Surviving your first school placement.

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The title makes it sound as though going on a placement is a really horrific, stomach-churning experience. I suppose it could be. It depends on how you deal with new situations. I love placement but it is one of those things I get REALLY nervous about. Even when I returned to my last school a few months after being there for a whole week, I was so incredibly scared, despite knowing in my head that was ridiculous. It always works out OK in the end but I know that when I go on my final placement next year, I will feel exactly the same. How silly.

Lately, whilst trawling the Internet for new blogs to read, I’ve noticed some “how to survive your first year at Uni” ones popping up. I read through them realising that, actually, my first year wasn’t anything like that. I lived at home, therefore trying to figure out how the washing machine worked and eating off of 27p a week wasn’t really an issue (but second year was a different story…) However, I haven’t really seen any “how to survive your first placement” posts, which I think could be very useful to anyone who knows they will be on a placement in their first year, possibly even in a few weeks time. SO, I decided to compile a list of tips which could help those in this situation.This mainly applies to those on a teaching placement, but could possibly relate to others too.  Enjoy!

*I’m aware that I am in no way an expert on any of this, this is just some thoughts from my own experiences!*

Number One: BE PREPARED

The number one rule before approaching anything new, I feel. Look at the guidance you have been given already. Do you have everything you need? Take my advice and get your folders set-up before you go in. Even if they’re not exactly right (mine were dire first time round) your tutor will see you have already tried and they will appreciate that. Even little things like deciding what to wear and packing your lunch the night before can really make a difference to your state of mind when you wake up on the first morning. Get up. Get dressed. SO READY.

Number Two: BE APPROACHABLE RIGHT FROM THE START

Because, you know, first impressions and all that. From the minute you walk through the door (or before you’ve even got in the door, if they’re being sneaky) you set an impression of yourself. Now, this is not implying that you should act completely unlike yourself. Of course, be yourself as much as possible (odds are, as the placement goes on and you relax into it, you will become more yourself anyway, this is normal). But just remember to be polite, smile LOTS and engage in conversation (I know I sound like your Mum lecturing you before a family gathering, but it’s true!) It’s likely you will meet so many people on your first day so that first impression is really important. And yes, it’s OK that you go home and struggle to remember everyone’s names. It’ll happen.

And yes, you really MUST iron your outfit the night before too.

Number Three: GET STRAIGHT PAST THE AWKWARD STAGE AND SAY YES!

Walking into a classroom for the first time can be daunting. Children either just stare at you dumbfounded wondering who on earth you are, or giggle and nudge their friends. There may also be other members of staff such as Teaching Assistants who you are maybe meeting for the first time. My first morning of my first placement consisted of generally drifting between children and getting to know them, which can be a bit awkward at first, but just go for it! Children generally love to chat and will take great pride in explaining to you all about how straight the line they’ve just drawn under their title is. On the first morning of my second placement my teacher asked if I wanted to try a Maths warm-up game. My first thoughts were a mixture of “I DON’T KNOW ANY NAMES, I DON’T KNOW ABILITIES, I DON’T THINK I EVEN KNOW MATHS, FNOIVRWIBOIVDFKVBOI.” Then, I took a breath, and said yes, and it went absolutely fine. Sometimes, just saying yes can be the best thing. The teacher will think you are really proactive and keen and you get early experience teaching the class. Everyone’s a winner.

Number Four: UNDERSTAND RIGHT FROM THE START THAT IT WILL BE TOUGH

Placements are never going to be a breeze. You are learning the beginnings of a long-term career, something which could be argued no-one ever learns completely. Besides learning the formal, compulsory things that come along with teaching you also have to learn how to teach, developing your own teaching style. I won’t list everything that has to be learnt because it could go on forever and I don’t have a clue about some things. Just understand that there will be times where you will find it tough. The hardest thing for me out of everything is time management. You need to learn to balance all the tasks you have without going completely crazy. Be prepared that there may be times you think you want to quit, but remember that everyone goes there and generally, after a sleep (because sleep solves everything) you’ll be fine. If you are really struggling, talk to someone! People are there to help and have been through exactly what you have. They could help lighten your load and make things more manageable. After all, you are still training. You’re not going to be expected to know everything straight away.

Number Five: MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF

So this one is genuinely very hard. When there is so much stuff to do and you just want to do the very best you can, it can seem impossible to find a spare few minutes to just chill and do what you want to do. This is all about time management (which again, easier said than done). It depends what works for you. Some teachers I’ve known get all their marking done in school and don’t leave until it’s done, use weekends for planning and then have all their weekday evenings free. Others leave school at 4pm and do all their work at home. Some get in at 7am and do majority of their work then, so they only have a bit to do after school…there are lots of different ways to manage workload. I still don’t know which I prefer and on my first two placements I really struggled with this. On my last placement though, I did manage to finish working by 9pm most nights, which left a little bit of time to chill, plus I’d always try to keep one of my weekend days completely free, so it felt like I’d had a decent enough break. I haven’t cracked it yet, but I’m working on it. You have got to make time for yourself, else you will burn out.

Number Six: WORK HARD

Kind of seems obvious, but the age old saying rings true; the more you put in, the more you get out. My view with placement is, it’s, for example, just four weeks of your life at that moment. There maybe times where you wish you could meet your non-teacher friends that night for a drink, or go out mid-week to the SU, or watch just one episode of that new show on Netflix etc, etc…but if you just keep your head down for those four weeks and put your absolute all into it, then you will reap the rewards and your hard work will pay off. (I know that when once teaching becomes my career I can’t really have that attitude, but that’s the start of whole new phase of life, so my mindset will be different anyway). Put in hours and the effort and you will get amazing results and feel good about yourself. And definitely earn your next holiday!

And that’s about it! My main piece of advice would be to just enjoy it as best you can. It can be difficult at times but remember, you are TRAINING and people will understand that. You will make heaps of mistakes but you will also learn from them. Hope this has helped settle any pre-placement nerves in some way and let me know if you have any tips of your own! I still have one more placement to go and I definitely haven’t cracked it yet, so I’ll be reading back through my own list of advice to help me prepare and plan!

Kate 🙂

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11 thoughts on “Surviving your first school placement.

  1. I found this really interesting to read as I am sooo nervous for my first day at placement! Its where everything is put into practice, you begin to think whether you are ‘up for the job’ or not! Your advice on preparing yourself e.g. getting your folder ready and allowing enough time for yourself is really nice to hear. I will definitely be taking those tips on board when I start my placement!

    1. Thanks for commenting Ellie! Glad it was of some use although, as I said, I’m no expert. I’m still reading other blogs to gain some advice for my final placement next year! Good luck with yours 🙂

  2. Some very good and universal advice. Being a Danish exchange student in Plymouth I can use these advices in Denmark as well as England.

  3. Amazing advice! First placement coming up in the next couple of months so will be looking back at this whenever I feel nervous! A lways good to know your not the only one worrying! 🙂

  4. This was really interesting, I think I will re-read it before going on my first placement!! Very excited but also very nervous. Thanks for these useful tips 🙂

  5. Have my first placement coming up in November and it all seems very daunting at the moment! So making sure I have this saved ready to go back over when it comes to it, great advice!

    1. Thanks for commenting! Glad it found it useful! I always read other blogs to get advice about things like placement, find it so reassuring that other people are thinking like me! Also join Twitter if you haven’t already, it’s full of great advice 🙂

  6. Some great tips which I will definitely be taking on-board, ready for my first placement before Christmas! I am excited to get stuck in, but will no doubt be terrified on my first day! Thank you, good luck on your final placement!

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