How to thrive during your first year as a teacher

So you’ve completed the first part of your training to be a teacher - congratulations. Now it’s time to go into the classroom to do your first year as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT). We look here at the challenges you may face in your induction year and offer you tips to help you make a success of it.

Before you begin your first year in the classroom remember, everyone had to start where you are now. Just as nobody was born with the ability to read and write or drive a car so no one was born able to handle a classroom full of students.

First day nerves

Remember your first day at school? Well this is a rerun as an adult. If you don’t have first-day nerves you’re probably not awake! However nerves are good. They help us if we use them to propel ourselves in new challenges. It’s exciting as well as daunting. Try to see nervous energy  as a gift, a blessing, rather than a curse. It can help you rather than hinder like a layer of armour.

Do deep breathing exercises to calm yourself in the days before you start. And remember to do them before you enter the classroom and at several points during your lessons.

Keep a diary of how your first few weeks go. Then you can see and measure how nervous you were at the start and note it becoming easier as you gradually get used to it. And it will get easier. It’ll never again be as daunting as that first lesson on your first day.

Challenging behaviour

Coping with challenging behaviour is something many NQTs worry about. However every teacher is likely to face this at some point. In our 2017 YouGov health survey, 32 per cent of teachers who had experienced physical and mental health problems told us that their symptoms were related to problems with student behaviour. Here are some tips on how to cope:-

  • Be authoritative – in your speech and in your body language
  • Fake it till you make it – be absolutely confident and in control even if you don’t feel it
  • Get out of the habit of sitting behind the desk
  • Try the PEP approach:

          Proximity - walk around the classroom, stand by a pupil that may be about to misbehave. Stand a “little too close for comfort” but don’t invade personal space. A difficult judgement sometimes. You don’t want to come over as aggressive or intimidating.

          Eye contact: holding eye contact expresses dominance. What you say will be taken more seriously if you can maintain eye contact before, during and after speaking.

          Posing questions: rather than telling a pupil off pose a question with proximity and eye contact such as "Why have you not started your work"?

Managing workload

The level of work and the hours you have to do as an NQT may seem daunting. A 50 to 60-hour week is not uncommon and the coming Autumn term is often the toughest with nights drawing in making us feel less energetic. There’s also added pressure around Christmas activities for which you’ll be expected to play your part.

It’ll possibly be tempting to stay at school well after classes finish to mark papers and organise lesson plans. You may also be tempted to work through your lunch break to manage a workload that can at times feel overwhelming. It’s important you learn to set boundaries at this early stage in your career and don’t allow a heavy workload to encroach and seep into every crevice of your life. We need to lead balanced lives for our sake and for the sake of students. You wouldn’t tell your pupils to work every hour they can and have no fun would you? Make sure you apply this to yourself too.

Get into good habits early such as making sure you leave work on time. Don’t talk or worry about work every evening all evening when you get home. Be disciplined and set a cut-off time. Say something such as, “Right. I’m putting that up on the shelf for the rest of the evening. What’s on telly?” Accept that most ‘To Do’ lists never get entirely done and don’t beat yourself up over it. Setting a deadline for the time work finishes for the day can encourage you to “work smart” rather than work longer. The time to finish work is not when you switch the light out at bedtime.

Make use of your mentor

In your first year of teaching you’ll have a mentor. Make use of them. Go to them with problems or even if you don’t have any problems - and you might not! - still use them to talk about your classroom contact and how it’s going. These “debriefing” sessions can be immensely useful.

Observations

Perhaps what many NQTs dread most are the observations. Try to reframe your fear into a positive mindset. Remember your tutor is looking for good work to build on. This isn’t about tripping you up or trying to trap you.

We’re here if you need us

Our helpline counsellors are available round the clock on 08000 562561 if you need someone to talk to about any issue - work or home. The helpline is free and confidential and we’re urging teachers to get in touch as soon as they feel they need something extra to help them get through. It’s much better to ask for help early on if you’re struggling then let problems build up. We do hope you’ll stay in teaching and enjoy it and we’re very happy to help you in any we can.

Enjoy it

Teaching is probably the most rewarding career you can embark upon and most education workers get enormous satisfaction from it. So if we have one final but vital tip it’s this - enjoy your classroom contact.