Prepare, and love your job

25th October 1996 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady hears how four new teachers have faired in their first term.

You've got your degree or PGCE, you've done your teaching practice. You've found a job. Now the first day of school looms. It's time for the real thing. How will it feel to be in charge of your own class and how will you cope?

It's a nerve-racking time. All new teachers go through it, and it probably helps to bear in mind that thousands have been there before you and have survived through to a time when they may actually enjoy and feel relaxed in the job.

Here four teachers describe those first few weeks: how they felt on the first day; how it went; what they've learned and what advice they would give to those following after.

Alex Smith, teaching English at Benfield School, an inner-city school in Newcastle: "I was very nervous and excited on the first day. It was as much about the staff as the children and getting to know people.

Fortunately the first day was a training day, which was a nice gentle introduction, a chance to meet the staff in an unstressful situation.

"What I didn't realise was how tiring it would be to keep discipline. At first it was quite difficult to know where to draw the line. I had to enforce the rules and it was tiring making pupils see what I would and wouldn't stand for - simple things like getting up and wandering around, for example.

"I had some major problems with some classes over boundaries, but I turned to senior teachers who helped me with advice, and in one case the teacher talked to the class. The head of department also backed me up when I took detention.

It's important not to see this as a failure: senior staff have more authority and once pupils realise that senior staff will intervene, the situation can improve.

"In teaching practice we had one class a week but now I have a full timetable. You must put aside time to sort out things like homework lists (when it's due in, who's done it and who hasn't) and records of sanctions and rewards. If you don't keep up with these things it can get very muddled and very quickly you start losing touch with what you're doing.

"I try to make sure I have a general plan for the week, which at present means a weekend day gone. I regret it, but assume it will get better, and I like to have my lessons very clearly planned.

"My advice is use the summer holidays productively, do some planning, because when you start teaching time is not always avail able and you are often too tired to use that which is.

"It's taken a lot of hard work to develop a good relationship with most of the classes, but now a feel more confident.

"Grit your teeth and know that it will get better. Once you get over the hurdles you can have a good relationship with classes - and even have a good time. ".

John Lofthouse, teaching RE at Alleyns School, Dulwich, a mixed independent: "I was petrified on the first day. On my PGCE you were expected to make mistakes, now I couldn't make mistakes. It was almost like going back to school. Finding my way around the school and remembering all the names of staff and children was difficult. But it was exciting too, especially coming from the North and never having lived anywhere else.

"Luckily there were many other new members of staff, one of whom is a newly qualified teacher, and several are about my age.

"During my PGCE I had learned that I had a tendency to be too nice, and I worried about being able to start firm. During teaching practice (in an inner city school) getting silence in the classroom was a struggle. Here I found that children stand up when I come into the classroom I thought 'I'm going to enjoy this'. I felt the pupils are keen to learn.

"Planning is important, but you can prepare too much. You need to be prepared enough so as not to panic, but its important not be be rigidly planned, flexibility is important.

"People at this school are keen to get you involved in other activities, and I think its especially necessary with RE, which is a subject where there can be a barrier - pupils think you're going to convert them. I'm coaching the under-15 football team and that definitely improved my relationship with them - they see you're a human being. I've also been roped into the cadet corps. I don't mind as long as it doesn't take over life too much.

"Everyone has been very friendly. I got a lot of help from the rest of the department and my head of department. If I had any real problems I'd go to him. My advice is: start with a firm set of instructions so pupils know that this is the way things are going to be done, and get involved in other activities - it's a good way of getting to know kids at a different level."

Cheryl Whitney, teaching reception and Year 1 at Quinta Primary School, Congleton in Cheshire:

"I was very apprehensive before I started; I had a few sleepless nights. The first week was a bit of a panic. During teaching practice there's more people to turn to, but you are very much on your own when you start teaching for real, shut off in your own classroom. You've got more teaching to do and chores like putting names on books takes up so much time.

"In the second week my confidence began to build up. I could see what I was doing wrong and what I should be doing. This week (the third week) I feel much better. I'm sleeping at night now.

"During the first few nights I was working solidly up till I went to bed and my mind was too alive to sleep. You have to learn to strike a balance between work and your life. Try and keep the weekends free: you do need a life or you can become stale in the classroom.

"At first I expected too much from the children. I hadn't envisaged spending so much time doing up shoelaces, for example. You have to be prepared to do a lot for very young children.

"The most difficult thing is planning. At first I spent a lot of time working out which attainment target could be met. Now I think it's best not to make the national curriculum and be all and end all, not to get bogged down with it.

"The school is very supportive. Other teachers give advice and suggest ideas. It's helped talking to them. Now I'm enjoying it."

Claire Ryle, teaching Year 4 at Sandycroft CP school, Mancot, Flintshire: "The first day I was happy and apprehensive, but I did my teaching practice at this school, and I've got the same class which makes getting to know the children easier but, of course, I have much more responsibility now. When it's your class you want everything to be perfect because you want to see you've made progress by the end of the year.

The first week there seems so much to do. All the duties take you by surprise - hearing readers, school trip money etc. You've got to be organised. You've got to prioritise or you'll find yourself running around all over the place. I have a huge diary open on the desk in which I make a note of things to do and look out for each day. I also have a notebook in which I note who worked particularly hard today - for parents' evening, for example, and make references for future lessons.

"I haven't had a bad day yet and I've gone home every day feeling good. My advice is: be organised. If you are organised, everything else falls into place. But remember, the best lessons are those that you've planned carefully but which take off in their own way.

"Oh, and love your job. Its definitely rewarding."

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