Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

10 Things I Wish I'd Known: Feature

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

10 Things I Wish I'd Known: Feature

Article excerpt

Your first year in the classroom will be hugely exciting, but it is also likely to be the toughest of your career. Teacher Tom Finn-Kelcey shares his hard-won tips on how to ease the teething pains.

You can always spot them. After dragging yourself into the staffroom on the first day of term, you see them sticking out like sore thumbs in their new suits and pressed shirts with the latest contemporary cut. Oh, and those shiny shoes and smart leather bags. They are either overflowing with enthusiasm and talking far too loudly, or they are sitting in the corner quietly quaking while sorting through 10-page lesson plans.

A senior colleague whispers in your ear, "They all look about 12 years old, don't they?"

I am, of course, talking about the newly qualified teachers (NQTs) waiting to launch themselves feet first into the most challenging year of their careers, with so little idea of the journey awaiting them.

With the start of the new term - my ninth year in teaching - I have been thinking back to that first year, wondering what sage words I would offer myself were I beginning my relatively short but eventful career all over again. The following 10 tips are not even close to being an exhaustive list of advice, but hopefully they will prove helpful for those starting out this month.

1. You are not a god, but that's OK

One thing I have noticed with many NQTs - and I was no exception to this - is that they often have a slightly inflated opinion of their own abilities. In many ways, a little bit of a swagger is no bad thing: it takes away some of the fear and can carry you through what is undoubtedly the toughest year of your career. But there is a fine line between confidence in what you can do and arrogance about what you think you can do but actually can't.

Former British prime minister Harold Macmillan once said: "The young fool has first to grow up to be an old fool to realise what a damn fool he was when he was a young fool." There were points at which I didn't realise I was being a young fool. My classroom management was much weaker than I thought it was, my subject knowledge may have been excellent but my ability to turn it into well-planned lessons was poor, and my capacity to grade and assess was well below par. You know you have work to do when, after an observation, your mentor struggles to find positives to write down. And you know you are in trouble when phrases such as "you wrote neatly on the board" or "on the plus side, nobody died during the lesson" appear on your observation sheet.

The thing that NQTs should remember is that it is OK to have weaknesses. In fact, it is expected. Senior teachers have been on the same journey, and any line manager worth their salt should understand that you are nowhere near the finished article - you should be judged on your potential. This puts the onus on you to accept criticism and seek advice; the more you do of both, the better the teacher you will become. NQTs who understand this develop into good teachers much quicker than those who do not.

2. Know when to stop working

Despite those extra free periods you get as an NQT, you will have more work to do than at almost any other point in your career. You have not taught the many lessons that the experienced teacher has, so things will take a lot longer to plan. The pressure on you to work 24/7 will be enormous, but you must resist.

My mother is a school principal and one thing I remember her saying to me is that, in teaching, everyone has a list of basics that they absolutely must do in the average week; if you can manage about 75 per cent of those, you have done well.

This is true: sometimes it is OK to not do everything. Make a point of doing no work at least one night during the week. My friends and I used to meet up on Wednesdays to play pool and watch the football - it was a good reality check and it prevented us from going too stir-crazy. Stopping after the second pint is a wise move, though. …

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