You have got through your Teacher Training and successful gained the ‘Newly Qualified Teacher Status’, congratulations. “Congratulations, you have just taken your first step into a larger world”, to quote Alec Guinness’s character in Star Wars Episode Four!
Now you are about to face your first class, on your own. That mix of feelings, excitement, apprehension, nervousness and yes, let’s be honest, fear! Of course your new schools should have assigned you a mentor to help guide you in the first year of your teaching career, but the classroom is yours and you are the one in charge of this new domain. So here are some things that helped me on my first teaching post, with a few words of hindsight thrown in.
Breathing and visualisation
This is one learned from experience! Use a breathing technique to help calm any anxiety or panic, as panic causes our brain to shut down the ability to think critically and clearly. If you feel panicky or anxious then breathe in to the count of three, hold and breathe out slowly for as long as it takes. This reduces the heart rate and clears the cortisol (stress hormone) from our system. Combine this with visualizing yourself in the class, calm and in control of yourself and mentally walk yourself through how you will introduce yourself, the setting of your class rules and so on.
Organisation and Planning
Being organised with planning, resources and the things that go around this is vital. This is something you have likely realised through your teacher training, where it seems that every ‘i’ needs dotting and ‘t’ needs crossing. Remember that your classroom is your space. Organising is not only a way to keep things to hand so that your lessons go as smoothly as possible, it is a way for you to stamp your own mark on the room so to speak. Consider the layout of tables and make some diagrams for different arrangements that facilitate different kinds of learning activities.
Comportment and Communication
Our body posture, our bearing and the way we physically move is how we comport ourselves (an old fashioned word) that I learned from drama. It is an essential part of our overall communication. This non-verbal communication is, perhaps, more crucial than the words we speak. Our body posture can easily reflect our inner state! What we say and how we say it to pupils is of course very important. Sometimes the pupils do act up, but yelling is never a good thing, for ourselves and our respect in the eyes of the pupils.
Always follow your school’s behaviour and discipline policies. Doing so consistently in line with the other teachers reinforces the whole-school approach which reinforces a sense of security and safety to the pupils, that they are in a safe place to learn.
Note your ideas down
As a teacher we are always juggling multiple things in our head: remembering the meeting at the end of the day, the notes that have arrived from the office to give out, not to mention the lesson progress and all that goes with it. When you sit down for a break or even in the early hours, ideas pop up or solutions present themselves, so make a habit of carrying something on you to record those ideas as they occur, before they are forgotten.
The reverse of this, when sitting down to plan or write reports, is that other issues can pop up in our mind because we have given ourselves some time to concentrate. This can be distracting so use that note taking method to jot down those pressing things such as, ‘what shall I make for dinner?’. Take that list, acknowledge those things are important and that you will address them at a given time later on.
Develop healthy routines
The temptation that I had as a new teacher was to constantly ‘fiddle’ with the lesson plan, trying to get it ‘right’. There are times to experiment and change things in order to find new ways to improve of course. When setting plans establish what works through the day and in your lessons so that you find your natural ‘flow’. This helps settle you into your new role and when you feel ready, then try new things because you have spent the time reflecting on them. This is called your reflective practice. Enlist the support of your mentor and other teachers too. This can avoid making unnecessary mistakes. A routine will also provide stability to your pupils, helping them to feel secure because you are secure. For other routines, see rest below.
You have to have patience with yourself and with your students. The pressure to ‘perform’ for observations and Ofsted can add to the feeling that we need to be further on than we are, better at this or that. As a new teacher, learn to cut yourself some slack and keep a perspective on how you have developed. We also need to be patient with our students. They may not ‘get’ what we are communicating to them in a lesson. So ask yourself and them whether they understood.
Develop good rest habits
Sleep deprivation is not uncommon for teachers working long hours to catch up on planning, marking and reporting. Rest, relaxation and sleep are very important and this needs to be built into your daily routine. One wise piece of advice from my first head teacher went like this,
“What does not get done today may get done tomorrow, there is only so much you can do in the time you have.”
Teaching is tiring and when we are tired it can be easier to be ‘snappy’ and say something in a way we may later regret. If that happens do not be afraid to apologise! The other thing to do is to ask for support from your mentor if this is an area you recognise needs some development and confidence.
Build a healthy support network
Some schools and Local Authorities hold training sessions and meet ups for new teachers. There are also social media tools to join or create your own personal learning network (PLN). Online meet ups and discussions with other teachers, both newly qualified and experienced, can lend a certain amount of anonymity and distance when talking about your teaching. While a mentor in a school should be part of your healthy support network, sometime you may feel more comfortable talking to others outside the goldfish bowl of your own school ‘family’.
Don’t be afraid of making a mistake
With observation and performance many teachers beat themselves up for making the slightest ‘mistake’ and are afraid of making them. This was something that I and most, if not all, teachers have to learn to overcome. Recognise that there are genuine, unintentional mistakes that we make, most of these through inexperience and that the old adage “he (or she) who never made a mistake never made anything” is true. This is where a mentor can be really important to your development as a first-time teacher.
Create a welcoming learning space
Put up a picture of your friends or close family on your desk and those touches that say, “This desk is my space”. Then work with your pupils to decide how to decorate the room to make it feel like a comfortable learning space because it is their space too. Be aware that you may have one or two pupils who do not cope with too much sensory distraction, so think about an area of the room with minimal decoration or none, a quieter area. This may not always be possible given the size of some rooms and the fact that the room you teach in may also be used for other purposes.
Let your pupils have a voice
You have probably learned about ‘student voice’ and the importance attached to giving students a say in the things that concern them. As a new teacher one of the pitfalls based on our own feelings of insecurity is to take charge to the point that the students are not given as much of a platform as they need. Some students may give the new teacher suggestions about the lessons or other feedback which may help to improve the way the lesson goes.
Good luck and all the best on your new career in one of the noblest professions there is.