Starting life as a PE teacher in a new school can be a daunting experience. The latter stages of the Summer will perhaps become less carefree as the nerves begin to build ahead of the start of the new academic year. Be sure to enjoy your summer holiday and resist the temptation to spend all of your time planning for lessons that may change when you meet your new students. What is important is that ahead of the chaos that is September as a PE teacher, you feel rested and ready to hit the ground running.
Late holiday back to work anxiety/nerves is often wasted energy, worrying about elements out of your control, laying in bed having wasteful thoughts such as ‘What if no one likes me?’, ‘What if i’m thrown in the deep end day one?’, these things won’t happen and as such, fantastical thoughts about nightmare lessons in the future and the like, are not helpful. Focus on elements within your control. Double check your route to school, re-read the curriculum overview, familiarise yourself with your timetable, consider any potential subject knowledge barriers (low effort research, browse social media, NGB websites, peruse PE Scholar at your leisure!) you may encounter and be proactive but, most of all, breathe, enjoy the remaining days of the Summer (likely to be rainy if reading from the UK) and look forward to the start of your journey as a PE teacher.
Firstly, set that alarm nice and early, start as you mean to go on. In fact, start 15 minutes earlier than you probably mean to go on. Double check with your Head of Department regarding dress code if your year begins with and inset or CPD day and if that dress code is casual, don’t interpret this as TOO casual.
Early on in the day, you will be bombarded with information, likely to be a mix of operational necessities and strategical aims. Both of these are vitally important to your success as a PE teacher in your new school. The strongest element of advice is to listen carefully and intently. Make notes of key information that you fear could be forgotten or is imperative that you implement as soon as those young people begin their new year.
The first morning will most likely involve a scene setting presentation from Senior Leaders. This will probably be one of your first opportunities to gauge the overall ethos of a school and its staff. Read the room, observe body language, once again, make notes if required and later that day, actively reflect on the key messages. How can you help the school work towards its vision? What are the basic expectations of staff? Also, begin to learn names. This will become a theme of this blog but take a moment to remember the names of key staff and their specific responsibilities within a school. This is crucial in building strong and productive relationships with colleagues but also enables you to work more efficiently early into your school career, not wasting valuable time asking five people before getting to the person you needed to support you with a particular issue.
On the first day, there is likely to be time with the department, a smaller, microcosmic version of the morning session is likely but with much more specific detail relating to Physical Education and School Sport. As before, be sure to listen, make notes and ask questions. Do not leave for home with any uncertainty. Be sure to ask your HoD or colleagues anything that is nagging away at you. Now is the time to eradicate those unknowns. We use teaching jargon all the time make sure you ask if you are unsure of any acronyms like SIMS. Make a note of any questions you have before Day 1. Finally, if it is your first day back in the building since your interview day, have a walk around the department and facilities. Familiarise yourself with the store cupboard, look how neat and tidy it all looks then compare it to the middle of September when it looks like the scene of a burglary!
Once again, get into good habits early and ensure you are in the building with plenty of time to spare. The importance into settling into routine cannot be underestimated. Routinely having time on a morning to mentally prepare for the day ahead can be invaluable.
All week, you will be making first impressions with hundreds of people. Children enjoying their first week at school the same as you, experiencing similar feelings of trepidation as you! Use this empathy for change to put them at ease with a positive demeanour, body language and approach to your school day. Make concerted efforts to learn names and remember details of your pupils, what sports do they enjoy, who do they support, show that you care and have that spring in your step. Inject energy into your teaching and aim to share your love of Physical Education with as many pupils as possible!
Furthermore, you will be making a first impression on colleagues within your department. The general theme as outlined above is highly recommended with colleagues too. Bring energy, front-foot, proactive and do not be afraid to use your initiative. Everyone in the department will have been in your shoes. In my experience, I have never worked with a PE teacher that has shown disapproval towards a new colleague that has tried something new or applied an element of initiative towards good intention. On this, remember you have joined a team. It can be sometimes be too easy to fall into a trap of focussing too heavily on yourself and your immediate to-do list. Even at this early stage, be that team-player, support others, offer to help colleagues and be aware how fondly simple gestures such as sticking the kettle on and offering to be that helping hand can be appreciated by the team.
This first week will be a whirlwind, it will seem frenetic and 100 miles an hour. But, remember the importance of reflective practice. Make time to consider what has gone well during lessons or possibly what didn’t quite go to plan. On this latter point, appreciate your career stage and the time you have had to build relationships with pupils. Avoid comparisons with experienced colleagues, teaching is a craft that you will refine over time. Take a footballer making their first team debut, they look from the experience and will be content with a few nice touches on the ball and working hard for the team, they won’t expect to be scoring a hat-trick on debut, they are on their career journey to stardom too, but this takes time!
It will be the third week in September and you will be thinking, ‘How on earth isn’t it half-term yet?!’ but you will have come a long way since day one. Hopefully, you are still following a life pattern that is allowing you to possess the energy and mental focus to teach effectively. The routine will bring a comfort through the time it provides you to prepare solid lessons along with time after the end of the school day to complete admin and also contribute to extra-curricular.
Extra-curricular involvement provides that further opportunity to build and consolidate positive relationships with pupils. In addition, you can showcase your passion and the care you can provide to your pupils. Get stuck in and enjoy the super-powers that a commitment to extra-curricular can give you as a PE teacher. Begin to explore that broader support network that allows school sport clubs to thrive. Research local sporting organisations, attend PE network meetings, get your face and name out there and begin to build supportive partnerships that fundamentally can improve the experiences of pupils.
Parents and carers also provide an invaluable extra-layer of support that you can utilise for extra-curricular activities and your PE lessons. Introduce yourself to parents at fixtures and clubs, build that trust that can be long-lasting and so impactful on pupil progress. Furthermore, by the end of the month, you will have taught several lessons with each of your classes. Set aside time to pick up the phone and provide early feedback on the progress of pupils within your lessons. The power of praise for some pupils that perhaps receive little or no praise from any other quarter can be immense. Equally, if you feel parents can benefit from hearing some home truths, constructive and motivated towards building engagement with PE, then take a breath, think before you dial and make that call.
As September comes to a close, your first impression will have been made and you will be in a crucial phase of consolidating your expectations of pupils. This isn’t the old adage ‘Don’t smile until Christmas’, it is a considered, consistent approach to your teaching through effective reflection. PE teaching can be rhythmic and is always more secure when pupils are aware of the high and consistent expectations of their teacher.
So, as you read this, late August, just breathe. As discussed, enjoy your holiday but even more importantly, enjoy your first half term as an ECT Physical Education teacher. It is the greatest profession in the world, Carpe Diem…