David Paterson shares his advice for teachers in their training year during the coronavirus crisis

By Friday 20 March 2020 this year’s student teachers across the nations were in a unique situation. Schools closed with little prospect of face-to-face classroom teaching returning by the end of the academic year. For many student teachers, the summer term is when teaching load ramps up, and their competence and confidence is reinforced. Without access to their classrooms, what can student teachers do to complete their training and prepare for the NQT year?

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Use these tips to overcome the obstacles presented by coronavirus and feel prepared for your NQT year

What is happening in schools and training organisations?

Training organisations have rapidly adapted their programmes to supporting their students, including how to meet the various professional standards. ‘Each week we have mapped a particular theme and cross-referenced it to teaching standards,’ says Rob Campbell, lecturer in secondary science at St Mary’s University. Their cohort has covered subject knowledge, assessment, practical work and literacy.

Another teacher educator described activities about setting high expectations and managing behaviour. These involved student teachers writing out the expectations and consequences for students in their classroom, for example what happens if a student refuses to follow safety rules. Imagining on paper how their first lessons will go is also proving useful – I still have the script that I wrote for my first lessons as an NQT!

Regarding how their trainee teachers are being supported and assessed, Dom Shibli, senior lecturer in education at the University of Hertfordshire, explains, ‘Where student teachers weren’t on a trajectory to pass, additional support and mentoring was put in place to help them meet the Teacher’s Standards. Individual subject tutors have been offering seminars and students have continued to work on their final assignments. Course assessment has included a 30-minute final conversation with visiting tutors, and vivas with course leaders where required.’

Student teachers I have spoken with have generally felt well supported by their schools and training organisations. ‘I have been observed every week online with feedback provided against the standards,’ says trainee Julie Coghlan. ‘Although it’s been a rollercoaster, I think this experience has increased my resilience and prepared me for my NQT year.’ Amna Haider adds, ‘We were meant to visit Kew Gardens towards the end of June. With that not happening, the IoE have set up tasks around virtual Kew.’

Carry on training

Despite this great work, we cannot get away from student teachers having missed out on months of time in schools. This time is usually full of learning inside the classroom and within their departments. Under lockdown, what else can student teachers be doing to best prepare themselves for September?

1. Keep up subject knowledge

A central part of confidence and competence in the classroom is secure subject and pedagogical knowledge. Make use of the RSC CPD for teachers courses that are currently freely available. These help to contextualise and pitch concepts at the right level, an area many new teachers find challenging in their early years. Complete some past papers in the subjects you will be teaching next year, especially if you’re likely to be teaching out of specialism. Complete the papers under exam conditions, and mark rigorously against the mark schemes. This will give you an impression of what your students will be working towards. Work through an advanced level textbook (eg Chemistry in Context or Oxford IB Diploma Programme) and complete the questions as you go.

2. Practise lesson planning and teaching techniques

Analyse some examples of lesson plans and recorded lessons. The RSC Assessment for Learning project contains over 70 examples for 11–18 lessons, including a range of linked resources. Through STEM Learning you can access the archives of Teacher TV, which are full of example lessons. The Oak National Academy has a range of online lessons covering all subjects. Pick out some teaching techniques that you could adapt to your classroom.

If your school is providing live lessons to its students, ask to observe the lessons and discuss them afterwards with the class teacher. You can also make use of currently free services (such as Loom or Zoom) to record yourself delivering some sample lessons. Try co-planning with a fellow student teacher and act as each other’s students. Focus on the concepts you are less confident on and provide constructive feedback to each other.

3. Improve confidence in behaviour management

September will be a huge challenge for students and teachers alike. Talk to your new school as early as possible about how behaviour is managed, and what support and systems will be in place. Make use of the work of Bill Rogers, including his videos comparing different ways of dealing with behavioural incidents.

4. Consolidate practical work

Managing practical work in normal times is challenging – social distancing in the classroom will add another layer of complexity. Use this time to consolidate your knowledge of different practical techniques and practicals. The RSC has a range of videos on different techniques, and many teachers have put together videos on standard practicals that your students will be carrying out. Investigate the range of online simulations available to support student’s developing skills.

5. Stay up to date with professional practice

Reading and reflecting on reports is an important part of taking responsibility for your professional development. Generic teaching reports such as Rob Coe’s What makes great teaching? and Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of instruction are good places to start. Science specific reports include the Gatsby Good practical science and the EEF report on Improving secondary science. In Scotland, you could take a look around the National Improvement Hub.

Remember that you are not alone in these uncharted territories. Keep in contact with fellow student teachers, school and training organisation mentors, as well as friends and family. Ultimately, our own well-being underpins our effectiveness as teachers in the classroom, this year, and in all the years to come.