Start as you mean to go on
You decided to do it, and now you’re a teacher. You’ve chosen a career where you have the privileged opportunity to change lives for the better. You’ll always remember the first time all the pieces of the puzzle slot into place and you deliver a lesson that proves to you and all those in the classroom that teaching is what you were meant to do. No doubt you’ve been told a number of times how brave you are, and you’ve surely heard “I wouldn’t do that if you paid me”, “It must be all those holidays”, “Aren’t you selling yourself short?”, and “Those that can’t, teach” – “those who know nothing resort to lazy clichés” is a good response to that one!
Be under no illusion: the path you are embarking on is one of the most rewarding and equally the toughest you could choose to follow. But for every moment you feel like giving up, there will be many more times when students genuinely thank you for the lesson, or achieve grades that surpass their, your and everyone’s expectations, or smile at you as they suddenly ‘get it’: hang onto those.
There is a wealth of advice and information for trainee and newly qualified teachers at this time of high excitement (and, no doubt, nerves). Here are the five golden nuggets I recommend to the fledglings I support.
1) Work / life balance is something all teachers want to get right. Set clear boundaries right at the beginning and stick to them. Some teachers like to leave quickly on a Friday and have a dedicated specific time at the weekend when they work, others like to stay late on a Friday and get everything done before they leave for the weekend: find what works for you. There will always be something else to do, so prioritise your tasks – and if you can’t fit the lowest priority ones into your designated working hours then leave them until the following day.
2) Now is the time to establish your behaviour and classroom management expectations. This will be hard work at first, but you and your classes will reap the rewards later. This may be the first opportunity for you to have freedom with own class, so think about the tone of your interactions with the students, the flow of the lessons, and the behavioural structures you use – try things out. Remember to praise, praise, praise – positive phone calls home go a long way. Students respond well to routines and boundaries that everyone knows about, but the key is consistency. Students always cite the teachers that are ‘firm but fair’ as their favourite classes. Successful classroom management is a marathon not a sprint.
3) Organisation now will saves you hours of time – and your sanity! – in the future. Save resources and documents in a logical and safe manner (preferably a cloud storage method – external drives, USB sticks will fail you in the end!). Always have to hand some pre-prepared activities for those lessons when technology lets you down. Make the most of your allocated training time: discuss how you are going to collate supporting evidence with your school-based mentor as early as possible this term.
4) Be proactive about your CPD. In this early stage of your career you have the opportunity to observe lots of other teachers, both within and outside your department, something you won’t get a chance to do again until you hit some level of management (and you’ll be nowhere near as welcome then!). Show initiative: find training from a reputable external provider that you would like to attend, that you feel will have a positive impact on your teaching, and ask if you can attend. If this time it’s “no”, keep looking and keep asking.
5) Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get to know as many staff as you can, including the office staff, premises team and cleaners: you never know when you’ll need to ask them to help you. Find the NQTs+1 in your school, they will be able to offer guidance and a wealth of information on how the process works in your setting (and you’ll be able to have a sneak peek at what their file looks like too!). Your external mentors are there too. Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues for ideas, resources, WWWs and EBIs. TES always seems to be the go-to place for resources, but many teachers are now sharing for free on Twitter: create an account and start following a few people. Don’t spend time re-inventing the wheel: as an inexperienced teacher, you’ll probably make a triangular one!
And above all: be gentle on yourself. Keep smiling. Remember, you’re at the very beginning of your new career.
Deputy Director (Science)
Atlas Teaching School