A network power surge

14th January 2011 at 00:00
Kathy Oxtoby extols the virtues of your personal network - the lifeline for many a new teacher

For any new teacher, taking on the challenges of the profession without the kind of support they received during their training can be an isolating experience. Developing social networks gives you access to valuable sources of support who can alleviate that sense of isolation, as well enhance your teaching skills.

Maintaining friendships forged during the intense period of teacher training can help new teachers cope with the challenges of their first year in the profession, believes Miranda Crafts of Aylesbury High School. "I've got four very good friends I met during teacher training, with whom I still meet up a few times a year," she says. "We played hard and worked hard; it was an intense time when we were very vulnerable, but it was also exciting. We developed strong friendships and still exchange teaching tips and ways of coping with challenging situations in the classroom."

As the only NQT in her school, she recalls how lonely she felt and how her friendships from her teacher training days kept her "sane". "Initially my worries were behaviour management. Picking up tips from friends in the same position gave me practical strategies for managing students that I had not even thought about," she says.

As well as making the most of friendships from teacher training, social media such as Facebook provides a valuable support network for NQTs, says Julian Stanley, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. "Using these sorts of social networks can be a helpful way of sharing good and bad experiences and helping NQTs express their concerns," he advises.

You can also talk to other new teachers on TES Forums at www.tes.co.uknqtforum and www.tes.co.ukprobationer.

Stacey Blades, of Tollbar Academy in Grimsby, says she found chatting with friends from teacher training through Facebook gave her the support she needed during her induction year. And Lucy O'Hara Murray, an NQT in Southampton, also finds Facebook useful when it comes to accessing support from those she trained with. "We've all had to move to a new place, we all have new jobs, so using Facebook means we can share useful lessons and also makes you feel that you are not alone."

While social networking sites have their value, Christine Blower, general secretary of teaching union the NUT, cautions that what is written on them should be considered carefully and stresses issues concerning students should not be discussed. "You need to set the privacy parameters. In the end, there is no substitute for talking to somebody in person," she says.

Other new teachers can also be a strong source of support, says Ms O'Hara Murray. "I work with three NQTs and it makes such a difference. Having a chat with them makes you feel better at the end of the school day ... You can talk about what has gone well and what has not gone as planned. It makes you realise you're not alone and that you are coping."

Help from mentors for new teachers can also be invaluable. "I had a regular meeting with my mentor during my NQT year. We talked about different teaching strategies; she made me much more confident as a teacher," says Ms Blades.

Ms O'Hara Murray has found a "buddy scheme" helpful, where previous NQTs support new teachers. "They can give you genuinely useful advice and short tips that work," she says.

Developing friendships with other teaching staff can also be another source of support for new teachers, says Mr Stanley. "Make the most of their experiences and expertise. While it is difficult to make friends in a busy staffroom, you should use other teachers' support as you need their help when you are still learning."

Maintaining friendships with those outside the profession is important for new teachers - not only to avoid losing their sense of self, but also because it can help put the challenges of the role in perspective. "I found being in a choir was a good outlet, and having friends who can take an objective view and who were removed from the teaching world was very helpful," says Ms Blades.

New teachers are starting a career that offers unique challenges with many rewards, but don't be afraid to ask for help. As Ms Crafts says: "Make sure you have a support network to get you through. Ask for advice, share ideas and admit that sometimes you are not coping. After my early teaching experiences, the support I got from people I met during my PGCE course has meant we will be lifelong friends."

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