First Step - On a high

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Bursting with ideas and enthusiasm, you run up against the staffroom cynics who tell you something cannot or should not be done. Don't let them grind you down

The first term is hard for newly qualified teachers, who can find themselves under pressure and struggling to cope with the realities of teaching.

Part of that stress is squaring their passion with the disenchantment of some of their colleagues. While the stereotype of the cynical old hand muttering to himself in the staffroom may not be entirely realistic, there is some truth in the idea that cynical teachers can put a damper on your enthusiasm.

"They are always there, ready with a cheap jibe, a witty put-down, a wry raising of the eyebrows at your latest whimsical idea," says Debra Myhill, head of the graduate school of education at the University of Exeter. "And their cynicism is, of course, as they will repeatedly tell you, informed by the wisdom of their extensive experience."

Liana Peck, who has just completed her NQT year at Holgate School Sports College in Barnsley, experienced this first-hand. "Once I did not agree with a teacher on how the lesson should be taught, which made things quite difficult because I wanted to experiment with different learning styles," she says. "I think the teacher in question just thought the lesson should be taught exactly how they had been teaching it for years."

"This can be deeply undermining and demoralising: after all, how can you, with less than a year's full experience, presume to know better than the demagogue in the corner?" says Professor Myhill. "But you have the right to think differently and to believe in your ways of doing things. Because you have been trained recently, you bring new ideas and new understandings from recent research."

The strongest reason why schools want to work with new teachers is because you will update the school - so remember that your "whimsical" ways are your strength. "We know that the very best teachers are those who are constantly changing their practice, testing out new ways of doing things, creating learning activities which are tailored to the needs of the classes they teach," says Professor Myhill. "They are critical and reflective - they don't just cherry-pick 'good ideas' or copy what others do, but act as independent professionals, making the right judgments for their classes."

"With regards to teaching styles, I think it is important that you try new things out, even if older, more experienced teachers are worried about whether it will work or not," says Miss Peck. "Sometimes the more experienced teacher can be scared to try out new things. But I think you might as well try and fail than not try at all. You can make the activity work better next time."

Never stop experimenting or taking risks. In the words of Professor Myhill: don't go native and become one of them


- You have the right to think differently and to believe in your ways of doing things.

- The reason that schools want to work with you is because you bring new ideas.

- The very best teachers are those who are constantly changing their practice.

- Identify the movers and shakers in the staffroom and ally yourself with them.

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