How to survive your first year in teaching
I love the quips associated with teaching. Yes, as teachers we do get lots of holiday, but no, we don’t just go home at 3 o’clock, or swan off to the pub at lunch. The hectic life of a teacher comes as a result of cramming a lot into what is a relatively short year. Reports, syllabus changes, marking deadlines, writing references, preparing pupils for exams, wellbeing, oh, and teaching a heap of classes each day can take its toll.
The job impacts on every teacher differently and can often come down to your experience, your school, and the subjects you teach. With a Primary PGCE and a degree in Human Geography and Planning it is quite fitting that I currently teach geography (Head of Department), science, PSHE and games. This is important because what works for me would be an absolute nightmare for others. I have been fortunate to enjoy a healthy balance between being in the classroom and working outdoors with sports teams.
As a result, my marking workload is half that of an English teacher. However, the thought of returning home from a sports fixture at 7pm can also be a nightmare for some. I see the positives: whilst I’m giving up more time outside, I am also not taking marking home. Alternatively, family circumstances play a big role in how teachers manage their days, and as much as many would love to get everything finished at school, it is not always possible.
When you first start teaching, like any job, you are bombarded with tons of information and the only way to deal with this is to have a notepad at hand. Here are some life-saving pointers I have learnt along the way.
My first bit of advice is prepare. It seems obvious, but it’s the key to making your day, week, and year run smoothly. However, don’t overthink this, especially when lesson planning. I remember early in my career spending hours deciding about how best to teach my lessons. There are not enough hours in the day to spend four hours on one lesson, especially when this is such a small fraction of your day. You’ll run yourself into the ground. My advice is be decisive.
Before the year starts, familiarise yourself with where you need to be, and any extra duties you may have. Most importantly, make your own personalised marking timetable. If there is one thing that may force me to quit teaching, it would be the ‘M’ word. It’s time consuming and often boring. I would highly recommend that you stick to your allocated marking slots to ensure you stay on top of it at all times.
Get in early and set up what you need. Have the documents on your computer open, resources ready to go. Already you are ahead of the game and can save faffing about whilst the children enter the classroom
If you have a teaching assistant, make the most of them. They are there to help you. Plan their day and leave any instructions for them. As an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) I found this particularly difficult, but I soon appreciated the value of their support. It will cut your workload, and pupils will benefit as a result.
Some teachers are precious about their resources; however, I‘ve been fortunate to work in schools where they are not. Collaboration is key, so try to share as much as possible. It will only make your life easier and the pupils will get access to the best resources available. As an NQT, to come into an environment like this was something I truly appreciated and it allowed me to concentrate on my teaching.
You spend just as much time in work as you do at home, and your colleagues become a big part of your life, so get to know them. A happy, fun and caring staffroom makes all the difference. As a mentor, my first words to NQTs are, “spend time in the staffroom”. The better the rapport you have with your colleagues, the more they look out for you. It also gives you an appreciation of what everyone does. You will come to understand that everyone is snowed under and you’re not the only one finding things overwhelming. With this is mind, if you feel yourself going under, tell someone.
It’s very simple to stick to what you know, but taking the time to watch others teach is a must. You soon gain an understanding of pupils you may teach and how they respond differently in another setting. In addition, you pick up a range of teaching styles and activities that you may want to adopt. Each class is different and using a range of teaching techniques is an important part of the pupils’ progress. It is okay to try something new and for it not work out, but be reflective and adapt accordingly.
It is vital to know who the most important people in the school are: secretaries, caretaker and cleaners. If you get them on your side early, it’ll change your life. I cannot stress this enough. I’m forever asking for favours from these people. It allows me to focus on my teaching without worrying about DIY (which I’m useless at), forgetting to give out important messages or the mess that is sometimes left at the end of the day.
On top of all of these things, you can not forget the most important part of being a teacher… the pupils. Set your expectations out early and be consistent with your behaviour management. Pause, slow down and wait for the children’s full attention before you speak. It sounds simple, but it really does work. It is better to be firm from the start, rather than trying to be all ‘pally’ and having to start all over again when a child misbehaves.
Subsequently, be professional, set an example and be punctual. Pupils feed off habits and the standards you set are essential to their education. We have recently included D.E.A.R Days (Drop Everything and Read) where at the beginning or end of each lesson, everyone including the teacher gets out their book and reads. This settles the class similarly to ‘mindfulness’ and the pupils become inquisitive about you and talk more about reading.
Pupils love to know you care, so giving up a few seconds to ask someone how they are, goes a long way.
“I’m excited to see you play” are words you will often hear me say in my role as a sports coach and although they’re only words, they can be very powerful.
Challenge pupils, they are at school to learn. Whether this is through targeted questions or differentiating tasks.
Humanise yourself. This could be either you sharing an interesting fact about yourself or relaying the odd story. Pupils love this!
The identity you adopt is imperative to how the remainder of your career develops. It may be that there is an opportunity for a promotion internally and having impressed prior to this will only work in your favour down the line.
With 8 years’ experience, I’ve come to understand that there will always be something that you’d like to do differently, and you’ll never feel like you’re on top of things, and that is okay. Every day is different and to know that you have a huge impact on future generations is what makes teaching so rewarding.