Unknown Unknowns

Knowing What  You Don’t Know
It’s the end of your degree/PGCE/School Direct and you’re just beginning the summer holidays. Everyone you know connected to teaching: mentors/HoDs/deputy heads/lecturers/your mother’s best mate (Val), have told you to rest and relax before you begin a school year at your new school. This is sound advice for the most part. A tired teacher is not an effective one, however it’s important that you hit the ground running in September.

A state of uber-preparedness will not only allow you to make maximum impact with your pupils, but it will also enable you to establish yourself as a dynamic member of staff and a clear visual presence across the school. Utilising your time effectively over the summer will enable you to do this, however you will be faced with Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns” whatever key stage or subject you are teaching. Regardless of how much you prepare there will be some things that hit you out of the blue. You didn’t expect them, hell, you didn’t even expect to expect them.

What follows is a (definitely not) exhaustive list of  KS3-based top tips to help you manage both your first year of teaching and your first few months in your teacher training. KS4/5, extra curricular and general top tips to follow. All of this advice is based on what I learned during my NQT year, therefore it is highly contextual. Feel free to adap and shape as you see fit.


There is a significant amount of literature to absorb regarding KS3, so I will assume that you’re doing that already. Suffice to say that the government is anxious about pupil progression during KS3, therefore the recent “Wasted Years” report from Ofsted is a must read. If you are beginning a new post in September then the following things that I have learned during my NQT year may be of use.

Year Seven

These guys are in the same boat as you. They’re bang in the middle of a brand new environment, which may be a bit daunting. It’s highly likely that you are going to be teaching these folks for at least three years, therefore get your routines and behaviour expectations embedded early. It may sound odd, but you should really embed how you expect a lesson to start and how pupils should be set up ready to work. Be consistent and you will quickly reap the rewards.

Year Eight

They already have a one year head start on you and they initially know the school better than you do. As with year seven it is important to be consistent in your approach and be clear in how you want your classroom to operate. It is important to emphasise the value of year eight as a stepping stone in a pupil’s life. Too often pupils can see year eight as the unimportant year between an introductory year seven and an options heavy year nine. Consistently push the value of year 8 and those within this year group will quickly become ‘your’ pupils.

Year Nine

This year group may be your most challenging, but ultimately most rewarding, KS3 group of them all. You may be replacing a much loved teacher, or you may be being parachuted into a class that has never had a regular presence, but what is most important is that you are as consistent with this year group as you are with any other. Year nine may be instantly suspicious of you, you are a new face after all, and they may try to test the boundaries. In some circumstances they may even attempt to push your emerging knowledge of the school’s behaviour system. A good bit of advice here is to adopt a two-pronged approach with year nine. Be as consistent with this year group as you are with any other and do not adapt your standards or behaviour policy to suit them, however you should also work hard to get to know the individual components of this year group. Of course this is important for all year groups, but year nine can be a stressful and daunting time in a pupil’s life. Getting to know this group well, and being able to reference achievements, skills, and general pats on the backs that have been achieved outside your lessons can really aid your classroom management.

I hope these small croutons of advice help you in some way during your first year in teaching. Please feel free to leave a comment.


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