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Surviving the first term ...

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#1 A Finemess

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Posted 17 September 2003 - 07:55 PM

Surviving your first term of teaching.

So. You’ve packed the brief case your mum gave you and you’re on your way to your first day at your new school. If you are based in Scotland this will be the first day of your (rather less than) one year probation scheme placement. If you are elsewhere in the UK, you have overcome the hurdles of numerous interviews and are on your way to becoming a fully fledged teacher. Either way, you are probably thinking the same thing … “How on earth will I survive?”

Read on …

First, let’s go back a little. Before you took up your appointment, did you visit the school? Did you receive copies of all the relevant documents: school handbook, departmental handbook, personal timetable etc. Did you have the opportunity to meet with your future colleagues? In particular, did you meet with your future Head of Department (Principal Teacher in Scotland)? Did you meet with your mentor / supervisor?

A good school will have arranged all of this before you start teaching. All are absolutely essential to the support and development of a fledgling teacher. If you missed out on any of these , you should approach your Head of Department at once and seek reassurance.

The most common fear among tyro teachers is that they will not be able to control a class of adolescents. Be reassured. As you probably found out in your training year, the media image of adolescents is much demonised. You will find that nearly all are capable of wonderful things if they perceive and are able to respond to certain cues in your demeanour. Here is a short list of helpful hints …

1. Remember the swan: serene and calm above but paddling like hell below! Pupils equate competence with calm. Always, always, always keep your cool!

2. Voice is hugely important in teaching. Instructions given in a calm, quiet, authoritative voice command obedience and respect. Raising your voice or shouting will almost always result in a noisy reaction from your pupils.

3. Whatever room or rooms you teach in, make your own. Make up a seating plan for your pupils before you even see them. (You can then point out that they can have no complaint of prejudice or preference!) Accept no protests or arguments, simply point out that this is your room and they are here to learn from you. They may take up any complaint with your Head of Department or even the Head Teacher later and will be given exactly the same response.

4. Get to know your pupils as quickly as you can. They will respond better to you if they rightly believe that you view them as valuable individuals worthy of getting to know by name.

5. Use praise often but in a meaningful and considered way. Indiscriminate praise is counter productive. Consider using a class progress chart and giving stars or other symbols as a public sign of your pupils’ success.

6. Value your pupils’ work. Mark work regularly and make constructive comments. Display good work around your classroom.

7. Laugh. Pupils appreciate a teacher with a sense of humour. However, make clear the distinction between laughing with a person and laughing at them. For your part, make sure that you do not get a laugh from a class at the expense of a pupil. A class will then tend to support you when you sanction a pupil who tries to make a fool of you.

8. Sanction the behaviour not the person. Never … “You are an idiot, Jimmy!” Always … “Your behaviour is not acceptable, Jimmy!” Better yet, find an opportunity to praise Jimmy in the micro second when he has behaved in a sensible and constructive way.

9. Accept that you will make mistakes and speak to your colleagues about these, especially your Head of Department. An open, trusting relationship with your HoD (Principal Teacher in Scotland), will be the single most important aid to your surviving the first year, never mind the first term.

10. Join a teaching union. In the event of difficulties, this will give you invaluable support and in any event, you will be able to access a network of colleagues far beyond the limits of your own school.

So much for the school but coping in school is not the only difficulty you will face as a less experienced teacher, so …

• Teaching is a stressful job. Learn to deal with it. Excessive alcohol, tobacco and coffee do not help. Exercise, “time out” and laughter with friends do!

• Learn to say “No”. Younger teachers are often expected to take on things which the more experienced give a body swerve to. This is fine up to a point. They too did their share in the past but try to limit the calls on your time. “No I can’t do that, I promised my class I would have their work marked by the next day”. Remember that your priority is your pupils’ learning.

• Except for properly organised and supervised school functions, avoid contact with pupils outwith the school day. You are their teacher, not their friend or life coach. Pupils have their own friends. However close to them you may feel, they will always regard you as a teacher. If you are not aware of the difference you can expect to be made so by your employer or the General Teaching Council in your part of the UK. Mixing with pupils socially can seriously threaten your career.

• If you meet pupils in a public place, always be pleasant and polite. If they are abusive, do not respond. Deal with the matter by reporting the incident to your Head Teacher when you return to school.

Follow the advice above and while it cannot be guaranteed, you are more likely to enjoy a successful year.

This advice is limited and cannot be comprehensive. Other teachers who have experience to pass on, be they old hands or relative tyros, are encouraged to do so by posting replies to this starter.
“All men dream; but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out otheir dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”.(T.E. Lawrence)
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#2 JohnDClare


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Posted 17 September 2003 - 10:36 PM

I'm re-posting this here because Andrew wanted it moving from 'lunchtime blues'.

I know being an NQT is hard, but:
1. Try to keep things in perspective. It's just one class, in one day, in a small school, in a corner of the universe. A bad lessson is not wrecking their education or your career! A naughty child says nothing about you at all, though it may say something about the SMT, or the parents, and it speaks volumes about the child. Try to remember that you are the boss, not they.
2. The key ability is - ESPECIALLY in the heat of a classroom crisis - to see things as THEY see it. It is not for them the deep emotional experience it is for you. They are incredibly shallow and unreflective! They're just having a laugh - because they can (and because your inexperience is letting them). So try not to get meaningful with them - see it for what it is, a fairly harrowing game of bluff and who-can-outwit-who.
3. When you're starting, the big ones seem so daunting, and the little ones seem so wick. But they are just children. Try to step back and see them for what they are - naughty, needy children.
4. That class DOESN'T hate you. At most, half-a-dozen ne'er-do-wells are giving you a hard time. A majority of the pupils would be more than happy to get on exactly as you are requiring, and the rest would soon back off rather than have a confrontation. The problem is that you haven't yet worked out who 'the six' are.
5. A class is a many-headed hydra; one but many. Each child is an individual. This one is misbehaving because his mother is an alcoholic. This one wasn't listening when you explained the work. This girl has Special Needs and demands attention all the time. This boy is fine until he begins to lose it, then he can't pull himself back. Each one needs a different strategy to build the relationship which means that they trust you which is the basis of them co-operating with you in the learning process. BUT AT THE SAME TIME a 'class' has a corporate mentality, and each one fires off the others - and that stops you even being able to begin to meet their individual needs. (It would really be an interesting sociological study if you weren't in the middle of it.)
I know this sounds really naff, but you have to be like Jesus. If you read the gospels (I used to teach RE as well) He had some brilliant crowd skills, but then, suddenly, it's Him and just one person, and very intense - and then that's over and He turns back to teach the crowd. THAT is a really useful skill.
6. YOU MUST enlist the help and support of other teachers in the school. Do not cut yourself off in your room/house, always working, always evaluating, always self-blaming and worrying. An old lag like Neil de Marco or me can plan a lesson on the way to the classroom. So take your breaks and lunchtimes, and have some evenings out with friends.
7. Make a list of THE BASICS on a piece of paper, stick it up and keep making sure you're abiding by them. Have everything ready for each lesson before they arrive. Teach well, with different activities, including times for them to just get on with fall-off-a-log tasks in silence. Insist on good discipline for their sake not yours. Then grind out the days and grind them down.

Who am I to talk? I live in a privileged environment where the most I usually need to do is to advise them that it's not wise to begin to be silly with me. I don't think I'd know what to do now with a naughty class! NQTs are at the sharp end of the profession, and I take my hat off to their work-rate, ability and energy.
But this isn't an instant coffee thing. All I can offer is that if you stick to your guns (and that is the key thing) you will see improvements in years 2 and 3, a major improvement after 5/7 years (when you have been there longer than the oldest pupil) and a doppler shift when you start teaching the children of children you taught!

The funniest thing happened yesterday! I had a mum bring in a little Yr7 girl who daredn't come to school. They both sat and cried (I think mum was more emotional than the child). I had taught mum, of course. So I suggested strategies to child to not be so scared, and then strategies to mum to not get so upset. Then I asked: 'And what do you do if you even get a little worried so I can help you' - and they both said: 'Come to you'!!!!
Ahhh! How cute!
It does get sweeter eventually!

#3 Richard Drew

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Posted 18 September 2003 - 06:02 AM

not much i could really add to what has been mentioned in such all encompassing detail.

but i can offer a few tips of the more unusual variety from someone who was an NQT 2 years ago:

~ Get to know the really important people in the school, no not SMT or HOY's, but the caretakers, cleaners and office staff. this is essential for two reasons. firstly they will ease a lot of the pressure on you with rtegards to time consuming activities - typing, photocopying, sorting out little problems, getting hold of furniture you need. secondly these people are often far more willing to be warm and friendly to you from day one and will treat you as an important and respected person - this goes a long way to making you feel welcomed and measn you always have someone to talk to (in my experience most office staff could gossip for a living!!!).

~ don't try and deal with everything in secret for fear of being seen a failure. most teachers see asking for help - such as removing a disruptive pupil from your room to theirs, as a strength not a weakness. you are saying that you will not let one person disrupt the education of the rest.

~ get involved in some extra-curricular activities. the transformation in your pupils' eyes can be unbelievable. you will no longer be that nerdy history teacher, but the human being who loves rugby or music or drama or etc. suddenly they see you in a different light, out of your room, out of your authoritarian role and this can turn around the attitude of some difficult pupils.

as i say, slightly off the wall suggestions, but they made a big difference to me 2 years ago
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#4 Elle


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Posted 18 September 2003 - 08:34 AM

The thing I would suggest is always ask for help, don't think you have to cope all by yourself, aslong as you show you are willing to listen ton advice people will be willing to help you - I know this because i had an awful lot of help in my first year.
Also find out if there is a regular staff social outing, you can get to know staff that way, and you will also find that some of the classes who are giving you problems are giving other members of staff problems too. There is a group of us who are in the pub by 4 on a Friday and its good for getting things off your chest.

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#5 georginadunn


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Posted 18 September 2003 - 09:47 AM

Just want to second all of the above, but particularly Richard's points about getting to know the non-teaching staff in the school. I made sure that I was very very nice to all the receptionists, repographics staff and the caretakers which meant that if I needed anything doing it was almost instantaneous. In return if you have time, offer to pick up the office phone, take a message to someone, clean up the dinner hall. I know they are all extra things to take on board, but a small favour for someone usually generates to something bigger in return.
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#6 Carole Faithorn

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Posted 18 September 2003 - 02:27 PM

There is much good advice and food for thought here both from 'old' and 'not-so-old' hands.

It all set me to thinking about my own first year of teaching - before the term NQT existed. Even though it was a very long time ago I can remember how stressful I often found things particularly classroom management issues and discipline. My PGCE tutor had consistently refused to spend much time on this saying that he was "not running a Tips for Teachers" course!

I was wondering whether NQTs and other teachers in the first few years of their careers might like to say what issues they are findng it difficult to handle?

What worries you most about the job?

#7 Helen S

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Posted 18 September 2003 - 07:52 PM

I was wondering whether NQTs and other teachers in the first few years of their careers might like to say what issues they are findng it difficult to handle?

What worries you most about the job?

It's had to say what worries me most. I think it's that when I was training, it was a 10 month course with a huge content of theory and some practice, but only limited. Trouble is now I'm doing loads of teaching and do not have time to really produce the lessons I'd like to in theory.

I'm also finding severe problems with homework and have had to come up with a system to combat this.

Thing is I'm also the only History Teacher (well full time) and all the departmental stuff has to be done by me and I simply haven't had time and it's an enormous weight waiting to crash on me. (I'm due to hand in a value added analysis of the GCSE history grades, a MMSR...........I think thats what it's called, well the first part needs doing, I need to do the SOW for each year 7,8,9,10,11 for October to December, I could go on!).

I think it's the huge jump I'm finding difficult to handle, its a huge shock to the system. I'm also not thick skinned yet so when I have a bad lesson it gets to me. I also feel inferior to other more experienced colleagues in that area of my teaching.

That was a rant wasn't it! I feel much better now I've ranted!!!

HEL :flowers:
Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.
H. G. Wells

#8 Paul Smith

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Posted 18 September 2003 - 08:38 PM

I have to say Helen you are being expected to take on board far too much as an NQT. My previous employer has replaced me with an NQT BUT all my curriculum and staff management roles have been passed on to a more experienced, and surely eternally grateful, colleague.

There is plenty of sage advice above but there are a couple of things I would like to add

Remember you have many skills and ideas that you can offer - I always look on mentoring and observing new colleagues as an important learning opportunity for me - I have watched lessons where I have gained far more from the NQT than they will have from my advice and comments - its a fabulous experience.

You have a life outside of work -(OK those of you who know me a little better - pot calling kettle black, those without sin cast first stone etc etc) - you can only do so much, learn to say no and ENOUGH! Teaching is hard, we work very long hours - it is important for you ,and the pupils, to break off completely.

Finally I echo the support staff advice - get caretakers, cleaners, kitchen and support staff on your side and half the battle is won. Treat them as equals - teaching ain't that well paid when compared to many other professions BUT their terms and conditions can make ours look heavenly. A couple of bottles of beer or a bottle of wine, a thank you note, a helping hand - and they are your mates for duration - too many colleagues (I am certain not forum members) see them as lesser mortals -they are not! (Indeed I've worked with lab technicians who were amongst the most academically well qualified staff)

And find a good sounding board - get it off your chest - suggest not partner/spouse all the time - it can get to them!



Edited by Paul Smith, 18 September 2003 - 09:12 PM.

Cassus ubique vale

#9 Nichola Boughey

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Posted 19 September 2003 - 05:19 PM

:flowers: I survived my NQT year using the following techniques:

1. Wine.
2. Chocolate.
3. Tissues.
4. Smashing a shuttlecock every Tuesday night at badminton!
5. Stress balls!
6. Counting to 10 in my head!
7. Swearing in my head!
8. Having an ace group of NQTs and other teachers to talk/whinge/cry to!

These seem funny now but some were quite neccessary at the time! Heck - I still use them now!

You get through it - you survive - and then you can't believe how nervous and uptight you really were!

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Posted 19 September 2003 - 05:45 PM

I survived my NQT year (actually called probationary year back in the 18th century), by ignoring utterly the "Don't smile until Christmas" crap advice which I still hear being given today.

#11 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 19 September 2003 - 05:50 PM

I think it's the huge jump I'm finding difficult to handle, its a huge shock to the system. I'm also not thick skinned yet so when I have a bad lesson it gets to me. I also feel inferior to other more experienced colleagues in that area of my teaching.

It is a massive jump, you're quite right. In my NQT year, which is admittedly a while ago now, I went from being a 'bit part' in the History Dept to being Head of Dept. The learning curve was extremely steep and at times very hard to handle. I 'survived' because of a number of things:

1) I insisted on having a mentor of my own choosing. I knew that I needed help and support and realised that the best way to make sure I got the job done half decently was to be working with someone whom I had a great deal of respect for: I knew who this person 'had' to be within a few weeks of being in the school and still use him as a sounding board when I have awkward decisions to make (What is nice for me is that he now uses me in the same way as well).

2) Prioritise. You cannot get everything sorted out overnight, nobody can. Pick the areas that you need to concentrate on and devote time and energy to them. I'd suggest Years 9-11 as being these areas as they are the ones that your progression as a teacher will be judged upon come July. For years 7&8 you will have in your dept, or available via the sites at the top of the page, all the resources and lesson ideas that you will need to get you through this year. Use them as they are, you can worry about amending them to fit your style of teaching next year, or perhaps even the year after that.

3) Ask for regular in lesson support for groups that you consider to be awkward. This way you can isolate trouble makers quickly by splitting them up and having them working on different tasks. getting support staff to work with a group of 5 or 6 students in an area close to the classroom will minimise the level of disruption AND will get higher quality work out of students.

4) Develop the thick skin. You're there to teach, they're there to learn. If they don't want to learn that's hardly your fault. Record all of the incidences of poor behaviour and use these with parents, pass them on to form tutors, Year Heads and and Learning mentors / support staff that you can find.

5) Use the 'Broken Record' technique. Students won't always listen the first time they are asked to do something, particularly with new faces. Calmly but assertively repeat the instruction several times. If you 'lose it' with a child they might think they've gained the upper hand - even if you think they have done this, never ever let them see that this is the case.

#12 JohnDClare


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Posted 20 September 2003 - 08:57 AM

Ask for regular in lesson support for groups that you consider to be awkward.

I hesitate to question Dan, but when I was acting SENCO last year I waged a continual war to try and get teachers to realise that in-class support is for the Special Needs pupils, not for the teacher.

It's a vital principle, because SN support is SO inadequate to the needs of the SN children that resources are desperately over-stretched to meet their needs. When the SENCO is also being asked to put LSAs here and there because a teacher can't cope with a class, it's nervous-breakdowns-ville.

The only justification would be to argue that - because a teacher was inexperienced - certain pupils whose SNs were behavioural needed an LSA in the classroom to help them meet their behavioural targets.
But the allocation of support MUST be pupil-led.

A far better way would be to identify the half-a-dozen troublemakers and spread them to the four winds every lesson, putting them into other teachers' classes to copy, and only letting them back in one at a time when they have learned to do things properly.

#13 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 20 September 2003 - 10:38 AM

Ask for regular in lesson support for groups that you consider to be awkward.

I hesitate to question Dan, but when I was acting SENCO last year I waged a continual war to try and get teachers to realise that in-class support is for the Special Needs pupils, not for the teacher.

Sorry, I've not explained in enough detail there.

We have teaching assistants who are not part of the SEN team. They work with small groups of students within the classroom or can be asked to work with a group outside the classroom without SEN support being affected. Also Learning Mentors often work with their mentees during lessons, though as with SEN this is something that should come from that department rather than being the result of a cry for help.

We also have had team teaching as a large part of peoples timetables which has been a good way of making the NQT year as successful as possible.

#14 Marta Gunner

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Posted 23 September 2003 - 11:04 PM

The only bit I can add is, talk to people. The older (not neccessarily though!) lot of us have off days too and they can give great advice. If you need to take a break if you are upset, and someone offers you a bit of time, take it! :D It does help really. And remember, there are some children who will not respond in the way you want to. Do your best for them, but doin't beat yourself up over them (I am still guilty with that now.) Hopefully, enjoying yourself also comes into this.

#15 Dan Moorhouse

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Posted 08 January 2004 - 04:43 PM

The start of term two for the NQT's.

How useful was the advice offered at the beginning of the year?

Is there anything any of the NQT's would like to add to the advice that has been offered?

What are the main areas of challenge or confusion for you in your first year as a teacher?

What types of support are you receiving in school?

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