When I taught my first nursery class in the 1990s, it was completely different from any teaching I’d done before. I felt frightened as I walked into the nursery unit and met four nursery nurses, all older and more experienced than me.
I was lucky: they were a friendly and supportive bunch, and they taught me a great deal. I was lucky to be a learner in that team, yet felt confident enough to ask them to talk me through things I didn’t understand. We worked collegiately and changed a fair number of things which “we’ve always done like that”.
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So, whether you’re starting your first teaching job in the early years or you’re an experienced teacher moving into the phase, buckle up – you’re in for an exciting ride. Here’s my advice.
Think about your team
Whether you’re a reception teacher with one colleague or a nursery teacher with a handful of early years educators, think about your team. Don’t focus on your role as a teacher in isolation. Reflect on what you can learn from your colleagues and what they can do better than you.
Stick to your core values
My second early years job as a reception teacher was different. On the first day, the teaching assistant welcomed the new children into “her” class. She’d been there for 20 years and seen young teachers like me come and go. She was highly committed but many of her practices weren’t in the best interests of children. I remember one little girl being levered out of the arms of her mother and spending her whole first morning sobbing by the toilets.
Make sure you stick to your core values: talk through important issues, such as settling-in, before you’re in the eye of the storm.
Get ready for the practical challenges you’re going to face. Wear clothes that you don’t mind being smeared with paint and other stuff. Get the warmest coat you can afford, so you’ll feel comfortable and enthusiastic outdoors in all weathers. Invest in a flask for hot or cold drinks throughout the day, so you can keep going without a clear break time (subject to your school’s policy).
Remember the dignity of each child and family
Remember the dignity of each child and family. It’s easy to let off steam about seemingly overly anxious parents, or feel cross when you get a family delegation swinging by to challenge your decisions. Small children are precious to their families. We need to be sympathetic to parents as we encourage their children to find their way in the new world of reception or nursery. Harshness, even in the staffroom, undermines that. Be brave. Challenge colleagues in a respectful and clear way, if you have to.
Small children think and feel like us
Remember that small children think and feel very much like we do – they’ve just had less experience. Think about how much you’d appreciate sympathetic, discreet help if you had a problem in the toilet, and offer the same to the children.