Tales from new teachers

30th January 2015 at 00:00
Staying on top form as a tutor

The problem

I had been assigned a tutor group and it was proving incredibly difficult to keep on top of all the demands placed on me. Along with getting to grips with teaching, I was following up on misbehaviour outside school, chasing absent students, dealing with several complex behaviour issues and trying to support two very troubled students.

By the end of the first half-term, it had all got too much and I felt like my head was about to explode. I arranged a meeting with my mentor and had a small but significant breakdown.

The options

My mentor was sympathetic, but she said this was all part of teaching and, although it was tough now, it would get better as I learned to manage my time. Not exactly helpful. I asked her what I should prioritise and she just laughed and said: "Get done whatever you can get done. What you can't, add it to the list for tomorrow." Right.

I talked to my family, who are all teachers, and they took my complaint as a signal to launch into an extensive rant against England's former education secretary Michael Gove. Again, not exactly helpful.

Finally, I sought the advice of a senior teacher in my department, who gave me some practical ideas. He told me to write down all the demands of having a tutor group. He then went through and starred the ones I was responsible for and ticked the ones where the responsibility rested elsewhere. The ratio was roughly 50:50. I was taking on problems that other teachers should have been sorting out and was not passing enough on to senior leaders.

The result

The advice was incredibly useful. I began by referring behaviour problems either back to the subject teacher or up the hierarchy, whichever was most appropriate. This immediately lightened the load and saved me from trying to police the students in my group every second of the day.

The next thing I did was talk to the pastoral lead about the two students with personal problems. Her advice was superb and she made it clear that I was taking on much more than I should have been. She put support systems in place and was really good at listening and suggesting practical solutions.

Finally, I prioritised tasks and put them on my timetable. I stopped checking my emails at midnight and began to use my time more constructively.

Of course, I am still stupidly busy, but I am no longer on the edge of disaster. And that is making a big difference, not only to my health but also to the way I teach.

The writer is a newly qualified teacher in the North East of England

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