Ten errors to avoid

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Under the threshold: There are ways to make your first years easier

1 Poor time management "When I first started out, I was spending more time planning lessons than actually delivering them," says Caroline Dilworth, a French teacher from Leeds. "I'd often stay up until the early hours making flashy resources, but when it came to the lessons, I was too exhausted to give it my best. Eventually, a more experienced colleague said: 'Every lesson doesn't have to be all singing and dancing, you know. You're going to wear yourself out!' She said I should aim to give each class one fantastic lesson each week. It was fine for the rest to be 'just good'.

I've followed her advice ever since."

2 Trying to be your students' friend According to Sue Cowley, author of How To Survive Your First Year In Teaching*, many new teachers commit the fatal error of trying to be a friend rather than a teacher. "This is a mistake that usually comes from being nervous," she explains. "The teacher hopes that if they are 'friends' with their students, they will do as they ask.

This is a big mistake."

3 Failing to set high expectations"I used to let little incidents build up until I had a much bigger problem on my hands," says English teacher Emma Jordan. "I soon learned I needed to deal with instances of poor behaviour as soon as they happened." New teachers should remember that children need clear boundaries. Setting high expectations, following up every instance of misbehaviour and imposing sanctions is hard work, but it will earn you respect.

4 Forgetting what it's like to be a kid Teachers run into trouble when they set their standards too high, says Catherine Bourne, head of Year 10 at Bennett Memorial diocesan school in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. "It's easy to forget what it is like to be a kid. It's so important to keep your sense of humour and remember that messing around is just something kids do.

Chatting, taking the mickey or passing notes are really minor disruptions.

A firm request to stop - or even a jokey comment - is often enough to quash this kind of behaviour. You need to strike a healthy balance between firm and fun."

5 Taking things to heart It can be easy to take yourself - and your students' behaviour - far too seriously. That tantrum, that swear word muttered under the breath, the class that won't shut up - it can all seem as if it is personally directed at you, but this is rarely the case. "Early in my career," Ms Bourne recalls, "I had this nightmare class. I tried absolutely everything, but they misbehaved constantly. Looking back, I think they probably weren't all that bad, but I took it so personally, which affected my attitude and actually made the situation worse."

6 Letting teaching take over your life Sue Cowley thinks new teachers fall into the trap of making teaching their all - at the expense of social life, family and friends. "Although it's a vocation, you have to maintain some space for yourself," she says. Draw boundaries between your personal and professional lives. One way is to declare particular evenings or weekend days 'work-free zones' or create a cut-off point for work in the evenings.

7 Listening to whingersThe staffroom can be a haven for new teachers, a place to let off steam and gain advice and support from more experienced colleagues. But beware of whingers. "Every staffroom has at least one," says James Williams, PGCE convener at Sussex University. "They can be very funny if you don't take them at face value. In my first school, the whinger always complained about one class. They were 'bred from Satan's liver', he claimed. As I taught that class, I was petrified. In fact, they were fine."

Ms Jordan says she paid too much heed to whingers. "They love having a platform to air their moans and groans. More experienced staff know how to avoid them, but the new teacher is often unable to distinguish between fact and opinion."

8 Indulging in staffroom gossip "Gossip is probably the most destructive force in the world," says professional coach and former science teacher Will Thomas. "It's a mistake to believe people who gossip to you about others won't gossip about you. When your back is turned, they invariably do."

9 Making mountains out of mole hills When you're finding your feet, it can be tempting to refer every incident to a more senior colleague, but this may not win you popularity. London-based PE teacher Gary Hunt explains. "As a year head, I find inexperienced teachers come to me with really petty concerns, like students chewing gum in class, answering back or persistent chatting. These are all incidents that a class teacher should be able to manage themselves. I have to admit, I get really irritated with colleagues who take up my time with such issues."

10 Not treating students as individuals As a new teacher getting to grips with classroom management, it can be tempting to label a class negatively on the basis of the behaviour of just a few. This will not do you any favours, says Mr Thomas. "Young people consistently rate an effective teacher as someone who cares about them," he says. "They very quickly pick out the teachers that disregard their individuality and choose against building a relationship with them. The outcome is often conflict and strife."

*Continuum International Publishing , pound;12.99

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