in an orderly fashion whilst also being ready for the next group.
3 – Be visible. Where are you standing in your classroom? Can you see your learners? Can they see you? Lemov’s TLAC is great for further insights here.
4 – Again, be visible. Be seen around school. Be an active form tutor. Be seen to praise, where warranted, and praise a lot – be clear what you are praising for.
5 – Consider your instructions and explanations. Are your pupils defying you? Or do they simply just not understand? Having the rehearsed explanation and how you will instruct them can really help a smooth order of events.
6 – Don’t be afraid to try different techniques with different classes. what works for one may not work with another and don’t take behaviour personally, even though it is difficult in the moment. This is a training year and you do need to learn.
Hopefully you are still reading and this is not a fix all but it is a reflection on where I was, what I wish I had known and what I hear regularly in my current position.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Teaching is a rewarding profession but a demanding one. Good luck!
With huge thanks to Mrs Z Granger, for helpful suggestions and re-affirming my observations from the position of being an excellent ECT.
Garry Craggs has been a History Teacher for 15 years across three schools, including out of mainstream. A former Head of Department, Head of Faculty and SLE Examiner for two exam boards. He has assisted with curriculum consultation and standardisation and is currently Subject Tutor and Secondary Lead for a SCITT provider and works for two other universities in the north of England as both a subject tutor and dissertation supervisor.