10 Tips For New Teachers

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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What do you need to think about before welcoming your new class?

The moment has arrived! You’ve trained for this and now you’re more nervous than ever, but there’s no going back. This is your time! Becoming a teacher with your own class is one of the best feelings in the world, and also one of the most daunting.

It ‘hits you like a ton of bricks’ that you are the responsible adult in loco parentis. Soon you’re going to have a whole new family to look after – and teach. There is a lot to piece together and to keep a few things in mind before you start. Your brain will be working overtime and it might already feel a bit foggy; there is so much to think about, but the following tips might just help!

1. You are not alone

It’s important to remember from the outset that you are part of a team and whatever you are facing for the first time, your colleagues have also faced – use them. Their pearls of wisdom and golden nuggets are there for the taking and will help you deal with countless situations where you might suddenly feel out of your depth.

They have the battle scars, they’ve got the T-shirts and they got plenty to share. The surest way to fail in teaching is to DIY which is why your colleagues won’t let you work in a silo.

2. It’s nothing personal

There will be times when your classroom management plan starts to leak and challenging behaviour tests your inner Zen. It might feel like a certain pupil has it in for you and you can’t cope. Deep breath…it’s not personal so don’t make it so.

If you let frustration and stress get the better of you then difficult pupils will sense your anxiety and push more buttons. Focus on their behaviour, seek advice and guidance and distance yourself from the emotions.

3. Don’t drop the ball

In the first few days of having your new class things will go well and you will feel confident that being a teacher is the best thing since sliced bread. It is but it is easy to get complacent and you start to relax perhaps a little too much. This is when things can unravel.

If you think you have the perfect class then you don’t – there is no such thing. Any deviation from your carefully planned routines and procedures will backfire and misbehaviour creeps in. Stay in the zone at all times!

4. Learn from your mistakes

Everyone makes them and they are an inevitable part of learning your craft.

It’s easy to feel disheartened when things ‘go wrong’ but don’t beat yourself up about things because this will make you a perfectionist and class life is far from that. Take the time to reflect on anything that doesn’t go according to plan but move on quickly and your resilience will grow not wither.

5. Plan

Planning is everything but you can over-plan and do yourself an injury in the process. In the first few weeks and months (and years!) many new colleagues plan in super-detail and come unstuck because plans don’t go according to the plan.

Learning is so unpredictable that slavishly following a plan and relying on bullet-points will fail you. Plan, prepare but overcook and you’ll burnout. Planning is an art and it cannot be done without the pupils either. They have a huge part to play and you need to involve them too.

6. Don’t do everything

The most effective teachers are lazy teachers. Not lazy in the sense of idle but lazy in the sense of being efficient – they don’t do all the work whilst pupils sit and watch. Lazy teachers get pupils to work hard in their classrooms – pupils should be busier than you. Teachers need to talk less, move less, pause more often and sometimes do nothing at all but let pupils get on with the business of learning.

Too much teaching kills learning. Working smarter, not harder is a real skill.

7. Be friendly, not friends

When starting as a new teacher then developing trusting relationships with your pupils is key. As you get to know children and make personal connections everyone becomes more at ease and these positive vibes influence behaviour.

The thing to remember is that children are not your friends and they need to know that too. Focus on being professional, friendly but also distant when the moment calls for it so pupils see you as their teacher, mentor and role model.

8. Don’t label

Teachers and parents are hooked on labels but labels are damaging because they can skew reality and are very often unhelpful and inaccurate. Be vigilant and avoid labelling someone as ‘dyslexic’ or ‘hyperactive’ etc.

recent report from GL Assessment found that pressure from parents has led to some children being categorised as having special educational needs unnecessarily. If someone says a child has SEN, don’t take this as gospel – have they been misdiagnosed. Be objective and determine what each child needs or does not need.

9. Be yourself

You will have so much nervous energy inside you when you first start that you might find the advice “just be yourself” hard to do. But being who you are is crucial to children. They don’t want pretence or an imposter, they want the real you so show who you are by sharing a little of yourself and your private life.

They will want to know about you because we are naturally curious. If you reveal nothing or very little then although that might give you an air of mystery, it creates a barrier.

10. Play

If there is something all teachers need to do in the first week back to school then it is play and get to know their new class on their level. Play some games with them, focus on team-building activities and don’t get hung up about ‘proper lessons’ too much – building rapport first will supercharge your teaching and curriculum.

One more thing. Enjoy every second, it’s a job like no other and one to be proud of. Time to get the show on the road!

4 thoughts on “10 Tips For New Teachers

  1. Solid, simple advice John.

    It’s such a stressful time and there’s so much nonsense offered (by some who should know better) that it can be made even more difficult for newbies. “Don’t be kind until Xmas” I overheard a lecturer tell his group of trainees, “start tough, strict sanctions, and never let anything go unchallenged”.

    However, that feeling that relationships are being built, children are safe, happy and thriving, and (most importantly) you are learning too is the golden nugget of our job. It’s such a privilege but also such great fun. That sense of purpose is a huge reward – someone ought to tell Ofsted?

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