You’ll have successfully completed your final teaching practice, got your finals tucked away and have that teaching job for September secured. The likelihood is that you’ll also have spent some time in your new school familiarising yourself with its operation, and getting to know the teachers and the pupils. But, however confident you feel, nothing really prepares you for that first morning when the class is truly yours, when the classroom belongs to you and you are in control of a small part of each pupil’s destiny.
To help you, we’ve put together our ‘Top Ten Tips’ for your first teaching post, written by teachers with over twenty years’ experience.
- Maintain a healthy work/life balance
Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs; you’ll already know that from teaching practices! Don’t let the job take over your life, set time aside for yourself and your family. If you’ve got hobbies and interests, don’t let them slide because it’s those that will keep you sane through the inevitable tough days of your first year. Yes, you want to impress and do your best for your pupils but if this comes at the cost of your health then it’s not going to work. Just remember that very few perfectionists survive teaching!
- Foster a good relationship with your NQT mentor
Throughout your first year, you’re going to be mentored and that’s a really positive thing. Your mentor will observe your lessons, give you advice and be there as a friendly ear for any problems you may have. They’ll have the ability to help smooth your way through your first year so maintain a positive relationship with them. Listen carefully to their advice, don’t be afraid to admit mistakes, ask for help when you need it but remain mindful that they will also have a teaching commitment.
- Be a good colleague
In a good school there’s a really strong relationship between colleagues but it requires a bit of give and take. Whilst you may feel rushed off your feet, it always pays to give a little time to being a good colleague. Simple things like making coffee for a teacher on duty, sharing a good resource or website, helping with displays or performance practices, always get repaid many times over and you’ll earn a reputation as a team member and teams always help each other where they can.
- Develop your relationship with your teaching assistant
If you’re lucky enough to have a teaching assistant, they can be a godsend but only if you manage them appropriately. Remember that they are not a servant but a colleague and it’s quite likely that they have aspirations themselves of being a teacher one day. For this reason, treat them as a partner in the classroom, work to develop them professionally, value their contribution to the smooth running of the class and you’ll build a positive relationship with them, meaning that they will do all they can to help you and make your life easier.
- Manage your classroom effectively
Effective classroom management is a must. Think of it as running a small business; you have to manage the ‘employees’ (the pupils), the resources and the work schedules. Use the pupils to help you manage the day to day running of the class – taking the register to the office, collecting in books for marking, sharpening pencils etc. They’ll enjoy the responsibility and it’ll save you time. Have defined routines; children prefer to know what is going to happen during the day and what is expected of them. It’ll take a little time to get it running like clockwork but it’s worth the effort.
- Get parents onside
It’s important to get to know the parents of your pupils and for them to know you. There’s always wariness amongst parents when a new teacher joins a school and it’s vital to put the parents at ease as soon as you can. Your school may have a ‘meet the teacher’ evening at the start of term and if so, try to get to talk to as many parents as possible. Be realistic in talking to them; don’t promise them the moon but let them see you as professional, capable and enthusiastic. That covers almost all they want for their child.
During the school year, positive relationships with parents will bring them into class to help with reading, art perhaps and on school trips.
If there are any issues with pupils, academic or behavioural, make parents aware of them as soon as possible so that you avoid awkward moments at parent consultations. Work with them to resolve the problems and report progress made. Equally, lavish positive comments on them about their children and you’ll earn plenty of respect.
- Have high expectations
One of the biggest handicaps to learning and good behaviour is low expectations. From the beginning, develop high, but not unrealistic, expectations of your class in terms of what you think they can achieve and also in terms of their behaviour. Children hate to disappoint and if you discuss your expectations with them and tell them when they are meeting them, they will work even harder to please you.
- Challenge your pupils
It’s easy to give pupils work that doesn’t really stretch them but whilst you think it might give you a quieter time in class, it can lead to frustration and possibly disruptive behaviour if there isn’t rigour in your teaching. Supported challenge is the key – give them relevant work that they’ll find tough but tell them that you’ll support them to succeed with it and gain the satisfaction from their achievement.
- Track progress and intervene where necessary
Monitoring progress through recording achievements is vital for you to know where the pupils are and to help you plan effectively. It will also inform you when intervention might be required to get struggling pupils back on track. Whilst it can sometimes be tedious and time consuming, you’ll get to know your pupils’ progress better, making you better informed for reports and discussions with parents.
10. Enjoy it!
Our final piece of advice is simply to enjoy teaching. Each day brings many rewards; from a child finally ‘getting it’ to the home made cookie or cake on your desk in the morning. Teaching is tough but for most of the successful, happy teachers, it’s a vocation, not just a profession – and then there’s the summer holidays!