Surviving and succeeding in the first year of teaching

surviving-teachingAlex Galvin, Senior Education Lead, SSAT, writes…

In this series we are sharing advice for new teachers from Geoff Barton, former headteacher of King Edward VI School on how to make a success of your early months in teaching. This fourteenth and final piece of the series contains six general tips for surviving the first year, including advice from those who’ve been there and done it.

More than many jobs, teaching can be an exhausting one. Not many people who aren’t teachers realise this. They just see the apparently short working day and the generous holidays. They think it’s easy.

The reality is that teaching has rhythms and cycles and pressure-points. The seasons have a big effect. New school years usually begin in a mood of early autumn sunshine. Behaviour in general is better, idealism untarnished. Then the darker nights arrive, the colder weather. Time slows down and the term seems longer, the Christmas break impossibly far off. It’s in the darker days of late autumn that the morale of a newly qualified teacher can begin to bend. Here’s how to help yourself survive and succeed.

Six tips for surviving your first year

  1. Pace yourself. The first term is a long one. Don’t try to take on too much. Focus on planning and teaching high quality lessons. Keep a brief journal or diary (you’ll look back at this later in your career and be glad you kept it). Don’t let regular mentor meetings be squeezed out.
  2. Make a deliberate effort to watch others teach. This is the best form of training you can get, especially if you watch teachers in other subjects. You will pick up practical ideas and strategies that will help you to improve your practice.
  3. Recognise the importance of being on break duty: it’s when you establish yourself in the eyes of students. Be prompt, be visible, and use it as an opportunity to have conversations with students you know and those you don’t.
  4. Make time for yourself. Don’t let every evening and weekend be dominated by school work. Make sure you are getting enough exercise to burn off stress and enough time for recreation to remind you that there’s a life beyond the classroom.
  5. Count your blessings. From time to time remind yourself what a great job teaching is and what a privilege it is to work with young people. Walk around the school during a non-contact period. Get the feel of it in areas other than where you teach. Remind yourself that you’re part of a community.
  6. Stay optimistic. Even in your gloomier moments, choose who you moan to. In general, keep your head down, work hard, and keep a sense of perspective. It will be Christmas sooner than you think… and then the summer term… and then you’ll surface into the long summer break with a successful first year safely under your belt. You’ve made it. Congratulations!

Advice from those who’ve been there and done it

Look after yourself

Take time for yourself out of school. Be ruthless in preserving this: work can almost always wait. The pupils will benefit from you not being frazzled more than from having their homework marked at lightning speed.
Emily, Comberton Village College

Have a supply of chocolate in your desk for tough days!
Natalie, The Compton School

Realise that everyone will have rubbish days where it feels like every lesson was awful, the kids didn’t listen or learn anything and you leave school that day wanting to quit – it’s not just you!
Stephen, Whitley Abbey Business and Enterprise College

Try not to take on too much. You will be feeling obliged to say yes to every request but this will lead to overload and stress.
Dawn, The Heath School

Take a break! You may not think you have time to but TAKE A BREAK!
Hannah, South Wirral High School

Have a life – weekends and holidays should be free time. I believe students would much prefer a teacher who comes in cheerful and fresh than a teacher who has worked themselves into an early grave by working every hour that God sends.
Paddy, Balcarras School

Everyone says it, but it is really important to find a healthy balance. If you have too much on at one time then prioritise. Use lessons that colleagues have already planned. Peer marking is an excellent way to assess progress and encourage progression that also cuts down on your marking. And do make sure sleeping doesn’t take second place behind work otherwise everything will get too much.
Pamela, Little Heath School

Make sure that you enjoy yourself and at the end of each day remember to think about all the things that went right, not those that went wrong.
Andrew, The Swinton High School

Make the most of support from colleagues

Collaborate as much as possible! Collaboration is the key to achieving a work/life balance. Knowing you can rely on your colleagues to produce high quality lessons allows you time to deal with other things until it is your turn to do the same.
Astrid, Business Academy Bexley

Make friends, join clubs, feel part of the staff so you have a support network, which you will need on the hard days.
Rachel Morris, Balcarras School

It is good to buddy up with other NQTs if your school doesn’t already organise this. Observe each other lessons, share resources (even in different curriculum areas). Swap mobile numbers and create your own mini-support network – it really helps! Go to the staffroom, especially if you are in a small school. That is where you will make friends, not holed up in your classroom. Do activities outside your curriculum area (join the orchestra, play five-a-side football after school, etc).
Caroline, Whitley Bay Business and Enterprise College

Create a supportive network of staff around you and don’t feel as though you should know it all. Talk to other members of staff and get to know your new colleagues; this is particularly useful on those ‘challenging days’. Build positive relationships wherever possible and it really is true when you hear ‘treat every day as a new day’ – as hard as it can be with some students.
Laura, Castle View Enterprise Academy

Be prepared to be a team player within your department: show willingness to take on bits and pieces (within reason) such as running clubs and trips. Things like this do not go unnoticed – by staff or students. Equally, don’t commit to too much early on – get familiar with your workload first.
Emily, Comberton Village College

I found talking to people on break/after school duty helped me make friends in other departments which has helped me feel more settled in the school.
Kathryn, Little Heath School

When starting a new school I find it helps if you try to get involved in things such as school productions and attending voluntary meetings as you get to meet other teachers within the school and get your face known.
Samantha, The Swinton High School

Book your place for September 2020

SSAT NQT Inspirations is designed for everyone beginning their NQT year.

The programme includes a free launch seminar on 23 September containing energising insights and practical tips to help NQTs lay the foundations for the year ahead.

Book now

What are your experiences of your first year in teaching? What worked for you? What didn’t work? Let us know via Twitter with the hashtag #SSATsurvive or in the comments below.

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