Tired and emotional

1st August 2003 at 01:00
Wilting under the pressure to perform? Not getting the attention you deserve? You must be a newly qualified teacher. Martin Whittaker explores some common difficulties of the first year

New teachers frequently cite the rewards of the job - such as the "light bulb" moment when a class grasps a concept, or the inner glow of seeing an underachieving child make progress. But few would deny that the first year can be difficult. Common complaints are tiredness - particularly in the first term - keeping on top of work, and coping with unruly children.

When new teachers moan about the hours they put in, they often use the F-word. But fatigue can be a major problem as you adjust to school life - even if, as is your right, you are given a 90 per cent timetable.

"I knew it was going to be difficult," says David Cubiss, a newly qualified maths teacher in his mid-thirties at Ulverston Victoria high school, Cumbria. "But I wasn't prepared for how tired I was going to feel at the end of my first term."

Rebecca Gretton, 24, a music teacher in her first year at Monmouth comprehensive in Gwent, agrees: "It's a lot harder than I'd expected. To go from one day at college and four days' teaching to a full timetable and double the hours takes it out of me. When I get back from school, I'm exhausted."

Nobody has ever said teaching is going to be easy. It's a huge step from being a trainee supporting an experienced teacher to having your own class.

Those preparing for their first jobs in September will inevitably face anxieties. How will you get on with your pupils? How will you manage bad behaviour? How will you cope with the paperwork? And, most crucially, will the school give you the support you need?

According to Sara Bubb of the Institute of Education and The TES's agony aunt for NQTs, around one in five new teachers has been receiving less than the full induction entitlement, such as a reduced timetable and observed teaching. "NQTs are the most vulnerable members of the profession," she says. "They're often by themselves, they don't want to cause trouble, everyone is busy, and it's budgets, budgets, budgets. So they're likely to put up with being treated badly."

Alan Egdell, head of St Bernadette's RC primary in North Tyneside, organises training for NQTs in his authority. He worries that, with school finances so stretched and money for non-contact time no longer set aside, NQT entitlements may be squeezed out. "I believe every headteacher would be only too pleased to support the induction of newly qualified teachers," he says. "But that support becomes incredibly difficult to provide if you're facing a large deficit budget."

Jim Hudson, head of Two Mile Ash middle school, a training school in Milton Keynes, says non-contact time is an essential part of NQTs' induction. "As a teacher trainer, I would be furious if that were lost because they need time to reflect. They will be making mistakes, and they'll be better teachers for reflecting on them and improving their practice."

Behaviour management is another common issue for new teachers, and a major concern for many heads. Again, the issue is support, says Ms Bubb. "If you're having behaviour management problems, every hour you teach is worth a day of anybody else's timetable because it's so stressful. So you need people to recognise that you're having those problems, taking pupils from you and helping you work through the problems and solving them immediately."

Some schools fail to observe NQTs in their first four weeks, often thinking they're doing new teachers a favour by taking the pressure off. But any problems the person is experiencing could become entrenched. "Once kids start misbehaving, it's difficult to pull them back," says Ms Bubb. "Often the solutions are fairly straightforward if you nip them in the bud."

She urges NQTs to keep in writing any failure of the school to grant entitlements. You should stand up for yourselves, she believes, raising any issues with the headteacher and, if necessary, the local education authority. But, crucially, before starting in September, you must do your homework, she adds. "NQTs need to know their entitlements and their rights - and many people don't. For instance, I was talking to 200 primary PGCEs and asked, 'Did you know that if you fail the induction, you can never teach again?' 'No, we didn't,' they replied."

For further information:Teacher Training Agency: www.canteach.gov.uktrainingyour_first_year_of_teachingyour_induction.htmllt;NIPgt; . The Insider's Guide for New Teachers: succeeding in training and induction, by Sara Bubb. For details:www.tes.co.ukbookshopread_new_teacher.asp.TES staffroom forum for new teachers: www.tes.co.uk

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today