The newly qualified teacher year is not an easy one. The first term has the highest concentration of what Donald Rumsfeld once called “unknown unknowns” – the things you don’t even know you don’t know. Fortunately, however, help is at hand, because these “unknown unknowns” are actually “known unknowns” – known, at least, to those of us who have gone before you.
1. You will discover that you don’t need to plan every single minute of your lessons.
Having your lessons planned down to the last minute gives you a sense of security, but you will find that they are only plans – and plans don’t always go the way you want them to. Don’t be afraid to adjust them: make sure you respond to what your children actually do and learn and, as your first term progresses, take a few small risks. Nobody ever learned anything by being perfect, so expect to make mistakes. The important thing to do is reflect honestly, learn from them and discuss any issues with senior colleagues.
2. You will be tested by the children.
Children are very good at spotting any chinks in your armour so always do what you say you will do. If a child has gone out at break time when they are meant to be inside, go and get them. If you say you will reward great attitudes or learning, then make it worthwhile for the children. They want you to be firm and fair: set consistent boundaries and keep to them.
3. You will have to do a parents’ evening…on your own!
No more sitting in with the class teacher – this is your class now. Preparation is key as parents will want to be reassured that you know their child: don’t greet them with an empty notepad. Highlight strengths but also stress that there are always things that can improve. If necessary, arrange a further meeting if the amount of time allocated on the evening is not enough.
4. You will learn the ways of the staffroom
In any workplace there are ways of doing things – some established over many years–and the mysteries of staffroom protocol can be daunting in some schools. Take your time settling in and observe the dynamics. It may seem impregnable but it will become second nature before long. Oh, and if there is a milk rota, make sure you never miss your turn.
5. You will occasionally have bad days
Try not to let bad days get you down: everyone has them. Pinpoint why they’ve happened and ensure you focus on bouncing back the next day
Richard Bullard is headteacher at Combe Down Primary School in Bath