First Step - Keep up the good work

6th February 2009 at 00:00
New teachers tend to go through five stages of development. Here's what to expect, and what to look forward to

Newly qualified teachers are often told not to smile until Christmas. But now you're almost halfway through your induction year, should you be showing pupils your more joyful side?

If you're still feeling exhausted, you're not alone. Alison Adams, 25, is an art and design NQT at St Mungo's High School in Falkirk. She was getting up at 6am to plan for the day, teaching an almost full timetable and taking lunchtime clubs most days. She was also trying to buy a house and worked late after school. "I'd worked so hard during my probationary year that I didn't have time to get tired," she explains. "But after the summer holidays, I couldn't get back into the swing of things. I was always tired."

Her experience is a classic example of what academics Maynard and Furlong term the five stages of development for student teachers. NQTs move from early idealism to survival, through to recognising difficulties (dealing with them), hitting a plateau and finally moving on to new responsibilities.

"NQTs are often keen to make a name for themselves early on," says Chris Wheeler, a mentor and teacher at Ashton on Mersey School in Sale, Cheshire, which has about 40 trainees.

As an NQT you want to be a good form tutor, complete planning and paperwork, and establish yourself in your classes. But identifying your priorities is often a challenge. "It can be hard for NQTs to decide what needs to be done now and what can wait a while," says Mr Wheeler.

Perfectionism is another problem: "If you have six lessons to plan for, don't spend your whole weekend getting one perfect. Have a rough idea of how long you can afford to spend on each and stick to it."

The good news is that things should be getting easier by now - the recognising difficulties stage of induction year. "NQTs should be starting to feel more confident this term," says Kate Aspin, a senior lecturer in education at Huddersfield University. "There are fewer distractions, so concentrate on tightly focused lessons, close observation and assessment."

To help you with this, read through the first term's formal assessment, Mrs Aspin says, and use it to set some practical goals before Easter. Check previous notes before parents' evenings and ensure action plans have been followed up. It is also the right time to reflect on workload. Get advice from other staff if need be.

Miss Adams was longing for the Christmas break, but feels more in control prior to this half-term. "Things are going well for me and my pupils," she says. "I can talk anything through with my mentor and the school promotes an open-door policy so we can borrow ideas from each other. It's a supportive environment."

During these cold, short days, do not neglect your physical or mental health. "If you are waking up in the middle of the night worrying about school, have a notebook ready by the side of your bed," advises Alison Hughes, another education lecturer at Huddersfield University.

"Write down your thoughts then forget about them until morning. By then they will either cease to be such a big worry or you will be rested enough to deal with them more effectively."

As half-term approaches, try not to put work off, saying that you will complete it during the break. Half-term should predominantly be about relaxation and enjoyment. If you do decide to work, instead of doing a little every day or leaving it all to the last minute, Mrs Hughes advises designated blocks of time for schoolwork that are strictly adhered to

Next week: You and your induction tutor

What you should be thinking about this week

- Read through your first term's assessment.

- Make sure you've set and are working towards your objectives for the second term.

- Plan to do small, pre-set chunks of work during half term so you have time to relax.

- Scottish teachers have 12 meetings with their supporter between January and June, so make sure these are set up.

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