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Surviving and succeeding in the first year of teaching: How can I seem as if I have been teaching for years?

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

In this series we are sharing advice for new teachers from Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School on how to make a success of your early months in teaching. This fifth piece helps you to seem as if you’ve been teaching for years…


Authority comes from knowing – or seeming to know – what we are doing. If we are being treated by a newly-qualified dentist or knee surgeon, we will want some reassurance that despite being a beginner they know their stuff. It’s the same with teaching.

In practice, this doesn’t mean pretending you know answers when you don’t. Students appreciate it when they ask a question and we say “Good question – and actually I’m not 100% sure of the answer. I’ll find out for next time and let you know.” That builds our status as teachers who are eager to learn. But in the early days – when you might be feeling nervous – you need to learn how to feign a sense of confidence to make your students feel secure.

Five tips for establishing your classroom authority

1: Remember that as a teacher you are frequently ‘on show’. How you behave, dress and conduct yourself within and beyond the classroom will be noted by students (and other staff). So when in the corridors, make eye contact with students, say hello to those you know, and make sure you are seen to be enforcing school expectations on uniform and litter.

2: Be aware of the importance of the language you use. Using “thank you” rather than “please” can create a greater sense of authority rather than seeming to be beseeching. Rather than saying “Can you please take off your coat” (which could have a whiff of desperation about it), say “Could you take your coat off – thanks” which is built on an assumption that since you’ve asked for it to happen, it will.

3 Be conscious of where you stand in the classroom. Less confident teachers stand too far back, often with a desk between them and the class. It can come across as timid. Choose to stand centrally where you can see all students and they can all see you. See the classroom as an amphitheatre and choose a powerful position from which to conduct the lesson.

4: Understand the importance of body language. Try not to fidget as you talk, but use a small number of authoritative gestures, especially when explaining things. Watch great teachers at work to see how they exude a sense of calm authority and add clarity to what they are saying through the use of hand movements.

5: Emphasise that the classroom is your territory – don’t allow no-go-zones to develop where challenging students choose to sit. In practice this could involve opening a window at the side or back of the room, or reading aloud from a different spot so that you’re keeping your students on their toes.

Advice from those who’ve been there and done it

Use the school’s behaviour management sytems. The students will be familiar with them and will respond better. Don’t suffer alone if you are having trouble, and don’t be ashamed. Heads of department or year will help if you need it, and you may find you are not the only one struggling with one group or student. Find out from colleagues what works. Do try to start the year as you mean to go on behaviour-wise. Be ‘nice’ but not a walkover, and sanction challenging behaviour straight away. Students respect you if you are firm but fair.
Pamela, Little Heath School

It’s the little details that make a strong first impression. Make sure you know exactly how you’ll deal with late arrivals, forgotten pens, incomplete work, packing up before you start your first lesson.
Christa, Business Academy, Bexley

Have presence outside of the classroom: the more pupils recognise you the more you will be respected. Walk around the school being polite and confident, making sure that pupils are abiding by school rules.
Michelle, Maltby Academy

Pick up tips from teachers who appear most organised. Try out a few systems and settle on something that works for you. Use humour – students respond well to good humour. Enjoy yourself in the classroom and this will rub off on the kids.
Stuart, The Compton School

Be creative and imaginative with your lessons. You’re the most recently trained and although you still have a lot to learn, you have some fantastic new ideas too.
Stephen, Whitley Abbey Business & Enterprise College

Develop a ‘guinea pig’ class! Once you know your classes well pick a class that you can trust to try out new ideas on (often your best group). I told mine that they were my ‘guinea pig’ class and they loved the fact that I tried out all my new ideas on them before other classes. It made them feel special and allowed them to make good progress too.
Emma, The Swinton High School



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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SSAT class of 1990

12 July 2016

SSAT class of 1991

13 July 2016

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