Getting started as a specialist languages teacher can be a busy experience, especially when you don’t have a classroom. Here are some of our tried and tested tips for getting started.

-        Ask for an appointment, even just five minutes, with your school’s leadership or student support person. A quick run-down on students who might need extra support during lessons can help things run smoothly. 

- Get the low-down on the school’s behavior management plan and any school-wide strategies that are used (such as The Zones of Regulation). Remember that behavior is communication. Sometimes the most challenging students are daunted by learning something new with a different person and just need some support. 

- Often your specialist classes might be run alongside another specialist learning area, such as PE, Music, Art of Technology. Find that specialist team and work together! Planning transitions between specialist learning classes can make things run much smoother, for example swapping classes (e.g. 1/2 Red and 1/2 Blue need to swap at 10 am for PE and Japanese, it could be worth meeting the PE teacher at a central location to save transition time for both subjects). Behavior management strategies can also be something worked on together as a specialist team. 

- Working in someone else’s classroom can be frustrating. A good trolley or suitcase with wheels is a great way to move materials. Baskets and backpacks in the long term can damage shoulders and put you off balance. Make sure you don’t drag your arm too far behind when pulling the trolley along. This sounds obvious, but seriously ask how many specialist teachers have dodgy injuries from carrying stuff!

- Likewise, protect your voice. Specialist teachers are constantly using their vocals! Checking in with a speech pathologist about good habits can help prevent strain and nodules. Develop a bank of nonverbal strategies for getting student attention. 

- Mental health is also important. Most employers have access to an Employee Assistance Scheme. It is worthwhile to know it is there! 

-  Check those payslips carefully if you are working between schools or sectors. I once copped a very nasty tax bill when working across the government and independent sectors, as I had not ensured enough tax was being taken out at my independent school. 

-  It can be hard remembering hundreds of names and faces. Often the admin staff in your school will have handy tips for generating bulk attendance lists that can be printed. Your school or sector will have a system that teachers can use to print checklists with columns and headshots of student faces. Another specialist in the school might also know how to print these too. 

- If you don’t have a classroom for teaching, it can be helpful to chat with the person who coordinates timetables for lessons at your school/s. Giving them a gentle reminder that you are moving between rooms and having your timetable sorted geographically will help save time for everyone. 

-  You are a teacher offering a valuable learning area of the Australian Curriculum. Students should have access to books, pencils and the same learning materials as they would for any other learning area. If you are being told no, a polite conversation with leadership is needed! A good selling point could be that a book will help cut down on photocopying. Some teachers like to keep the language books in a special place together in a tub. This is handy if you want to quickly sneak past a classroom and do some marking. 

- In those first weeks it can be tempting to teach many different words, phrases and grammar points. For some year levels and contexts it is more appropriate to begin slowly. Create a sense of joy and foster curiosity with games, songs and artifacts. Some students will need encouragement to value language learning and how it is of benefit to them. 

- Don’t forget collegial support is out there! We are here to help at the MLTAT! 


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