This post has been written by Classroom Secrets
19 years on and I still remember my first class – they were amazing! The kind of class you would have the hacksaws and glue guns out with on a Friday afternoon!
My first term with them though, was an interesting one. I had my first Ofsted inspection one week before half term. Four inspectors for four days in a 2-form entry infant school – It was intense! I lost my voice by the end of November and would regularly fall asleep by 7pm most Friday nights.
Teaching is not the easiest profession to be in, but it is one of the most rewarding. Below I have captured the best advice I can give you into 10 tips that will help you get the most out of the first term and beyond.
1. Ask for help
This is my pinned tweet, and the most consistent advice I give. There can be a stigma around asking for help and it can be a sign of weakness. ‘People might think we can’t cope! Or that we don’t know what we are doing! Or we aren’t good enough!’. In my experience this is absolute nonsense. Schools are hugely supportive places, and every single teacher has felt at some point that they don’t know what something means, how best to teach something, what that acronym in a staff meeting means or that things are getting overwhelming. By asking for help, you show strength, a willingness to develop, and an openness to support – do it!
2a. Get to know key staff in the school
You will build a relationship with your fellow teachers and your TA, but getting the caretaker, cleaner, school cook and secretary onside early will make such a difference. Each one can help you get through your term and make life just a little bit easier for you. Make time to speak to them and ask them how their day is going. And with the cleaner…If it looks like Hobbycraft has exploded in your classroom – get in first – I had a reputation for the messiest classroom for about 6 years at one point before a new member of the team arrived who was messier than me. The cleaners never once complained, because I always apologised and made sure I had tackled as much of the mess as I was able to.
Oh, and a box of biscuits at Christmas always helps! 😊
2b. Sit in the Staffroom
This is so important. It helps you to laugh, to build a camaraderie with your colleagues, and will genuinely pick you up when things are tough. Some of the biggest decisions and deepest conversations happen in a staffroom at 3.30pm after a tough day. If you work in a multi-form entry school I also guarantee that having a chat over a cuppa with your parallel teacher will reveal they had exactly the same struggles as you that day – regardless of experience. I heard a tragic story the other week that a school had repurposed its staffroom because staff were no longer using it at break or lunch times and were eating in their classrooms instead! It was my colleagues that I could always share my triumphs and tribulations with, and I genuinely know that it is these relationships that have kept me in teaching all this time.
3. Know that some days will be better than others
We all have good lessons and bad lessons, good days and bad days. What is important is that we acknowledge where things went wrong, but really celebrate when we do things well. Identifying those positives will help you feel successful and give you that resilience for when things do go amiss. It is important to remember – if you have a bad lesson the consequence of that is that you teach it again tomorrow! – every experienced teacher has been there.
4. Know your children
There is a great quote by Kevin Maxwell that says: ‘Our job is to teach the students we have. Not the ones we would like to have. Not the ones we used to have. Those we have right now. All of them.’ Getting to know the pupils, their strengths, their next steps and their personalities makes this so much easier. The children in front of you want to get to know you too. Don’t be afraid to show some personality.
5. Keep systems simple!
Don’t over complicate your classroom by having lots of systems, every year I meet Early Career Teachers who over the summer set up displays for reader, writer, mathematician of the week, and then by half term the same name has been on their 3 weeks running because it is an extra thing to maintain above the epic list of things already needed just to get you through the week.
6. Plan time for yourself and your own well-being
I would frequently stay in school until I was evicted by the caretaker each night, but it meant that most nights I’d arrive home with no additional work to do. It meant my weekends were my own as well (I did this at the time when there was no PPA time). This time is so important for giving you the reserves to get through the tough times, and means you have something to share with the children when you are trying to let your personality show through.
7. Work smart not hard
Prioritise! What absolutely has to be done now, otherwise the children won’t learn? That is the job to get done – lesson prep, marking, organising groups etc.
The other jobs? Add it to your list, but laminating that piece of work for display, tidying up the book corner etc are those jobs to do when you have done the essentials. For me, once I was prepped for the next day and I had time left before I had to leave, I would then try to tick off one of those ‘extra - wouldn’t it be nice’ jobs before leaving. If I had filled my time with the essentials the extras would wait. There would always be a night when I had time to get to them.
8. Plan well
If you know you will have 30 extended stories to mark on Thursday night – make sure maths is practical or peer assessed that day. If you know you have to prep clay for 30 children for Friday afternoon, make sure the morning required limited prep to help you stay on top of things.
9. Keep the snack drawer filled (For me this was a tray in the cupboard)
Mine had breakfast bars, chocolate, and crisps in it. Those things that have limited nutritional value but will help keep you going when you have 30 extended stories to mark on a Thursday night!
10. Get to know the parents
Building a professional relationship with the parents is so important. If you see them every day, make time to chat with them. If you don’t see them every day, make time to call and share the things that have gone well with them. This will build you a bit of social currency, which you may need to cash in when their child has had a less positive day. Oh, and make a beeline for the clique of mothers at the edge of the playground and introduce yourself to them. They can be intimidating but getting the right parents onside early will build your reputation with the others.
Hopefully one of these things will help you or even just reassure you.
You absolutely can do this and you will always do your best. Sometimes turning up in the morning is the best you can do for yourself and for the children. Your best will always be good enough.
By Mr T’s NQT/ECT support
Follow him for more ideas and support here: https://twitter.com/MrTs_NQTs