Conquer your self doubts

29th October 1999 at 01:00
Elizabeth Holmes explains the golden rules for a positive state of mind so that you can boldly go into the classroom for the first time

Considering the tremendous range of experiences trainee teachers must survive in order to get where they are, and the personal achievements that must have been clocked up, why does the thought of making a debut in the classroom strike such fear into so many would-be teachers?

It's quite simple, really, if one looks at the bare bones of the situation. As a trainee, you have to teach a class or classes of strangers. Your pupils know each other. The other teachers all know each other. You don't have the full authority of Qualified Teacher Status. Your pupils (probably) know you are new to the job. They also (probably) know you're nervous. You will have to face a wide variety of unpredictable situations, often on your own and perhaps for the first time.

So, a little mental preparation is vital before setting foot in the lion's den.

During your teaching practice, you will hone uncountable skills - including lesson planning, class organisation, communication, voice projection, time management, behaviour management and self-evaluation - learned from many different groups of people, not least the pupils themselves.

Part of the onus on you as a trainee is to be open to the tips, ideas and philosophies that are presented to you, to absorb those that work for you and reserve judgement on those that appear to be of only limited use.

But it can be all too easy to feel as though you have to be expert in every aspect of the job; to be fully competent, able and willing to do and tackle everything. It's true that you have to be competent. And being able and willing is never a bad thing. But you are only expected to be a competent trainee, not a teacher with years of experience.

Hence the first rule of mental preparation, which should be repeated on a daily basis as a mantra. Remind yourself: "I am at the beginning of my career. My expertise will develop with time." You're at the beginning of a learning curve, of which qualification is a very early step.

If that helps to quell the seas of anxiety, turn your attention away from issues of self-doubt - "Am I good enough? Have I the skills I need?" - and focus on the second rule of mental preparation, which should be the central concern for beginning teachers: "I am developing and using sound relaxation techniques."

Undoubtedly, your training, as well as your first job, will evoke in you many emotions and, at some stage of your teaching practice, you may feel any or all of the following - elation, exhilaration, satisfaction, relief and a sense of being rewarded. But you will also experience anxiety, exhaustion, isolation, vulnerability and a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Teaching, like few other careers, can seem to be the best job in the world when all is going smoothly and lessons are received as intended, or the worst job, when you're suffering from sleep deprivation and your carefully prepared practical has just been trashed by an unthinking miscreant! Knowing how to deal with your responses to these emotions is central to your enjoyment and appreciation of your training.

Retaining a proper perspective as a trainee involves taking a rational view of your situation - not so easy when at the centre of many of the challenging emotions surrounding your training are questions of self-confidence such as: "Will I cope?", "Will they like me?", "Can I stick this out?", "Am I good enough?" Keep in mind that the school community will know how you feel. Certainly your fellow teachers have been there before. Use their expertise and draw on those around you. Newly-qualified teachers can be useful allies too.

Through helping trainees, teachers are confirming what they know themselves. Seek out those who have a positive influence on you - these may or may not be appointed mentors - who can assist with crises of confidence ("I can't do it") or of practical dilemmas ("How do I do it?") Build up your safety net and use it, until you know you're flying with skill.

And so, to the final rule of mental preparation: I enjoy my training and draw readily on the expertise of those around me.

Feeling anxious about teaching? It could be all in the mind!

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