With the new term starting soon, we asked Katie Ashford to give us her top 10 tips for new teachers. These are her individual views.
The frivolity of summer already seems like a distant memory as teachers and pupils across the land begin packing their bags and readying their nerves for another year in the classroom. Every year, around 13000 new teachers enter the profession and begin learning how to do the best job in the world. But it can seem more than a little overwhelming at first. Horror stories of nightmarish behaviour, irrational Ofsted judgements and unhealthy amounts of sleep impoverishment haunt the minds of the average NQT as they picture what lies ahead of them. Although a little bit fear is not without reason (teaching is of course tough at times), it doesn’t hurt to try to prepare yourself as much as possible for the year ahead. So here are my top ten tips for stepping into the classroom this September:
Get used to buying stationery
If you were expecting to find pens, paper and glue sticks at your disposal in your new role, think again. Schools have no money and kids go through pens faster than packets of M&Ms. You will never have enough stationery. Embrace this and head to Rymans immediately.
Stock up on vitamin C
Schools are like cold and flu petri-dishes. Disease seems to spread quicker than cholera in the 1850s. You might not want to go to the extremes of wearing face masks or avoiding all human contact, but don’t be surprised if you become a walking advert for Centrum Advance by Christmas.
Focus on one thing at a time
Teaching often feels like you’re trying to cook dinner for 87 people using nothing but a broken camping stove. Pans boil over everywhere you look, and it’s hard to know where to even begin. For your sanity, choose one task to do at a time and stick to it. Make lists, pin post-its to your forehead, write reminders to yourself on the bathroom mirror if you have to- just remember that it’s always easier to work through a list than to try to be the hero and get everything done in record time.
You make the rules
If anyone ever tells you to ask your pupils what they would like the classroom rules to be, do so at your peril. You might think that going in and presenting yourself as some kind of democratic, Madiba-esque liberator will win you the trust of your year 11 darlings, but it’s more likely to end in a catastrophic revolution, with your head (figuratively, one would hope) on the spike, and the People’s Republic of Anarchy governing the room you once hoped would become a place of learning. You are the adult. Make your rules clear and stick to them. This is no guarantee of angelic obedience, but it’s far, far preferable to the alternative.
Invest time in following up behaviour incidents
Once you have established and clarified your rules, you’ve got to prove to the young-uns that you mean business. That, unfortunately, means spending time at break, lunch and after school following up incidents and ensuring that pupils are appropriately punished and held accountable for their actions. In some schools- those with decent behaviour policies- this will be relatively straightforward. In others, you might have to run around a bit more. Either way, do it. You won’t regret it, and neither will your pupils.
Never spend longer planning a lesson than delivering it
It’s a fable that has been passed down from generation to generation: that all lessons must be uber jazzy for children to abide them. A bit of Vegas won’t do them any harm now and again, of course, but you simply cannot plan 20 ‘wow-factor’ lessons a week and retain your sanity. Keep a simple litmus test in mind: if it’s taking you more time to plan to deliver, you should probably try to cut back a little. Nobody will blame you- kids will still learn in a simple and efficiently planned lesson.
Learn from colleagues as much as you can
One of the best parts of teaching is that you get to learn new things every day. This means that your trajectory in the first few years will be speedy and steep. Even after a month in the classroom, you’ll look back at your lesson plans from week 1 and think ‘what on earth was I thinking?’ Those who have been in the profession for longer than you, therefore, have oodles of experience, and could probably write a rather amusing book about all the mistakes they have made and what they’ve learnt from them. Use this to your advantage- listening to and observing those who’ve been at it longer than you have is the best CPD you’ll ever have.
Don’t get sucked in to the Ofsted culture
Ah yes, Ofsted. The inevitable spanner in every teacher’s works. It’s easy to become enmeshed in the pursuit of ‘Outstanding’ and to jump through hoops to get there, but it risks steering your course away from what matters most. Keep your core purpose in mind and always ask yourself whether what you are doing is right for your pupils or for an anonymous stranger with a clipboard.
Might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how all consuming this job can be. It starts with ‘oh, I’ll just stay in and mark these books instead of going out with my friends’ or ‘I’ll stay up until 2am to get this observation lesson planned’, and before you know it, you’ve been in the job for five years, your mother has forgotten what you look like, you’re receiving caffeine via intravenous drip, and your friends don’t bother asking you if you want to go out with them anymore. Always make time for yourself. Rest, relax, make time for friends and family, and take your mind off school as often as you can. It’s vital for your health, sanity and wellbeing, but it will also help to make you more efficient in the long-run.
Despite the tricky behaviour and overwhelming admin, teaching really is great fun. You will laugh every day, will get to work with some of the most inspiring people you could ever meet, and will come to love and care for your pupils more than you could have imagined. For all these reasons, and more, teaching is the best job in the world. It’s an epic adventure, and for those of you who are about to start this September, it is only just beginning.