Here’s our guide to help you to avoid some of the professional pitfalls of your training and NQT years. With nearly 125 years of experience in the classroom between them, Teachit’s editors share their experiences of coping with everything from sleep deprivation and keeping healthy to unexpected knickers and stolen mugs.
by Teachit's editorial team
14th August 2020
Never judge other teachers. Everyone has their own way of doing things.
Play to your strengths and be yourself. Some teachers engage students with a ‘big personality’, whereas others are quiet and measured. Some need to plan in a lot of detail to feel confident, while others are happy with more flexibility in their lessons. It takes all types!
There’s always a solution to every seemingly intractable situation – ask a colleague for support when in doubt.
Don’t put yesterday’s trousers on without checking for stray pants/socks. It will save you the fatal embarrassment of seeing your knickers on the floor of your classroom!
Be especially nice to everyone who works in a support or admin team in your institution. They are sometimes overlooked by SMT, or spoken to rudely by students, parents and sometimes even other staff. A school is a community of support staff, technicians, cleaners, administrators, dinner ladies, teaching assistants, supply staff and caretakers as well as teachers and students. Make an effort to be supportive and on good terms with all colleagues – you never know when you might need their help and friendship.
Don’t stay in your department every lunchtime – make friends with teachers from other departments.
With students who are struggling with emotional, financial, physical or mental health issues, never feel that you have to take sole responsibility for solving their problems. Use the services available to you, seek help from colleagues, keep a record of everything that you do, and try to avoid raising false hopes or expectations for the student.
Bring your own mugs and keep them in a special (hidden) place unless you don’t mind them being ‘borrowed’ by someone else and left dirty somewhere!
Be careful not to moan loudly about senior management or other colleagues in the staff room. They could be standing right behind you in the coffee queue…
Check your apparel before you enter a classroom (flies/trousers/skirt/dress/tights/shirt) and squat down to help students rather than bending from the waist to avoid flashing more than you intended.
Wash hand frequently or use hand sanitiser to avoid going down with every bug doing the rounds in your first year. It’s basically like starting nursery school all over again from the point of view of your immune system.
When stuck in meetings or assemblies, practise mindful breathing – in through your nose and out through your mouth. Use this as a chance to calm yourself and be in the moment.
Don’t over commit! We all want to impress our colleagues when we start a new job, but be realistic with how many extra-curricular clubs, trips and groups you sign up for. The compulsory stuff will soon take over!
Learn how to project your voice. Ask a singing or drama teacher for tips and learn to speak from your diaphragm not your throat. Have a bottle of water handy and throat lozenges in your drawer.
It’s stating the blindingly obvious, but it’s worth repeating: get some sleep! It’s easy to lose perspective on what’s important when you’re exhausted. Set yourself a cut-off point beyond which you won’t work in the evening, and go to bed! Find a routine that works for you. For example, come into work early and go home promptly. You’ll get more done between 7am and 8.30am than during the same amount of time in the evening, with fewer interruptions. Make sure you have at least one full day of the weekend and at least one or two evenings when you do no school work at all. Anything else is unsustainable. You must look after yourself or you will burn out. Bring healthy snacks or have a supply of nuts or dried fruit in a drawer to avoid sugar temptation in the staff room.
Always watch a film, video or programme from start to finish before showing it to students – especially if you are using YouTube. It sounds obvious, but you may live to regret it if you don’t.
Be human. Share things about yourself – funny quirks, odd pets or interests, and even things that annoy you. Students will find you more approachable and real, and will be less likely to treat you as ‘Other’.
Always put your lesson plan and resources through grammarly.com or another writing tool if you are being observed.
Use peer marking and self-assessment (providing mark schemes or answers) as much as possible to manage your marking load. Students will be more engaged in the process and get far more out of it.
Keep your desk organised. You don’t want to spend the first five minutes of a lesson trying to find your resources. Have different-coloured folders for a class or period of the day and put the correct resources inside, or a filing system which helps keep you organised. Apply the same principles to your computer files.