You can often spot a teacher (or former teacher) by the way they react when you tell them you are getting into teaching. Instead of the ‘it must be so nice to finish at 3pm every day and have all those holidays’ response usually given by those who have no experience of teaching, it is more likely to be something along the lines of ‘you’re going to need a lot of wine/coffee/chocolate’. Teaching is undoubtably one of the most rewarding professions in the world, but it can be tricky when you’re first starting out as an ECT. Here are some tips to help you as you start your teaching journey:
1. Don’t take it personally
One of the things that I found helped me the most during my teaching career was to not be too harsh on myself when I received feedback or criticism. You have probably already become accustomed to a member of SLT popping in during a learning walk or may have already been through a deep dive of some sort. These monitoring activities are an important part of teaching and come hand in hand with strengths and areas for development. If your feedback wasn’t as rosy as you would have liked, it is absolutely fine. Nobody’s perfect! Treat it as an opportunity for improvement so that you can develop as an educator and thrive in the classroom.
2. ‘Magpie’ ideas from anybody and everybody
Don’t be afraid to ‘steal’ ideas that you have seen elsewhere. This could be from within your school, other schools or fellow teachers online. You will often find amazing ideas for displays, book corners, behaviour systems, marking – honestly, anything you can take to make your life that bit easier, do it! On a similar note, don’t be anxious to ask for ideas and support when you need it. Us teachers need to stick together.
3. Live marking will give you that little bit extra time at the end of the day
When I was teaching, I was queen of live, on-the-spot marking. Looking at my Fitbit at the end of the day to find I had done 20,000 steps was not uncommon, since I was constantly running round the tables in my classroom, green pen in hand, to give the children feedback. This saved me marking time at the end of the day and allowed me to correct mistakes and misconceptions immediately, rather than relying on the children to read my comments and take them on board (spoiler alert: they usually don’t). It will depend on your school’s marking policy, but if you have the chance to mark on the spot, I would definitely recommend it (if only to fit in an extra episode of binge-watching before bed)!
4. Be flexible
Most people will tell you that preparation is key when it comes to teaching. This is true to some extent – it’s always good to have your resources and lesson plans ready well in advance – however, things change at the drop of a hat in school. Sometimes the children just really don’t understand the content or skills in a lesson, and you will have to go over it again the next day. You’ve planned an engaging, interactive science lesson but the resources you need are nowhere to be found and will take six weeks to be delivered. Half the class are off sick. The moral of the story: always have a back-up plan.
5. Find your people
I met some of my best friends during my time as a teacher and working with them made my life so much easier, whether it was moaning, sharing ideas or just relaxing and ordering in a Nando’s together on a Friday lunchtime. It can be lonely starting out at a new school so try to connect with colleagues so that you can support each other. It also always helps to be friends with the kitchen staff for extra portions at lunch, and the site supervisor if you ever need anything in your classroom fixing quickly.
6. Enjoy spending time with the kids
It sounds corny, but the children really are the highlight of being a teacher. You can be having the worst day ever and one of your pupils will suddenly have a lightbulb moment after days of something not clicking: they’ll bring you a scarily accurate portrait that they have drawn of you or make a funny comment that just turns the day around. They will be hilarious, thoughtful, challenging and, at times, frustrating, but remember that you are privileged to have such an important role in shaping these young lives. You can learn as much from them as they do from you and have some fun on the way.
About the author
After graduating with a BA in Communications from Bournemouth University, Emma worked in public relations and marketing before deciding to undertake a PGCE at Kingston University and begin her journey as a primary school teacher. Emma taught for 15 years in schools around London and Surrey, in a variety of roles including lead practitioner and assistant headteacher. Emma now works for Eteach as Education Partnerships Coordinator, where she can share her knowledge of the education sector and support those beginning their teaching career.