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Being a geography trainee teacher

“Teaching can feel like a burden at times, and working together with your colleagues will make it more manageable. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice; from NQTs through to veteran teachers, each of us has ideas and experience to contribute to provide the best possible educational opportunities for our pupils.”

McCahill, 2018

Topics on this page:

  • Some practical advice
  • Manage your time
  • Working with your tutor, mentor and others
  • Make the training work for you
  • Be part of the geography community
  • What should I read?

Your three years of training to be a geography teacher, both as a beginning teacher in initial training and as an early career teacher (ECT) undergoing induction, are likely to be a stressful, but at the same time an exhilarating experience. Every day will be different. There will be many rewarding moments; when you ignite a student’s passion for geography or see that ‘aha moment’ from when they finally understand something they have been struggling with.

Both university-led and school-led ITE routes into teaching provide very similar opportunities and have their pressures. You should make the very best use of all the opportunities you have to work with geography tutors, trainers, mentors and experienced teachers. Discuss with them different aspects of geography teaching, observe them teach and work with them in classrooms and in the field. It is good to watch different teachers and there is always something new you can learn from all of them. You should continue to do this throughout your career.

Initial teacher training will place a number of different demands on you. The training has both practical and theoretical elements. The DfE Frameworks that specify the content for initial training and induction set out what you need to know and also what you need to know how to do. You need to know about matters such as how students learn and the pedagogy of how to teach geography; this is outlined in Subject knowledge for geography teaching.

Your training will show you how to present geography to students in a way that will help them to make progress in their geographical learning and enable them to think as geographers. To do this you have to develop both practical skills and pedagogical knowledge. You must understand the theory and research that underpins teaching and learning and develop the skills to operationalise this knowledge in the geography classroom and in the field. You also need to know how to evaluate teaching and use this to inform your own professional practice.

You will be studying for a professional qualification at post-graduate level and will have to apply yourself seriously to acquire this. And, you will probably be working in a different context to previously where you have to attune to the values and behaviour required of a professional educator. There is a lot of ground for you to cover!

Some practical advice

Everyone will tell you that undertaking an initial training (and then being an early career teacher) are the hardest years of your life. But they will also be exciting and rewarding ones. Browsing on the internet you can find lots of practical advice for survival as a new teacher, but on these pages, we focus on supporting you to becoming a good geography teacher.

Some key tips are:

  • Brush up on geography subject knowledge before starting your training and take every opportunity you can to update and learn more.
  • Be organised from the start. It is very important to keep on top of planning, record keeping, and managing all the resources you will need for good geography teaching.
  • Establish good working relationships with your tutors, mentors, teaching colleagues and fellow trainees. You can learn a lot about practical teaching from all of them.
  • Share good practice with fellow geographers. You will learn most by discussing with others what went well (or not) and why. Take opportunities to meet other geographers, for example at GA conferences and branch meetings.
  • Read as much as you can about geography teaching. Although you will feel short of time, the more you read the more your classroom practice will improve. It will help you to think more deeply about how to teach geography effectively. This is what will make you a really good teacher.
  • Observe outstanding teaching in geography at every opportunity and talk to teachers about how you can incorporate what you observe into your lessons.
  • Set yourself specific short term goals and then set your sights higher as you achieve them. Don’t expect too much of yourself at first and always listen to good advice from teachers you respect.

Manage your time

When you train to be a geography teacher the number of things you need to accomplish in a short period of time can be overwhelming. Teaching is a very intense and demanding profession. Do not attempt to become an expert in everything at once.

Break down your goals into manageable targets and when you achieve these you will gain confidence and can move forward. Set yourself goals for improvement and focus on the things that will have the greatest impact. Make full use of discussions, observations and feedback from mentors to enhance your professional skills and development.

Build in time for yourself. Teaching is exhausting – physically, emotionally, mentally. You cannot switch off when you are in the classroom and you will be on your feet most of the day. Develop strategies to give yourself space and time when you can relax and recuperate or teaching will take a huge toll on your well-being.

At first, everyone finds school systems are complicated to get to grips with. You need to find out and understand how school systems operate. All schools and geography departments are different, and if you start a teaching post as an ECT in another school you will have to begin afresh.

Your mentor should support you to understand systems in the geography department and school and help you to manage your workload as a teacher. Seek guidance from them if you feel that you are spending too long on particular tasks.

  • Look at these Time management activities devised by mentors at University College London Institute of Education for trainee teachers.

All ITT training programmes should include some protected non-contact time and planned professional development opportunities. Sometimes new teachers feel that different people have different expectations of them, for example a class teacher compared to a mentor, or a mentor compared to a university tutor or head of faculty.

During initial training, you have to collect evidence to demonstrate you have securely met Teachers’ Standards; this can become all pervasive. If you have a problem with this or other issues, highlight these to your mentor so that they can be resolved.

Try not to succumb to the ‘survival’ mode mentality which is often highlighted in the press and media as typical for a trainee or new teacher. Expect challenges and accept that you will get things wrong, but embrace new experiences and be willing to learn new skills. Try to keep upbeat, have a sense of humour and savour all the memorable moments that make geography teaching the best job in the world!

  • Hamer, M. (2018) ‘Surviving and thriving – how to make the best use of your time’, Impact (Chartered College of Teaching), June.
  • Ovenden-Hope, T. (2018) ‘Teacher wellbeing and workload: Why a work–life balance is essential for the teaching profession’, Impact (Chartered College of Teaching), June.

Working with your tutor, mentor and others

If you are training in a university/training consortia, your geography tutor will be invaluable as an expert in pedagogical content knowledge for geography. They will be encouraging and supportive, while at the same time they will provide you with candid feedback. While this may be uncomfortable or difficult to hear at the time, you will undoubtedly look back in later years and be grateful for their honesty!   

In school, you will get support from, in particular, your geography mentor. All mentors are different and, as individuals, have their own approach to mentoring. This can reflect a number of factors, such as their personality, their experience, the time they have available and their understanding of their role.  

Rachel Lofthouse, who is now a Professor in Education, but was for many years a geography mentor and tutor for a PGCE course, points out that you also have an important role within the mentoring relationship. She urges you to ‘be proactive and engage productively as a mentee’.

Ideally you should develop a relationship with your mentor in which s/he is a critical friend. At first you will be very reliant on them for direction and support, but later on it should become a working partnership within which you make a significant contribution. As a geography graduate and an enthusiastic new teacher, you should have much to contribute to any geography department.

A mentor can have a massive influence on you and ideally your mentor will be a brilliant geography professional and an inspiring role model.  However, not all mentors are exceptional. Also, you might find that your mentor did not volunteer to take on the role. Do not take this personally, but try to get the best you can from the situation. Many new teachers have found that, given time, excellent bonds can form and they have learnt much from their mentor despite a shaky start.

You should be aware that despite the importance of the mentor role, many take it on for ‘goodwill’. They should have protected mentor time, but you cannot expect them to continually be meeting with you. Many will do this, and willingly support you in their free time, but you must recognise this is not your ‘right’. The weekly mentor meeting time, however, should be sacrosanct and should be well used for training and to review your progress.

You are entitled to mentoring throughout initial and induction training and if you do not receive adequate support you should let a senior person in the school know about it. Be aware, as Rachel Lofthouse says, that you too have responsibilities to play your part, to keep your mentor informed of any specific needs, to do the work asked of you and to let your mentor know of anything imposed by others that might affect mentoring, e.g. assignment deadlines. 

As well as your mentor, in-school support can come from the school ITE co-ordinator and experienced teacher colleagues and fellow new teachers. The most successful trainee teachers are those who seek advice from more experienced colleagues, take on board ideas and reflect upon them to improve their practice. Build strong relationships with colleagues within your school. Be proactive in using and maintaining networks with your fellow new teachers, which can be a useful geography community after your training and throughout your early years in teaching.

You will learn a good deal in your training from observing other teachers, see Observing experienced teachers

Do not forget that you have as much to give to give as to take from your mentor and your geography department. New teachers can bring fresh ideas and new perspectives; they can be experts in areas that more established teachers have yet to discover, particularly in relation to new technology and media. You are a part of the geography team, so take opportunities to create and innovate whenever they arise.

Make the training work for you

Initial training can be complex because of the demands of written assignments, lesson planning and evaluations, evidence portfolios, formal lesson observations etc. The trick is to learn to cope with all this. You need to make sure that all tasks are working to help you become a better teacher and that you are not just jumping through hoops that others have put in your way.

Use assignments to focus on analysis and improvement of your teaching, use planning and evaluation tools in a way that helps you to teach effective lessons and reflect on your students’ learning so that you build up your teaching repertoire and you can draw again on the experience. Collecting evidence for the Teachers’ Standards in ITE should aid, not hinder, your development. Listen to comments from those who observe you teach and ask their advice on how you can move forward or alternative approaches you can try.

Hold on to the positive elements of teaching. There will be lots of them. This is what a PGCE student has written:

‘Stand out moments include establishing positive relationships with pupils and getting to play an (albeit small) part in shaping their futures; connecting with colleagues and establishing great working relationships with mentors and the wider school; sharing resources, tips and classroom tales with PGCE classmates; getting great feedback after observations; planning and delivering lessons that you are really proud of; and, most importantly, gaining QTS and securing employment as a fully-fledged qualified teacher…’

Be open to participating in a range of training opportunities that are suggested by your mentor or tutor. Collaborative teaching is a good way to explore a new teaching strategy and is not only appropriate for the early training days. Allow video recordings to be made of some of your teaching so you can observe yourself in action and become aware of the good and bad habits you have adopted.

Be part of the geography community

As a new teacher, it is particularly important for you to meet other geography teachers to talk about professional practice, and to share ideas.

What should I read?