If you’re looking at your first year flying solo in the classroom, Ross Morrison McGill’s advice should help keep you on course...
According to statistics published in the School Workforce Census (November 2016), only 74% of teachers who started teaching in England in 2013 were still in a teaching position three years later. That means 26% quit even before they’d had a chance to master the basics!
So, if you’re new to teaching, how can you avoid being at the sharp end of these statistics?
Here, I offer my survival guide for all newly qualified teachers (NQTs):
It is every teacher’s responsibility to do what they can to support those around them, especially those who are new to the job. Most new teachers will probably be assigned a mentor in their first year. If you are, make sure you utilise them – ask questions, ask for help, ask for advice.
Sadly, though, some schools don’t view mentoring as a priority, so you may find yourself as an NQT lost without a subject mentor to guide you through the ups and downs of school life. If that’s the case, hunt someone down who is willing to meet with you (formally) once a week to support and challenge you.
If you have no luck there, find someone via social media and do it online — there are thousands of teachers willing to help you succeed!
Don’t fixate on being ‘outstanding’. The profession has moved on from grading teachers’ performance in class, yet training programmes and higher education institutions are still obsessed with grading various elements of your classroom performance and tick-boxing your repertoire in class during a one-hour observation.
Ignore it and focus on securing ‘consistently good’ teaching day in, day out, even when nobody is watching you. That’s the real you, that’s teaching right there…
This is not the year for setting up after-school clubs, or dabbling with fancy gimmicks and feedback techniques – focus on marking, lesson planning and good teaching. One feeds into the other and they will be what every teacher is still doing, two or even three decades later. Master the basics…
...and then keep focused on the basics. Too often, I have seen NQTs looking for early promotions or leading every extracurricular activity under the sun. Over time, this has a damaging impact on their classroom that is often not discovered until it is too late.
Behaviour will start to dissipate first, then gradually, relationships will become frayed and student data will speak for itself. Work hard at learning the basics of your trade in your first academic year, then reach out to other aspects of school life in your second year once, you’ve started to understand the dynamics of teacher life.
Get your behaviour management sorted quickly: understand your school’s policy inside and out, and live and teach by it. Go and see teachers who you believe have a strong presence and a steady classroom environment.
Don’t be fooled by the maverick teacher who ignores whole-school procedures; they are only undermining themselves, letting down their students and ultimately making life harder for everyone else. Most of all, understand that behaviour management is not just a policy, it is a teaching technique that takes years to master.
Always remember that this is your students’ one chance at getting it right, so aim to do your best and get to a place where your students feel valued, trusted and know that you insist on high expectations. If they believe you, they’ll work hard for you too, and the reward is that the most challenging aspects of your curriculum can be taught.
Understand that teaching also happens outside of your classroom – in corridors and in the playground. Take time out to go for a walk and interact with students, particularly your less reachable ones, to get a sense of their relationships and the things that interest them.
If you can bring the outside world into your classroom and take a vested interest in ‘their world’, you’ll have a stronger chance of turning around the most challenging classroom dynamics you will encounter.
Remember, it has all been done before: all the lessons you are about to teach have been taught before by someone else – both worse, and much better. There may have been curriculum changes, but somewhere in your school there will be lesson plans you can either reuse, or at least take inspiration from to help alleviate workload.
If these aren’t provided to you by your mentor or department, ask for them, or have a dig around the school office or on the ICT network and see what you can find. All good teachers need to be able to reflect on their personal journey in the classroom, so ensure you take time out to ponder and evaluate your lessons, not just the forward planning.
You cannot and will never get on top of your to-do list; learn this quickly. Even if you feel utterly overwhelmed and think you need to work every minute to get things done – don’t.
Ensure you take a break at the weekends and do something that is not related to your job. If you burn out, this will inevitably impact on your wellbeing in the classroom. Have a bottle of water on your classroom table and get a good night’s sleep at the end of every day.
Finally, teachers are yearning to discover evidence-informed ideas that work in the classroom to help them navigate complex timetables, curriculum and assessment changes, as well as the usual challenges that teaching has to offer.
And this thirst for survival is an even tougher task for NQTs. They are at the whim of schools and the effectiveness of their school leadership teams, who can nurture or destroy the potential longevity of an NQT and their career.
My final piece of advice, then, is to get on social media (for professional reasons) and to find alternative solutions to help you survive and thrive in the classroom.
Ross Morrison McGill is @TeacherToolkit, the most followed educator on Twitter in the UK. He is also the bestselling author of 100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons, Teacher Toolkit and his new book, Mark. Plan. Teach. Head to teachertoolkit.co.uk to find out more.