Managing Your Workload During Your Training Year

If you have just started your teacher training, no matter the route, you may be feeling rather swamped with things to do! It is something that I really struggled with throughout the year and no matter what advice you will be given…you will struggle to balance everything. I don’t think it is something people ever master or get the hang of as even very experienced colleagues admit that they find it difficult.

I think I needed to think about this recently as well as I come to the end of my first week as an NQT and face the temptation to work over the weekend…which I’m channelling into this post instead.

1. You’ll never finish your to do list.

It is just going to be a fact. You’ll never finish off everything you want to. What you can do, however, is RAG rate the importance of the tasks you need to do so that you make sure you finish that lesson before you start cutting out display lettering.

2. Use your free periods wisely.

The benefit of your sparse timetable in the first term is that you can get lots of observations done across different year groups/subject areas but it also means that you can get lots of reading done for your assignments. Space out the work you’ll need to put in for your assignments during this first term especially because once your teaching ramps up…you’ll be glad you did it!

3. Remember to say no.

You should not be expected to be the errand girl/boy for the other teachers in your department. Of course, there may be times where you help a colleague out by grabbing their photocopying from reprographics. However, there is a line and you need to learn where you draw yours.

4. Think about how much time you spend planning lessons/activities.

Be smart about it. I once spent 2 hours planning a 20 minute connect activity. It was ridiculous. I tried to account for every minute of the lesson and micro-manage the pupils in anticipation. Well needless to say that some pupils turned up late, didn’t dance to the very specific beat of my specially designed drum, and well…the lesson was a bit pants. Not only did I spend an idiotic amount of time on the 20 minute connect activity but it didn’t do anything for the kids either so nobody won. Try to keep it all in perspective!

5. Get yourself a decent planner & write all of your deadlines in.

There is nothing worse than finding out you have a major essay due in a few days when you haven’t done any of the work and you’ve got a stack of books to mark as well as lessons to plan! Get yourself a decent planner, wall calendar or sit down and input it onto your phone calendar. It’ll save you a heart attack closer to the time.

6. Set aside some time that is all about you.

Keep yourself grounded and set some time aside that it all about you. I set aside Saturdays every week. Arguably, that isn’t nearly enough time but for me, that was good enough. I wouldn’t do any work and would make sure to catch up on some trashy TV whilst in my pyjamas binge eating sweets.

7. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel.

Some departments/schools are more open about sharing resources than others. Regardless of whether colleagues are happy to share, you can access loads of materials and resources online through Twitter (where most people share for free), bloggers, TES or Teachers Pay Teachers. These resources will save you a decent amount of time and if nothing else, give you lots of ideas!

8. Ask for help and support.

You should have a mentor in school as well as a tutor with your training provider…ask them for them! The chances are that they’ve supported other trainees through these issues and been through them themselves. Talk to your friends and your family. Don’t be scared to say if you’re ever struggling.


If there is anything else that anyone can think or would like to see on this list then let me know in the comments below or by tweeting me @MissSims4

Supporting Dyslexic Learners in Your Classroom & Building Independence

I must begin this with a disclaimer that I am not a dyslexia specialist but I do take an avid interest in supporting dyslexic learners across the curriculum. I had a fabulous mentor during my Schools Direct year who specialised in supporting SEND students, particularly those with memory issues. Before working in schools, she supported stroke survivors so had a plethora of experience and strategies on hand to support our learners. So, this post is both inspired by and in honour of everything Mrs Murray taught me.

“I’ve just looked at the context data for my classes and I’ve got a couple of dyslexic kids. I’ll just stick it on some yellow paper.”

I can’t express how much I would cringe as fellow trainee teachers would say this.

Not all dyslexic pupils are the same.

You can’t rely solely on the label of ‘dyslexic’ to tell you what works for that child and what doesn’t. You can’t just put their work on coloured paper and hope for the best.

So, what this post is aiming to do is offer some practical and manageable strategies to implement in the classroom. That isn’t to say that they wouldn’t need some level of adaptation but hopefully they are a starting point!

Secondly, the majority of these strategies rely on students taking the onus upon themselves to use them in the classroom. I feel very passionately about creating independent students and giving them transferable approaches which will allow them to access the wider curriculum.

Coloured Paper & Overlays

Okay. Regardless of what I just stated above…this can work for some pupils! I’ve spent some of the literacy budget on x2 new sets of reading rulers which have a variety of different colours. At the start of the term, you could have a lesson where pupils can test these out. Make it regular practice in your classroom for pupils to use reading rulers.


Model it for them! Secretly, I like using a reading ruler to follow as pupils are reading because it allows you to do the ‘teacher stare’ and easily pick your line back up. Bonus!

Word Art & Sketchbooks

This can work beautifully with some students who are potentially quite creative but struggle academically. Students create pictures from the words with a particular focus on the sounds or perhaps a silent letter.

For example, one pupil I worked with last year would confuse ‘which’ and ‘witch’ so they wrote the word ‘witch’ out and turned the ‘t’ into a broomstick with a cauldron underneath so they now remember which one is which (forgive the pun).

Word art for remembering homophones.

How is this going to work in a classroom situation? Give pupils a small sketchbook or allow them to write in the back of their exercise book freely utilise this strategies.

Creating Stories

I love this one and is one of my fondest memories from the entire Schools Direct year. One pupil I worked with last year would struggle to remember how to spell the word ‘beyond’ as they would often forget the ‘y’. So, they came up with a little story to help them…

They split the word into ‘bey’ and ‘ond’ and in the spirit of all things Queen Bey would remember it by saying ‘beyonce on the dance floor’.

Creating stories to remember spellings.

The more ridiculous, the better. I love this and can’t spell beyond without thinking of this pupil or their story.

Post-It Notes

Gosh – I’ve got such a love for post-it notes and if any of you are on Twitter, you will have seen the outpouring of love for Tiger’s big post-its which would be great for this.

One of the issues that dyslexic students may struggle with is the organisation of their thoughts/ideas. This could be especially useful for chunking ideas/getting bits of ideas down onto paper before re-organising them on the page until they are happy with the order.

Post it notes were used here to collect quotations which then fed into a cohesive analysis. The student used these to order her ideas before writing about them.

The post-it note strategy has worked wonders with my KS4 classes last year – particularly with the literature essays whereby pupils are tempted to write down everything they know rather than what the question is asking of them.

Recorded Writing

Now this is a fabulous strategy, if you have the resources available in school to use it. Pupils who are perhaps stronger orally than they would be writing could benefit from this.


Students can record themselves and once it has been saved, they can plug in their earphones and listen back to their writing and transcribe it; editing as they go.

Whiteboards or Gel Boards

Using these are a great way for pupils to try out a spelling before they put it down on paper – a low-pressure; low-risk strategy. Gel boards are similar to whiteboards but in my opinion, the gel boards are much better. They are more tactile, quite satisfying to write on and last much longer.

Gel boards work by using magnetic filings and a special stylus to create marks.

These boards can be quite expensive which is the main downside to using them. As a school, we buy them in wholesale and then use some of the literacy budget to subsidise the cost to parents when we re-sell them at a lower price.

Colour Coding & Highlighting

This can be a hit and miss strategy and normally one that takes a bit of ‘training’. If your pupils have their own copies of the GCSE texts, this is one that could work wonders when used correctly. I tend to use these highlighter strips as they are moveable and students can write over them.


They are fairly inexpensive and encourage independence in students which is one of the big things I focus on. Students can also transfer this over into other subjects when revising or reading long chunks of text.

Using highlighter sticky notes in a text.

Pupils could have a different colour for various characters or themes so that when it comes to revising, it feels more manageable instead of being faced by a huge block of text which could otherwise be intimidating.

Kinaesthetic Strategies

These are more suited to intervention time as opposed to in-classroom time as they are rather time consuming and messy. That isn’t to say that they can’t be used in class but they may not be the easiest to implement. There are a few so here we go:

  • Writing on the windows with board markers – allows students to feel unrestricted by the size of the page etc. Good for those with poor fine motor skills as well. This can also be applied to chalkboard walls/doors, if your school allows.


  • Spelling words using playdough (easy to home-make as well to save money) where students can use different colours to represent the grapheme-phoneme relationships or maybe a silent letter that they easily forget.


  • Letter/phonics pebbles these are really satisfying to touch as they are smooth and heavy – good for learners who are kinaesthetic. They have key phonics sounds as well as the regular alphabet. Can be used as a visual aid to help students remember key sounds in words they struggle with.


Memory Games

You can use these as a warm up in intervention sessions or set them as homework. They can often be a diagnostic test to check pupils’ strategies – whether they are aware of them or not. Here is one example from the BBC Scotland website.


In addition to all of this, try to use fonts that are dyslexia friendly. Those with even spacing and slightly rounded letters such as: Helvetica; Comic Sans; Arial; Chalkboard; and Veranda seem to work quite well.

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There are some that have been developed specifically for dyslexic students such as OpenDyslexic which is free to download as well as Lexie Readable.

So that is by no means a comprehensive list but I thought it may be helpful regardless, especially for trainee teachers & NQTs alike.

If you do use any of these strategies, please tweet me @MissSims4 or leave a comment below! I’d love to know how you got on.

So, you’re thinking of becoming a teacher…

Some of the first things you are likely to hear are: “you’re doing it for the holidays aren’t you?”; “you must be mad”; “you’re brave” or simply “why?”. In all likelihood, you won’t be congratulated or told that it will be a fantastic career by friends and family. However, I am here to tell you that teaching is a wonderful, unique and privileged career. That is not to say that it isn’t emotionally and physically draining.

If you do decide to do your teacher training you can expect: tears; exasperation; classroom-based nightmares; late nights; endless amounts of caffeine; large glasses of wine on a Friday night, and for your friends to ask “can you stop talking about school?”. Yet, I would argue that it worth every minute of the ‘bad’ because when a student in your class lets out an ‘oooh’ and says “I get it now”, it makes it so worthwhile.

Chances are you will be reading this as you look into the multitude of initial teacher education/training (ITE/ITT) courses available. I found this one of the most confusing parts of the entire process. The choices that are on offer are fabulous as they offer such a range of experiences. Nevertheless, it is overwhelming and baffling to try and wrap your head around it all. I’m hoping that this guide will give you some clarity.

I should clarify that I did a Schools Direct course through the University of Nottingham and therefore I am slightly biased as I thought it was a fantastic course. However, I hope that this guide is still useful to some of you!


The Basics.


Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). You should receive this (subject to passing the course, of course!) at the end of your training, no matter which route you take. This allows you to teach in schools once you are qualified.


PGCE Qualification

The Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is a qualification that you can gain through a few different routes. This is not to be confused with a PGCE course. For example, you could do a Schools Direct (SD) course and still gain a PGCE qualification.



Most courses will cost you. £9,000 to be precise. Yes, you can get a loan from student finance. Interestingly, it is one of the few postgraduate courses that they will approve. There are only a few routes into teaching that are salaried and even then they are extremely competitive. There are bursaries available from the Department for Education (click here to see current bursaries available) which are paid in 10 month instalments from the end of October – July which is something to keep in mind if you aren’t going to be working over the summer before you start. The chances of you being able to maintain a part-time job as well as doing your ITE is slim to none. I have a few friends that have managed a couple of hours in a bar here and there but nothing above that.

Personally, I took a student loan out of ~£5,000 and received a DfE bursary of £9,000 (I graduated with a 1st class honours in English). Whilst it isn’t the most amazing amount of money, I managed to get by relatively comfortably and pay my rent.


Different Routes.

PGCE Course – unsalaried

The PGCE course is a 1 year university-based course that will lead to a PGCE certificate. This course is predominantly university-based however, you would do at least two school placements. The length of these would vary from provider to provider. You will receive more support at the beginning of your course before being let loose on the pupils.

Most providers will offer a subject specific course group which means you will only be with other trainees doing your subject. This has both advantages & disadvantages. I found it valuable to be with other trainees across a range of subjects as we could swap ideas – I got lots of fab ideas from Drama, History, P.E and Maths about teaching English. However, it was really useful to have subject-specific sessions so I can see both the benefits & drawbacks of such a decision.


Schools Direct (SD) – unsalaried & salaried.

This is a type of course you can do that is school-based as opposed to university-based. This is the route that I took and feel quite passionately about. I would strongly recommend this route if you are a ‘get stuck in and learn as you go’ type of person.

The 1 year course provides you with support from the beginning. However, you will have more contact with your main placement school than you would with purely a university course. For example, the first week of the academic year, I was in school x4 days & university x1 day. This was the set up for the majority of weeks. You will have a university subject tutor who would come to observe you teach and check how you’re doing but you would also have a mentor within school who is usually a classroom teacher. You should have weekly mentor meetings with them to set targets, discuss your progress and talk through any issues that may arise.

There are salaried and unsalaried options on this route. The salaried option is only available to candidates who are undergoing a career change/have been working for more than 3 years e.g. if you are fresh out of university, you wouldn’t be eligible. Take a look at the finance section above to find out what support could be available for you.


Teach First

This is often the most publicised one within universities at any type of ‘employability’ event. Teach First is a charity that puts the top graduates (2:1 or above) in the most challenging schools with a view to bridge the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. It is also a two-year course which is different to other routes into teaching.

After the first year of the course, you will have QTS which means you will be qualified. They will pay for your training which is a relief to some and then they will give you a salary. The salary in your first year would be that of an unqualified teacher (£16,461 outside of London) before rising to that of a qualified teacher after a year.

Purely anecdotally, I have friends who have gone through this route and felt quite unsupported throughout the process; often being given a full-time teaching timetable after the first few weeks in September. This is not what training is for; you are not just a ‘cheap body’ to be used within a classroom or fill a space.


SCITT (School-Centred Initial Teacher Training)

A SCITT is usually ran by a school; academy chain; or a network of schools. Your training will be provided by classroom teachers and experienced colleagues from within their own school or the network/academy chain. The SCITT is usually one year and generally speaking will give you a PGCE.

A SCITT is quite similar to the Schools Direct course as you get stuck in from day one in September. You will have a school based mentor as well which means you will have support all the way through your training year.

As part of doing a SCITT, you will be in a school nearly all year so do your research! Make sure that you know what type of school you are going into. What is the area like? What reputation does the school have? If you can, go and visit the school for a day or two to get a feel for it!


Things to Remember.

  • You should never be asked to teach a full timetable from day one. You should build up your timetable over the course of the year. Remember that this is your time to learn and craft your teaching – not to be a body in a classroom to supervise students. It is not fair on you; it is not fair on the pupils.
  • Go and look at the school you will be training at (if you take a school-based programme you will know which school this is). Most schools will allow you to come in and observe for a couple of weeks in the summer to get a feel for the place.
  • Speak to current trainees! A great way to get an honest review on any course is to speak to those on it. Go along to open days/evenings and make conversation.
  • You will always hear horror stories about teacher training. You will always read newspaper articles that rubbish the profession. Just remember that these are exceptions rather than the rule.
  • If you aren’t sure whether you want to do primary or secondary, go and visit a school! I thought I wanted to be a primary school teacher but then I went into a primary…suffice to say that I knew secondary would definitely be for me instead.
  • Would you rather get stuck in and learn as you go? Go for a school-based route: Schools Direct; SCITT; Teach First. Would you rather have more support at the beginning? Go for a university-based route such as the PGCE.


I would love to hear your views on different courses! If you have any questions, please leave a comment or tweet me @MissSims4

Useful Websites

All information provided with the best intention – if you find anything that you believe is incorrect or inaccurate, please leave a comment below or tweet me @MissSims4



Thank you to Alan Dewar for the following information:

  • The course you call “Schools Direct” is called “School Direct”. The key difference between SCITT provision and SD provision is the PGCE, postgraduate element; unless they team up with universities they can award QTS but that’s all.
  • Another factual: the PGCE courses – all ITE courses, in fact – are predominantly school-based, and they all always have been.  You spent about 3/4 of your time in school on SD, 2/3 on PGCE – until now at least in UoN, where the time spent in school on each course is identical, but it is still the majority of the time.