It really is all about the simple things. The longer I've been in teaching, the more I realise this. I thought I'd realised that 10 years ago; I thought I'd realised it 5 years ago. Last year I thought I'd realised it. Next year I'll realise it even more than I do today.
The thing you need to be able to do in your classroom is teach. Whether that's explaining, providing feedback, working with a group, modelling, reviewing, summarising, or whatever your definition of teaching includes, you need to be able to teach.
What you don't want to have to be doing is all that other stuff that goes on in classrooms that stops you from teaching, and, in turn, the children from learning.
If you know what you need to teach and how you are going to do it, then you need to free yourself up to do that. What you don't need are the endless interruptions that are nothing to do with teaching and learning:
"Sir, I haven't got a pencil."
"Please can I have a dictionary?"
"Can I go toilet?"
"Can I go toilet?"
"Please can I go toilet?"
"Please can I go...?"
"Please can I go toilet?"
"Please can I go TO THE toilet?"
"Ohhhhh… please can I go to the toilet?"
It might not be the things the children say. It could be the things they do:
Wandering around trying to find the equipment they need.
Sitting there without trying to find the equipment they need.
Not going to the toilet when they really need to and thus not concentrating on their work properly.
Faffling around when they think they've got a spare moment.
Arguing about the exact position of a shared text book.
You all know the type of things that really frustrate you as you attempt to teach.
But so many of these things are avoidable if you attend to the simple things first. In order to do this you might have to reassess what you believe to be a waste of your time.
Is it really a waste of three minutes of your time for you to go around each table in the morning to check there are 6 pencils and rulers in each pot? Especially if you are going to ask them to write in pencil and underline their dates and titles multiple times in the day?
Is it really a waste of your time to spend the same three minutes putting out the maths books at break so that the children are ready to work when they come back in?
Is it really a waste of your time to think about who is sitting where when you put the books out, and to make adjustments to the seating arrangements based on what you know of the class and the current relationships between children?
Is it really a waste of your time to write up a welcome message for the class which contains instructions about what they can be getting on with as they come in?
Is it really a waste of your time to prepare that resource that children can refer to during the lesson so that they don't need to constantly ask the same questions?
Is it really a waste of your time for you to design a routine for getting the books handed out in less than 10 seconds?
Is it really a waste of your time to plan for how you will add to your working wall during the lesson if it means that you don't have to then spend half an hour after school updating it on your own?
Is it really a waste of your time to arrange the equipment in your room so that children know where it is and can access it at all times?
Is it really a waste of your time to spend a few moments explaining to children that they can use the toilet whenever they need to (or that they must always only use the toilet during breaktimes)?
All of these examples require a little bit of extra work outside of class time, but it is exactly these simple things that, once a little bit of thought and effort has been expended on your part, will allow you to get on with the job once you and the children are in the classroom together.
Spend a bit of your time outside of class time sorting out these things and lessons will be such a dream that you will feel less like you need to collapse in the staffroom for 15 minutes in between lessons.
There are often very simple solutions to the issues that arise during class but they require a little forethought. Often, the problems you have in class are very hard to firefight at the time, but can be pre-empted and avoided with the development of a few simple routines. Sure, you might have to spend some class time initially explaining routines and practising them, but in the long run it'll be so worth it.
Next time you are frustrated by something that happens in class ask yourself: Does this problem have a simple solution? Could I pre-empt this happening again by spending a little bit of time in preparation? What can I put in place to avoid these distractions in the future?
If you can't at first find the simple solution, spend some more time mulling it over, or ask another teacher who may have already cracked that particular issue.
And the thing with simple things is that even children can do them. Perhaps it doesn't even have to be you who counts the pencils, puts the books out, arranges the equipment and so on - the children can do those things.
The really difficulty with being a teacher is that all the little simple things add up: remembering to do them all can be hard. Keep working intentionally at doing them and, just like the routines you drill with the children, you'll start to do more of them automatically. But in order to do that you need to value and embrace the power of the simple things to begin with, never belittling them or thinking you haven't got time for them. Often, ignoring the simple things can lead to complex problems.