Surviving and succeeding in the first year of teaching: The weeks before starting work (1)

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

Every teacher will remember the few months before stepping foot in the classroom for the first time. You got through your training, you did well at interview, you got the job – then what? Whether you were filled with optimism and anticipation for what lay ahead or mildly terrified and wondering whether it was too late to change your mind, the few months before starting your first post can be pretty daunting. For many, imposter syndrome kicks in – “what will happen when they find out that I’m not a real teacher?” and many new teachers approach the first day of term with every bit as much trepidation as a new year 7.

While new term nerves never completely disappear and many teachers will be familiar with summer holiday anxiety dreams (mine involves waiting for someone to find out that I haven’t bothered to turn up to teach my sixth form class for over a year) – experience does offer some practical advice for those new to the profession. Over the next few weeks, we will be 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.

There are four key areas of focus:

  • The weeks before starting work
  • The first day
  • The first week
  • The first term

Within each of these areas are sub-topics that delve deep into strategies and techniques all aimed to help you succeed in your first year of teaching. Along the way you will also hear from those who’ve been there and done it. We begin with how to prepare for your first day back in school…

What should I do before my first day in school?

You may be feeling anxious at this stage about the task ahead – all that responsibility, so much to remember, worries about whether you’re really ‘up to’ the job and whether students will behave for you. We all felt that before we started. And here’s a big secret: most teachers experience the same feeling just before the start of any new year, term, or even week. For some of us, it goes with the job.

Part of the learning process is to know how to manage your nerves and how to cope with the inevitable stresses of the job. Here are some ideas to help you overcome any worries you may have.

Make sure you’re informed before the end of the summer term

There is lots of information that you will need from your new school. You should have:

  • Your timetable and arrangements for the first day.
  • Schemes of work and the extent to which you are expected to follow them – are they guidance or are they compulsory?
  • Information of your classes including photos and information about their prior learning and ability. Talking to teachers who have previously taught them can provide useful background information.
  • Your contract and a copy of the staff handbook. These are essential to understanding the school’s expectations of you and what you can expect of them.
  • Term dates and details of any training days, particularly those at the beginning of term so you can book holidays appropriately.
  • Information of the classroom(s) in which you will be teaching in and what technology is available. Are you going to be provided with a laptop/tablet? What are the seating arrangements? Are the chairs/stools/desks moveable?
  • Your responsibilities for display and classroom organisation in your classroom. Are you able to go in during the holidays to set it up as you want it?
  • Information of who will be mentoring you. Both NQTs and trainee teachers will have an assigned mentor. Find out if there is anything they would like you to prepare over the holidays.

Be prepared – what to do over the summer

Don’t be too ambitious in terms of what you are going to get done in the holidays – remember that it is important to have a rest and start the term feeling fresh and enthusiastic. However, you might want to think about the following:

  • Planning your first few lessons and preparing resources. Having everything ready will help you to feel more confident.
  • Enhancing up your subject knowledge. You may well be teaching topics that are currently unfamiliar to you. Don’t worry about this, many teachers find themselves learning a subject before teaching it. You will find that this is an enjoyable aspect of the job which adds variety and challenge. Don’t try to plan too far ahead, but now is a good time to get your head around anything unfamiliar that you will be teaching.
  • Making your first impression count. Compile a list of questions you would like answered on your first day. You might also want to review your wardrobe to make sure you’ll be in line with the professionalism standards of your new employer.

Minimise stress levels

Teaching can be a high-pressured job but you can minimize the stress by setting up support mechanisms to help you.

  • Differentiate between the things you can control and those you can’t. There is no point worrying about things you can’t change.
  • Use the last day of the holidays – the day before term starts – to do something different. Go out. Meet friends. Go to the cinema, or for a long walk. Do stuff that helps you to remind yourself of the importance of a healthy work-life balance, right from the start of your career.
  • If you’ve moved to a different area, you should register with a local GP. The last thing you want to do is to fill out lots of paperwork after falling ill.
  • Talk to people about any concerns you may have – other NQTs, trainees, your mentor, friends in the profession – they will all understand just how demanding the job may be.
  • Know where to turn to if you feel you are struggling to cope. As well as your family, friends and GP, there is some great advice from the Education Support Partnership.

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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