Starting any job can be daunting for new recruits, and teaching brings unique challenges. Early starts, frenetic schedules and overwhelming paperwork are just some of the pitfalls that threaten to trip up unsuspecting early-careers teachers.
With recent figures showing that a third of teachers choose to leave the profession within five years, it is even more important to lay a solid foundation of professional behaviour that will, in turn, help you to build a system of excellent practice to support a long career.
Strong relationships are the cornerstone of the teaching profession and there’s an art to cultivating these: the balance of strategy and enthusiasm.
Five tips to help NQTs start out well in teaching
1. Organise your time
It’s your first day on the job and you’re given a copy of your weekly timetable. There’s certainly not much blank space on it, what with all those lessons, meetings, duties and parents’ evenings. Then there’s the homework log, reports schedule, practices and clubs timetable, assembly and lunch rotas, and the trips calendar.
First-day “overwhelm” is real, so it’s important to have a plan. And a planner. If your school doesn’t issue them, purchase one immediately.
Record your lesson schedule each week and jot down all key dates. You need to have a clear sense of how your days, weeks and months are looking, so that you can leave sufficient time to meet your deadlines.
Turning up late to your first lunchtime duty because you forgot about it isn’t going to create a good impression. Equally, knowing that you have 60 reports to write and 30 books to mark by next Monday is a useful indicator that you shouldn’t be volunteering to sub in for a residential weekend trip to the Brecon Beacons.
2. Get involved
As a bright-eyed new teacher, there is a delicate balance between protecting your time and getting stuck in. Whatever your commitments, it goes without saying that the more organised you are, the more you can free up time to contribute to wider school life.
Showing your willingness to enrich pupils’ educational experiences outside the classroom will help you to build relationships with staff and pupils alike. Teaching provides an incredible opportunity for pursuing your passions and most schools will be thrilled if you want to take the initiative for overseeing an activity.
So, if drama is your thing, volunteer to lead a school play; if you love football, see if you can coach a team after school. Equally, taking on pastoral duties, such as form tutoring or volunteering for additional responsibilities within your department – perhaps for exam marking or leading a curriculum review – will single you out as someone who is engaged and motivated to contribute to the team.
3. Be nice to everyone
Schools only thrive because of the collective efforts of the team – from the headteacher to the cleaning staff – and everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Never underestimate how much you will rely on support and administrative staff to help you perform at your best, and always remember that their professional contributions are vital.
Equally, look for ways to be noticed by the senior management team as, inevitably, they will be the ones who make the judgements about who should be retained and promoted.
Presenting as a friendly conversationalist, punctual team player and reflective educator is key to ensuring you make a standout impression. Many schools also offer staff social activities, which range from sports matches to pub quizzes and book clubs. If there isn’t an activity that piques your interest, set one up to meet like-minded people.
4. Observe others
Whichever training programme you are undertaking, ensure that it includes the opportunity to observe your colleagues teach. Aim to do this regularly, perhaps even more than your training requires.
Observations allow you to shamelessly steal ideas for your own lessons and build a bank of strategies for everything from behaviour management to questioning styles.
By watching other teachers, you can also begin to develop an understanding of why some approaches may work better in certain situations. You are in the privileged position of being able to observe pupils learning without the juggle of simultaneously teaching them.
Try to pick a focus for each observation, such as differentiation or formative assessment strategies. And don’t underestimate the usefulness of cross-departmental observation, particularly when watching a class that you teach, to see how they respond in different contexts.
Always thank a colleague for allowing you to observe their lesson and pose your feedback to them as questions. Questions such as “why did you choose to use mixed-ability pairings in your starter activity?” will hopefully lead to some insightful discussions that help you link theory to practice.
5. Ask for feedback and set targets
Listening and responding to feedback can be one of the most powerful tools for developing into a skilled teacher during your early years on the job.
If it isn’t forthcoming, request it. Ask more experienced colleagues to observe your lessons and then quiz them on what they might have done differently and why.
Ensure that your school is providing you with your statutory right to a professional mentor, so that you can have a professional dialogue that will help you to reflect on your practice and set targets for development that are in line with the teaching standards.
When you set targets, as every new teacher should, spend time building a strategy to achieve them within a realistic time frame. If your target is to gain more subject knowledge of a new syllabus, request to attend relevant exam-board training.
Ask for a recommended reading list to enhance your knowledge of the topic and later showcase your learning to your colleagues by sharing some teaching resources that you’ve created. In generating tangible outcomes, you will be in a better position to evidence the progress you are making.
By the end of your first year in teaching, you will no doubt be exhausted and looking forward to a well-earned break. But if you have approached your new role with a balance of strategy and enthusiasm, you will be in a strong position to build on these successes over future years.
Emma Newton is assistant teacher-training mentor at RGS Guildford