Friday, 31 August 2012

Freebie Friday

I'm pretty sure that everyone loves a good freebie but as an NQT who still has... 27 days until my first pay day, I like freebies even more! So here is a list of my top freebie sites that I use for teaching stuff.

1. Vistaprint
I've posted about Vistaprint in before (here's the link) showing all the things I've managed to get for free. I've had quite a few people ask me how I got all those things for free so thought I'd share that here.  If you sign up for Vistaprint you'll see that the only free product is usually the business cards and that's it but if you make sure that you sign up for the newsletter (you'd probably get them anyway) you'll soon get an email with lots of free offers in there for you. Of course nothing is really completely free, you still have to pay postage which increases based on what you're ordering but if you're not in a rush and choose the 21 day delivery, it's still pretty cheap.Sign up using this link and you'll get a few extra offers to start with.

2. Websites
My top ones are Twinkl, Teacher's Pet and TES.
I like to make my own things for my classroom - displays, resources, word mats etc. I've learnt, the hard way, that I can't waste my time reinventing the wheel so if there's something that I want or need and someone else has done it already, I might as well use them. I used to think that I had to do it all myself, I thought that it'd reflect badly on me if I didn't and now I've realised that we all do it because we need to and so if I use someone else's resource/display or tweak someone else's lesson plan to fit my class that it's fine, it doesn't look bad and it gives lets me spend that saved time on other more useful things that I can't magpie from someone else like marking and assessment.

3. Dropbox
I've mentioned it before but Dropbox is a fantastic site to use for backing up all school stuff (or anything really) and being able to access it anywhere. It's also great for sharing folders with other people. If you're a Year 2 NQT (or not an NQT and teach in Year 2 still) there's a Facebook group and we have a Dropbox set up that we can all share our resources and planning in. Think you'll have to email me your address for an invite but you can click the link above to sign up still.

4. Union membership
I think that joining a union is something that ever teacher should do, it's something that you can easily think well everything's fine at school, I don't need to be in a union but it's like pet insurance or AA cover, everything may well be fine right now but if suddenly things go wrong and you're not 'covered' it's going to be a lot more difficult for you. There are lots of unions to join and I don't hide the fact that I'm a member of ATL over the other unions and would openly recommend ATL over the others for a number of reasons. Personally I prefer ATL because they've been far more helpful to me than any of the others have, they have the ATL Future division which focuses purely on students and NQTs and students and NQTs are invited to attend conference each year as voting members, you can go to the others but I believe you can't have a vote. Basically with ATL I feel like I have a voice and all the support I need as a student and now an NQT. Also the reduced MA fees for Edge Hill were a big factor too! Not all are free during your NQT year, ATL are and I think NASUWT are but the NUT is still only £1. So whether you join ATL, the NUT or NASUWT that's up to you, just join at least one of them!

5. Publishing companies
Over the summer I emailed probably around ten different publishing companies explaining that I was an NQT with a classroom to decorate and asked whether they might be able to send me any posters and things like that for my classroom. I also explained my topic and said that any related to that would be great. Out of those ten or so, I had three email back asking for my address and they sent me some lovely posters that I'll put up in my classroom. A few are related to my topic but others are books that the children would love and it'll hopefully get them interested in reading them.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Therapeutic Thursday

So today's blog post is all about what ways I unwind, relax and generally survive such a busy job and life generally. These are the things that keep me going, that calm me down after a stressful day.

1. The boy
As cheesy as it's going to sound, my boyfriend is probably top of the list. A simple hug from him and all the stress melts away, I can just forget about it all. Shame he's usually 100 miles away though! =(

2. Bubbles and candles
Unfortunately my bath isn't nearly as nice as this one but a good bubble bath with candles is just what the doctor ordered after a difficult day. I don't know about anyone else but I find that I settle down in the bath and have a definite 'ahhh' moment and start to relax. Thankfully my bath isn't 100 miles away!

3. Bed and a film
At the end of a hard day, I do like to put everything to bed by going to bed myself and watching a film or a series (Suits is the one of the moment!) and just forgetting about it all. My problem is that I struggle to switch my brain off so a film occupies my brain which helps.

4. Simba
If you have a cat, I think you'll know just what I mean and I don't need to say any more.

5. Music
Music has the power to put me into any kind of mood. It can hype me up and calm me down so I have a special de-stress playlist on my iPod full of chilled songs that help me to just chill.

6. Going for a drive
This is something I've got from my Dad I think. I have so many memories from when I was a child of going for drives with my dad. Sometimes to chill out if something had annoyed him, sometimes for no reason at all. I can remember many times when I wouldn't be able to sleep or when my asthma would be bad and I'd get in the back of the car with my duvet and drive around with my Dad, usually until I fell asleep. This is still something I do today (minus the falling asleep and duvet bit), if it's been a tough day sometime's I'll go for a drive with no specific destination in mind, making a decision about which way to go whenever I get to a turn. It helps me clear my head if I've been stressed out about something or gives me space to think through things if that's what I need to do.

So there's my six main things that help me to relax and get over a stressful day.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Getting their attention

I've been thinking about the best way to get children's attention in class. I've tried lots of different things before, guess it's just a case of finding what works for this class but I don't want to do clapping anymore, I don't like it really. So I posed the question to Facebook and Twitter and here are some of the responses.

  • I sing 'are you listening' or 'are we ready' and hopefully they reply 'yes we are'
  • Whistle
  • Count down from 5
  • Rainmaker
  • Bells - shake them and get children to put their hands in the air
  • I clap 3 times, they copy and put their hands on their head so I know they're listening. Points to the first 3
Here's a picture from Pinterest too:

Quite like the idea but not sure I want to use my voice to stop them, especially during group work! Maybe clapping is the best way to stop them AND save my voice! Maybe if they class got used to the clapping from the start and I make sure they do something like put their hands on their head it'll work better.

Still looking for ideas, any more suggestions?

Where I Teach Wednesday

So today's post is all about where I teach. I'm not going to name my specific school but I'll give a bit of a feel for whereabouts I am and then show you some of my finally finished classroom!

Originally I'd wanted to find a job away from home and move. I applied for quite a few and ended up focusing on near home and Manchester, after a couple of interviews in Manchester and a few near home, I ended up getting the job 20 minutes away from home. I had another interview for Manchester a couple of days later so ummed and ahhed about what to do but decided to go with the offer and now I can definitely see that I've made the right choice. The LA I'm working for are apparently a fantastic borough to work for, particularly for NQTs though they've not processed my start or tax paperwork yet!

The school seems like a great school but then again, how much do you really know until it's too late and you're in there? The head and my mentor have been fantastic so far, they've given me a lot of help and advice, answering about a million questions! I'm quite lucky in that I have a fair amount of freedom to do what I want in my classroom and teaching really, within reason!

Now the Ofsted type stuff that none of you probably really care about! It's a slightly larger than average school with around 300 children. It's in a slightly better position than most in that there are lower than average numbers of children with Free School Meals or on the SEN register. It'll be interesting to see the difference between a school with low FSM numbers and my middle placement that had very high numbers of children with FSM. They work to a creative curriculum, which is fantastic. Took a bit of getting used to at first but I love it! Really excited to start teaching my 'Turrets and Tiaras' topic next week.

Here's a few photos of the classroom that'll be my home for the next term (at least) though it's still a work in progress, mostly finished but it'll still need a bit of tweaking!

My desk area - can anyone tell I'm a bit OCD about organisation?!

Challenge Area

Maths display

Again... slightly OCD about organisation! Cupboards were a mess when I got in there so happy with it all like this now.

Sticker charts

Reward treasure chest

It's tidier now but here's the little side part of my room

Didn't take a picture of the whole class but I'm sure that gives you a good idea of what it's like. Can't wait to teach in it now!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Tech Tip Tuesday

Here's my technology tip for Tuesday's blog post.

If I thought you'd be able to afford them, I'd definitely recommend ActivExpression devices for the Promethean board but they're rather expensive for a teacher's salary!

So here's something a bit more affordable and something that I REALLY want (will get on pay day!) - a wireless presenter.

I don't know about anyone else but I like to move around quite a bit when I'm at the front of the class so I really struggle when I'm using powerpoint but not actually needing to do anything on the board (if that makes sense) because I'm talking and moving around and then have to go back to the PC/IWB to move on to the next slide.

I did some volunteering in one school where they had wireless presenters for each classroom. You can walk around and change the slide from wherever you are in the room, problem solved!

I'm planning on getting the Kensington Si600 from Amazon, it's only £21.59, which isn't too bad I don't think. It'll mean I can do my wandering, keeping children's attention a bit better I think and allowing me to really keep an eye on them all.

So there's my technology tip, anyone have any others to share?

Quick update, just bought one on ebay (different make) for around £6 including postage!

Must Have Monday (on a Tuesday!)

I'm a week late but I thought I'd do some posts related to Blog Hoppin's teacher week last week and share my must haves.

So, here are my must haves. First off..

Anadin Extra: No-one wants to teach on a Friday afternoon (or any time for that matter) with a headache so you need to always keep some of these bad boys handy! 

Wine: Always need a bottle in the fridge for after one of 'those days'!

Now for the serious stuff!

Dropbox: I don't know what I'd do with Dropbox, I really don't! It lets me back up all my school stuff and you put everything on to your Dropbox and you can access it anywhere. It's saved my life many a time when I realise I've left something on my computer at home!

Pinterest: I've had a Pinterest account for a while but in the last month or two I've really grown to appreciate it. I've found so many amazing ideas on there that I've taken and used or adapted for my classroom. Here are my boards.

And finally... Organisation: I'll admit, I'm a little bit of a freak when it comes to organisation. Things need to be in order, I need to know where things are, pencils have to be sharp! I may be a bit OCD about it but it makes things so much easier!

So there's my must haves, well most of them!

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Classroom storage

Thought I'd share something I bought from Ikea and had put up in my classroom...

I bought the rail for something like £1.69 and the pots were 59p each. Perfect for my brain break sticks, name sticks, whiteboard pens and wipers etc. Prices seem to have gone up a bit but still a nice, cheap easy storage solution.

Finally, a break through!

I don't know how anyone else has found it but I've really struggled with my planning. I've had so many days where I've started out thinking 'Right, today is going to be a productive day, I'm going to smash through the planning' and then I've sat there at my laptop staring at a blank screen and getting absolutely nowhere. I've spent the past 5 or 6 weeks stuck at an invisible brick wall unable to really move forward with any of the planning. Today I've finally managed to knock the wall down. My RE is now planned until Christmas, I've got PE planned for the half term and the first week (almost two!) of Maths done. I've put together a MTP with the lesson focus for most lessons for Geography, History, Art and Design lessons. That was the bit I struggled with the most, just working out what on earth I was going to do. Finally starting to feel like maybe I can do this after all, maybe I'm not as rubbish as I thought I was! The real test will be actually teaching it though...

Friday, 24 August 2012

About to start your PGCE? Here's my two pennies

I know a few people about to start their PGCE and I thought that I'd put together my top tips for getting through the year, lots of these are things that looking back now I realise that I should have done. Here they are:

  • Don't worry, the PGCE is hard, it takes commitment and dedication but you beat so many people to just get a place on your course, which means that your interviewers saw something in you, they believe that you can do it, you just need to believe that too.
  • Bit late for this one now but make the most of your summer - don't worry about reading every possible paper, magazine, article, website etc. Make the most of your friends, your family and having a life. You'll still get to have one during the course but not quite so much all the time! Enjoy it while you can.
  • Everything you talk about at uni has a purpose, take it all on board.
  • Have a bad day/lesson/observation? You know what, it happens to the best of us, don't beat yourself up, take onboard everything that you've been told, improve on it next time. I promise that if you do that, you'll get better and you'll smash that next one.
  • Be organised, don't put things off when they need doing, they're often easier to do sooner rather than later.
  • Make the most of your time, that way you don't need to stay up until all hours of the night burning yourself into the ground.
  • Don't give up your life, not only is it really important to keep you sane but you don't need to! I started a new relationship half way through my PGCE, spent most weekends with him not doing work and I did just fine - just remember the previous two points!
  • Take copies of every piece of planning, every resource etc. that you can from your placement schools, you never know when it'll come in handy. I did this and it's already been great, my school knew, in fact they encouraged it.
  • You don't have to waste time reinventing the wheel, if someone else has already done something, use it! Just make sure that you adapt it to fit your class.
  • Make the most of your TA, they're there to help you, just don't take advantage of them and make sure you appreciate them.
  • If you need help, ask for it. You're learning, you're allowed to not know all the answers!
  • Don't spend hours making powerpoints/IWB slides, keep it simple, they don't matter that much and you have better uses for your time.
  • No matter how you feel, walk into that classroom like everything is alright in the world and soon, those kids will have you feeling like it is - hopefully!
  • When teaching, don't use 100 words when 10 will do, keep it simple!
  • When it comes to behaviour, despite what they say you can smile before Christmas but be firm from the start, it's a hell of a lot harder to go back, believe me, I know that from practice.
  • Don't assume that children know something you haven't taught them before, you know what they say about when you assume...
  • Follow your gut, if something isn't working, scrap it.
  • Go with the flow, if the children are taking the lesson in a different direction that still has them learning something, go with it.
  • Most of all, be yourself. Don't try and be the mini me of the class teacher, what works for him/her won't necessarily work for you because you're not them. As Judy Garland said - Be a first rate version of your, not a second rate version of someone else.
So they're my top tips, if I think of anything more, I'll add them alter.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Getting the buggers to behave

If there was anything that I particularly struggled with during my PGCE, it was managing behaviour. When I taught in Thailand it was fine, I knew how to manage the children's behaviour but they were my kids, my class, it went how I said. I think I struggled during my PGCE because I was going into someone else's classroom and was trying to take on their way of doing behaviour and they just weren't me. Once I stopped trying to be the same as someone else and started being me, it went a lot better.

I used Class Dojo during my last placement and it worked really well - I'd definitely recommend it! The top two children who had the most points at the end of the week got something from my goodie box and then everyone who had over a certain number of points (I think I said 10) got to have 10 minutes on the activity trail with the school mentor who ran it. I thought about using it again with my new class but it just wouldn't work as well as I couldn't have a whole class reward like the activity trail but also, that rarely ended up happening and it was always the same few children who ended up at the top so I think it demotivated some of those in the middle who were generally good but wouldn't be at the top. So I've racked my brain to try and come up with a new idea, here's what I've come up with.

This is my 'zone board' which is like something I used on placement that the school already had in place. We forgot to use it most of the time because the teacher didn't really use it but when we did, it worked quite well. The children hated moving themselves down and you would see them improve after. On the other hand, children who moved up were really proud of that. Just because someone moves down, they don't have to stay down, they can work their way back up again. Each child has one of the little cards with their name on that they have to move up and down the board.

If they finish the day in gold, they get to take one of these business cards that I got from Vistaprint home that tells their parents that they had a good day, Vistaprint always offer these business cards for free, you just have to pay for postage. I haven't quite decided what will happen if they end in red, on placement they used to lose 5 minutes of golden time but we don't have golden time. I may say that it means a quick word with mum or dad after school, any other suggestions?

Then each child has one of these sticker charts to match our theme of Turrets and Tiaras - thanks Chris for making them for me! They'll get a sticker for anything behaviour or work wise that I feel warrants a sticker. One way to get stickers is that at the end of each day, the first table to be tidied up and sat down ready in their seats will get to have a sticker each. Once they fill all 10 windows of the castle, they get to choose something from this...

I've filled the treasure chest with lots of cheap goodies from pound shops and good old Wilkinsons. They had loads of things in their bargain corner a few weeks ago so I've filled the chest for no more than about £5, bargain! Will make it look a bit more pretty with beads and fabric at some point, possibly.

I thought about table points using marbles but I don't want those who are misbehaving to get things because there are others on their table who are good, in the same way that I don't want those who have been great to be held back by those who have misbehaved. I thought about doing Class Dojo and having a set a of things that children could 'spend' their points on but it was becoming too complicated. Hopefully what I've come up with will be a good compromise and work well, I think the children will like the rewards and this way each child gets to have a reward exactly when they deserve it.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The worried mind of an NQT

This past year during my PGCE has been full of highs and lows. I've loved it, I've hated it. I've been outstanding, I've been unsatisfactory (only once thank goodness!). I've laughed, I've cried, I've wanted to give up and I've found the motivation to keep going. I've worked with fantastic teachers, I've worked with some not so fantastic teachers. I've learned a bit more about me, about my style, my way of teaching. I've become more confident in myself and my ability. I've learned what APP, AFL, AfL, CPD, PDP, CEP and what feels like a million other acronyms!

I can't believe that this time last year I was preparing myself to begin my PGCE, full of many of the same nerves and excitement that I have today. The year has flown by in a flash, I feel like I blinked and it was gone. There are some amazing memories that I've got from the past year, some children (and teachers) who I'll never forget and some moments that will be ingrained on my memory for ever but most of it? I can't really remember, it went too quickly, it's all a bit of a blur.

There have been some uni sessions where I've learned so much and others where, well, I might as well have stayed in bed. At least I understand the jargon that comes with teaching now though! It must have all done something though because I feel far more prepared to teach than I did this time last year... but am I REALLY ready?

That's what I keep asking myself at the moment. Not just daily, hourly! A PGCE is one thing, but my NQT year? That's something else! That's my very own class. My very own class to screw up. It's me being accountable to myself, not another class teacher, I am the class teacher. There are some things that absolutely terrify me if I'm honest. The responsibility of having my own class is something that's weighing heavily on my shoulders, I feel like there's so much to mess up, so much to get wrong. All that planning to do, no-one to say plan this. The daily APP for 30 children rather than the occasional APP for 6. The pressure to get it 'right', to please people, to fit in and most of all - to pass my induction year. All the preparing in the world won't help if I'm just not cut out for it. I think I am, I hope to god I am, I just still worry if I really am!

On the other hand, there are some things that I'm really looking forward to this year. I'm looking forward to finally having my own class and my own classroom, being able to do things my way rather than trying to fit the mould of the other teacher. It's my classroom, my displays, my behaviour system, my table lay out. Finally, I'm a real life teacher, not a pretend one in someone else's room with their class! It's going to be amazing to get to really know the children and see them develop over time in a way that you just don't get to during placements. What am I looking forward to most of all? Christmas! Finally, my first Christmas in a school. I'll admit, I get far more excited about Christmas than most, I've already got Christmas activities planned out in my head and even Christmas RE things planned on paper!

I'm stepping out of a rollercoaster year into what is bound to be a year with even more highs and lows, I might struggle but I'm sure as hell going to give it my best shot.

Friday, 17 August 2012


I have just four words for you all...

I hate maths planning.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Sorting out my classroom

When I went into school on the first day of the holidays I was so excited to finally be in what was now my classroom and get things how I wanted. Boy did I did that enthusiasm drain away when I got in there! Here is what I found....

When I saw the state of the room I was, to be honest, ever so slightly horrified. I thought how could it be left like this for me to sort out? I did what I could that day and went in the next day to find that all my chairs had been washed but there was even more on the floor! Again, I did what I could but couldn't face it so thought I'd leave the cleaners to it that week and when I went back in the next week it was a lot better, thank god!

I've done what I can with the room so far, I've covered my display boards and put up my obligatory VCOP display...

The plan is that the children will be 'writing detectives' and will have to search their work (and others during peer assessment) to decide if they've done the best job they could and where they could improve. The bit in the middle is our boring word jail, we'll add in boring words as the weeks go on. Those are stuck there forever and can't be used in writing. All the other words are on velcro so they can come down for the children to use. There are blank kapows and clouds for the children to add in their own suggestions.

And a birthday display...

Yes I know, bit of a cop out but it helps fill one of my million or so boards... ok there's 8 but still, that's a lot! This will probably get replaced with their work at some point but until then, it'll help me to not forget anyone's birthday!

I've got some work from the transition morning that I might put up on a board as well for when the children come back so that they've got something of their own on the wall.

Here are a few other photos of my classroom.

 Ah beloved Ikea! Those magazine files are one for each day, my planning, photocopying etc. will all go in that and those coloured boxes were from Ikea too, absolute bargain! Helped me organise the masses of staples, paperclips, pins etc. that were in my drawer.

 Cutlery trays also from Ikea to organise coloured pencils into. I've decided not to put them on the individual tables as they just end up a mess so going to trial this system instead. The children would just end up going around each table looking for a specific colour, distracting everyone so thought this could solve that. We'll have to see how it goes.

I'm sure every teacher has their weird bug bear that they just can't shake off... mine's sharp pencils. I didn't realise how obvious I was about it until my placement teacher wrote in my leaving card that I'd be a great teacher and that she was sure that soon I'd have my own classroom with very sharp pencils! I don't know why but blunt pencils just annoy me, especially as the children then faff about sharpening them when they should be working. So there'll always be a pot of sharp pencils and my daily PA will have the job of sharpening pencils, which they'll love as I have an electric pencil sharpener.

Table storage was a tricky one but again, Ikea had all the answers! The plastic tubs were only £1 each and are the perfect size for storing the whiteboards. The metal contains are actually plant pots and are great for stationary, I've actually cut out cardboard dividers to separate the pencils, whiteboard pens and scissors now and they work really well.

Drawer labels - these took FOREVER! I stupidly designed them myself as I didn't like anything else I could find that would fit my strangely sized drawers. I like them though.

So, that's my classroom, or as much as I've sorted so far anyway. I'm still struggling with the layout of the tables because of the shape of my room - it's an L shape with a long thin upper bit. The only way I can see to do it is to have grouped tables but even then some are quite far from the board. Any suggestions? Let me know!

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


In the past couple of months I've become a HUGE fan of Pinterest (here's my board), probably takes up as much of my time as Facebook does lately! It's amazing though, I've got so many great ideas from it. One of my favourite ones at the moment is this one below. I'm thinking about doing something similar with my Year 2 class when we start in September, not sure if it would work quite so well? Do 6-7 year olds have any ideas about what they want to be when they're older?! I wouldn't expect many 16 year olds to know for definite what they want to do with their lives let alone 6 year olds but at least older kids would have a general idea, my Year 2's might just all say pop star or something! We'll give it a go though, see what happens.

Vistaprint goodies

Been busy ordering some freebies from Vistaprint for my new classroom, thought I'd post them here. They were all free, just paid postage.

Tote Bags
Perfect size for carrying the children's books etc.


Car Magnet

Postcards and Note Cards

Postcards to send notes home to parents etc.

Note cards to use for parent helpers etc.

Front                                                Reverse

Banner to put up whenever it's someone's birthday

Address labels for books etc.


Business cards to use with my behaviour chart