Teach First Summer Institute: Advice for the start of your “journey”

As if by magic, it is time for the next cohort of eager Teach First participants to start their two year Leadership and Development Programme. It seems like only a few weeks ago that I was there, rolling up with the blind hope that someone was going to tell me how to teach before d-day in September. The truth is, Summer Institute (SI) is what you make of it and -luckily- I almost made the absolute most of mine and have reaped the benefits since. Therefore, here are a few top tips from me… An old hand at this TF game.

1)Become a yes man.
Seeing as TF focuses on on-the-job training, a large proportion of the “lectures” you need to sit through to obtain a PGCE are put into the SI. Therefore, if you go to the bare minimum, you will learn a lot. However, think about it this way: do you want to be chucked in at the deep end, with minimal swimming experience and without armbands? In hindsight, I know I wouldn’t have wanted to…

Around those compulsory sessions are a plethora of voluntary (or TF says they’re compulsory but participants very quickly catch on that they’re not) sessions. These are the ones that will be the difference between you bobbing up to the metaphorical surface with armbands to starting treading water and you floundering under water for a while. Therefore, as quickly as possible, get into the mind set of “I’m only here for 6 weeks. Yes, I could clock off at 4/5pm but, in reality, an extra hour’s session isn’t going to hurt”.
In all honesty, some of the most valuable sessions I went to were in the evenings. They gave me theories and techniques that I still apply to this day.

2) Learn to sift through what you’re hearing for the golden nuggets
Teach First has an important charitable aim surrounding providing fair education for all. It essentially boils down to helping every child succeed in the classroom despite a range of complicating factors. During SI, you will find that, at least once, you will sit back in awe of the dedication and drive of the organisation you are a part of. You will be motivated to step forward and do your part. You will not be able to wait for September so that you can get going and “make a difference”. However, one of the Summer Institutes slight flaws is that TF likes to remind you of this goal every day… Often multiple times a day…

In some ways, this is great as TF’s vision can help you step out of a dark day facing challenging kids because you do see that you are doing something really good. Nonetheless, many participants find they become temporarily apathetic and reluctant to attend events and sessions because they are a little sick of “journeys”, “visions”, “missions” and “impact”. Therefore, if you feel this way, don’t let it take over as it will pass. Think of TF as a really excitable puppy that just wants to play even when you are very tired and just want a quiet day of plodding along. It can’t hurt you. It is actually a really nice thing and you would genuinely enjoy playing a nice game of metaphorical fetch if it wasn’t pawing at your leg.

The reason I say this is that at roughly the same time that you have this blip (probably due to a lack of sleep and feeling grouchy), it will be time to attend those voluntary sessions I mentioned above. Don’t shun them just because someone will remind you of what a big difference you’re going to make. Sift that out and wait for the golden nuggets. By the time you have washed and ironed all of your TF SI branded t-shirts, sharpened you TF branded pencil, rinsed out your TF branded water bottle and unpacked your TF branded bag, what will you be left with? The realisation that you should have sat through a few more of the cheesy lines or a stack of really good pedagogy and techniques for Septmeber?

3) Look after yourself.
The SI is long. Especially if you take my advice and attend nearly everything, you will find that sleeping, eating regularly and relaxing become a sideline. This is not good and certainly shouldn’t be justified with “well, I’m not going to get much sleep in September so may as well start now!”.
At around week 3-4, many people get the SI’s version of “freshers flu”. Therefore, here I am as your friendly neighbourhood party pooper: get a few early nights, eat well and schedule in some time for a bit of Netflix or a good book. You are going to be stuck with your SI flat mates for the whole six weeks and you are likely to regularly see them from September onwards too. Therefore, taking one or two eves out for some chill time is not going to make any difference.
For example, behaviour sessions fill up within minutes so you don’t want to be in a position where you are cooped up in bed ill on the one day you actually managed to get into a session!

4) Plan ahead
Planning planning planning. You will be told loads about planning. However, Number four is not about lesson planning, it is about planning for what you need.

Understandably, a big concern for you as an inexperienced teacher picking up an 80%ish timetable from September is how on earth you are going to manage classes full of kids. Therefore, there is a huge temptation to fill any element of choice you have with behaviour sessions. Whilst this is a hugely important area of study for a newbie, do remember that you need to know how to teach the kids once you’ve got them behaving. See my previous blogs for my view on the almost inevitable (wrong)advice that you will be given that behaviour is not an issue if you teach well. This is not what I am advising. However, I regretted not spending longer thinking about SEND when I met my SEND/low ability heavy classes. Luckily, I had a great university tutor who helped me out with what I needed to know and I taught myself a lot via Twitter. However, make sure you tick all boxes with the knowledge you gain and then go back and lather on the behaviour sessions.

5) Enjoy it!
Yes, you are starting a really tough job in a matter of months with minimal training. Yes, it is not going to be a walk in the park. Yes, you may think that everyone else knows more than you. However, the SI takes six weeks from your remaining freedom before meeting the students. Unfortunately, every holiday you have in your first year is going to feature writing a PGCE essay. Moreover, if you choose to do the TF funded masters, your NQT year is going to be just as busy. Therefore, do remember to enjoy it. Enjoy the fun and social side but also enjoy the fact that you have access to some of the leading academics, thinkers and practicing teachers in the world. The people who’s books you will study over the year will be there to talk to you. Therefore, don’t get bogged down with worrying about how you are going to cope come Septmeber. Leave that until later. Now, just enjoy the fact that you are on a “journey” towards reaching Teach First’s “vision” of no child being limited by their socio-economic backgrounds. You will have a positive “impact” on the students, even though you have no clue how you’re going to manage it.
(…you can tell I have done the TF training!)

In all seriousness, Teach First is incredibly tough but incredibly rewarding. I have seen the change in my own students over the year and it is great to see. Therefore, cheesy TF lines aside, you are now part of a movement towards good education for all. If you take nothing more from this post, make the most of the SI as it is some seriously good training with some really friendly people.
See you all in Leeds (and at any other SI events I help out at)!

Please drop me a comment below or follow me on Twitter @miss_trainee 🙂

Note: This post makes no attempt to imply that any other ITT route or current teachers are inferior to TF. Please see my first ever blog for my view on the negative press TF can receive on this topic. A huge part of the TF process is being mentored by colleagues… Many of these will not be TF Ambassadors. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without my great non-TF colleagues.

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