Go into any school in the country in the forthcoming week and you will see teachers getting ready for the new academic year. The classrooms will look brilliant, there might be a smell of fresh paint and all the boards will have new displays. The corridors will be full of optimism.
For those experienced teachers, there is an expectation of what the year ahead will hold, but what about those who are newly qualified?
They haven't yet got that experience. They are, of course, overflowing with excitement, enthusiasm and that desire to be the best teacher they can be.
So what advice would I offer as an experienced head?
- First, remember that teaching is not a 100m sprint, but rather a marathon. Don't go out all guns blazing in the first few weeks only to find yourselves burnt out by Christmas. Instead, be consistent from day one and recognise that you are learning just as much as the children in your care.
- Always seek advice when you need it – and sometimes when you don't. New teachers sometimes see this as a weakness when in fact it is a true strength. Teaching is an art and the very best educators are still learning and will constantly seek new ideas. This is especially true of dealing with difficult children.
- Ensure you go into the staffroom regularly and talk to your new colleagues. They won't bite…The best schools are based on teamwork, and while everyone appreciates you have a lot to do, it is important to build positive relationships.
- Don't work stupid hours by over-planning, over-marking or over-analysing your performance. It is important to create a work-life balance from day one. Others will not do this for you, and if you fail to recognise this, the job can and will consume you.
- Of course you should set high expectations for yourself, but be realistic. It really annoys me when staff see the word "good" as negative. It actually means good.
- Establish a positive relationship with the children but always recognise you are the teacher. They might not all love you but they can all respect you.
- Please do not take on extra responsibilities too early. The first few years, and the initial year in particular, are difficult, so concentrate on the role of teaching first and foremost and leave the after-school clubs and so on for later.
- Recognise that the only true way to learn is by making mistakes. When you do – and you will – don't hide from them but share and embrace them. It may seem surprising but your colleagues have all made mistakes, and probably far worse ones than you have.
- Continue to look after yourself. Don't give up your outside interests and ensure you have support networks both in and out of school to help you. In essence, talk to people – it all feels far better when you do so.
With these few ideas you are ready to embrace our wonderful profession. Remember to always revisit why you wanted the job and that it is just that: a job.
I wish each and every new teacher good luck for the new year.
Colin Harris is a former primary head now supporting teachers and headteachers
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