There are many things that you can do to get the most from your primary school visit. Here are a few pointers
1. How do they behave?
Behaviour management will always be one of your priorities (particularly at the beginning) of your teaching career, so it’s wise to start looking at it immediately. What do the pupils do? What does the teacher do about it (or not do)? And what happens then?
2. What subjects do they do?
The primary curriculum is in many ways different from the secondary diet. Some topics are obviously prioritized; literacy and numeracy, for instance. But there will also be other subjects threaded into their day – art, history, religious education, PE. How often do these happen?
3. How are they taught?
This is a tricky one to answer when you’re new to the profession, but you should be able to spot some basic ideas. Are they working separately or in groups? What do they enjoy, and what works best – and when? Do the more able children work with the less able, or are they kept separate? Is there a teaching assistant for the weaker pupils?
4. How is the school organized?
Again, this is tricky to spot when you’re new, but see what the big picture is. Do teachers work closely with each other? Is the Head available to chat, or is he/she a legendary figure seen only on Full Moons?
5. Do you enjoy being there?
Your first observation is as much about observing you as it is about observing other people. What’s your feeling about teaching? Still keen after you’ve wiped a few noses? Reckon you’d rather teach them once they can swear properly? You’ve learned something. Furious that they aren’t learning the way you would teach them? Good: you’re passionate about method. It’s all about you at this stage.
As I’ve emphasized, this period is for your benefit, not the school’s; it’s designed to assist your commitment to the profession, as well as providing you with a quick guide to the ways in which people teach and the ways in which smaller people learn. Ask if you can have any information about anything the school is good at – dealing with multiple languages, for example, or pastoral care. Speak to as many people as possible; many of them will be partial, but the more opinions about teaching you are exposed to the better. You can start to absorb a spectrum of educational ideas, and accrue or discard them later.
Keep a diary or a notebook; record your thoughts as you go along. If you can, write your reflections the same evening, or at least discuss your experiences with someone who is prepared to listen more than talk, and who has an endless tolerance for relentlessly detailed minutiae about classrooms. If you’re not thinking about what’s happened, you’ll forget how it made you think and feel. So keep a diary.
For help with organising school visits check out the TDA's Open Schools Programme
This is an excerpt from Tom Bennett’s excellent book Not Quite a Teacher, published by Continuum. The book is a practical teacher training manual, interspersed with funny stories from Tom's own teacher training experiences.
For more advice, jobs and support for new teachers subscribe to The TES. View our best offer for new and trainee teachers now.Subscribe