I'm often asked what tips I would give to anyone entering the FE and skills sector as a new teacher or trainer. I've put the following bullet points together based on my own experiences and those of my trainee teachers.
Some might not apply depending upon where the training takes place, e.g. in the workplace, in a classroom or in another environment; the age range of the learners; groups or individuals, or the subject being taught. It's rather a long list, but hopefully it will help existing teachers as well as anyone new to the sector. There are a few useful weblinks if you wish to find out more. If you are a teacher educator, you might like to discuss the list with your own trainee teachers.
• Keep things simple: don't try to achieve too much too soon, or expect your learners to. They don't know what you know and they need time to assimilate new skills and knowledge and to understand the how and why of this new learning. You will find you may need to keep repeating and recapping things, which might be frustrating at first, but will help learning take place.
• Be organised: always have a contingency plan in case anything goes wrong, for example if a piece of equipment stops working. Get to know the people who can help you when necessary, e.g. support staff.
• Give a professional impression to your learners whenever you are in contact with them. They will learn important aspects of how to behave and act from watching and listening to you. This is often referred to as the hidden curriculum, so lead by example. For instance, by arriving early, dressing appropriately, leaving the area tidy and not rushing away at the end. It's also good practice to check your spelling, grammar and punctuation of any visual presentations or handouts you issue. If you feel you need to improve your English (or maths), you can test yourself for free at: http://www.move-on.org.uk.
• If you feel nervous, your learners probably won't even notice. Try and act confidently and be self assured. Use eye contact and speak a litter louder than normal to command attention.
• Use an appropriate icebreaker to help your learners get to know each other at the start of a course. Lots of examples are available at: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_76.htm and http://humanresources.about.com/od/icebreakers.
• Agree ground rules or learning contracts from the first meeting with your learners. For example, arriving on time and not eating during sessions. Try not to impose them, but discuss them in a way that lets your learners decide upon them. This should help them to take ownership and also help with any potential behaviour problems, and lead to a respectful working environment. If a ground rule is broken, remind everyone of their existence and why they are important. Examples can be found at: http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/ground_rules.htm.
• Start your session by recapping the previous session (if applicable) and asking if any questions have arisen in the meantime. You can then state your aim and link to the learning outcomes or objectives of the current session.
• You could use a starter activity at the beginning of the session. This could be a quiz which your learners could carry out in small groups. It could be based on the topics covered in the last session or any homework or research you asked your learners to carry out. If a learner is late to the session for any reason, they only miss the starter activity, not any important aspects.
• Treat your learners as individuals and use their names whenever possible. Involve all your learners during discussions and activities, find out what they know already by discussing their experiences and how they relate to the subject. Learners can learn from each other as well as from you, particularly if you have learners of different age ranges and levels of experience within the same group.
• Ask your learners to take a learning preference questionnaire, the results can help you plan your sessions to ensure you are being inclusive, yet differentiate for their needs. A short online questionnaire is available at www.vark-learn.com. You might like to try it yourself beforehand.
• Use a variety of different teaching, learning and assessment activities to engage, inspire, motivate and enthuse your learners. Don't just stick to one style because you find it easy. The sessions are not about you, they are about the learning which is taking place.
• Have an extra activity ready in case you have spare time to fill, equally, have something you can remove from your session if you over run time. You can always give it as homework or carry it over to the next session.
• Try and incorporate technology into your sessions, and in-between your sessions. The FELTAG (2014) report contains some interesting recommendations and can be downloaded at http://feltag.org.uk.
• You should assess continually throughout your session, not just at the end. Always make an objective judgement and don't get personal. Your learners are not your friends, you should not become personally involved but retain a professional working relationship at all times.
• Ask open questions such as ..'How do you....?' This will achieve a knowledgeable response rather than asking a question beginning with 'Do you....?' which will usually only elicit a yes or a no answer. A learner may say 'yes' just because this is what they think you want to hear, but it won't tell you what has actually been learnt.
• When giving feedback, try and start with something positive so that you don't demoralise your learner. Even if they have haven't achieved something, you can still be constructive. For example, 'Well done for trying, however, you might like to think about doing it a different way next time.' You can then involve the other learners by discussing different ways of achieving the task.
• End your session by asking questions to check your learners' understanding, and allow time for your learners to ask you questions. Link to the learning outcomes or objectives and state what will be covered in the next session.
• Keep on top of your administration duties and keep your records up to date. If your learner loses their work you will need your records to prove what they have achieved. Your organisation should inform you what records you need to keep and how, i.e. manually or electronically. Your car boot is not a good place!
• Never be afraid to ask for advice from experienced colleagues. You could ask to sit in during one of their sessions to see how they manage the learning process.
• Don't be too hard on yourself, even if you make a mistake don't bluff your way out of it. Your learners might not notice, but if they do, you need to be honest to help retain their respect.
• Keep your own subject knowledge up to date, as well as that relating to developments in technology. You might not need to attend courses to do this, there are probably online articles you can read and often there are free online courses. The Education and Training Foundation have free professional development opportunities at: http://www.foundationonline.org.uk.
• Reflect after each session to think about what went well, what didn't and why. This will help you improve for the future.
Above all, be prepared, patient, positive and passionate about teaching your subject to others. Stay happy, stay focused and enjoy the experience. If you would like to view some short videos about teaching, learning and assessment, check out my YouTube channel.
The next article from Ann Gravells will be: Embedding English, maths and ICT during sessions.