The exodus of newly-qualified teachers has tripled in the last six years (The Guardian, March 2015); many of whom choose never to even step foot in a classroom following their training. This statistic is more worrying considering the rise of social media during this time. My Facebook feed is packed with advice for September starters; someone new to the profession couldn’t wish for more instant feedback and support. So why the alarming retention rate? 40% of newly qualified teachers quit the job inside the first year. From the advice I give, I’m sure you can unpick my own thoughts on the reasons. If one person reading this buys into just one my top 10 tips for new teachers, I’ve done my bit to buck the trend. Here we go…
Keep it real, people. You’ll meet the purists who claim their passion for the job runs through their veins, but noone bleeds work. The grumpiest teacher in the staffroom probably still loves his/her job, but we don’t (or shouldn’t) live to work. I’m a dad and husband first and foremost – there’s no compromise to be had. I will be the teacher that my family-life allows me to be; not the family-man carved out of me being a teacher. That first assembly or parents’ evening; those dreaded observations and inspections are no doubt responsible for half the 4 out of 10 jumping ship, but by finding a way to see the bigger picture, you can help keep anxiety down to a more manageable level.
In my early career I made the conscious decision to resist the lure of promotion and senior leadership. I looked upon it in the same way a chef might work from pot-washer to different sections in a restaurant, or a footballer learning their trade in the lower leagues. All I wanted to do was teach; to work and learn alongside the kids and ‘perfect’ my craft. Advice came from all angles: move schools frequently, fast-track promotion paths, don’t stand still (chance’d be a fine thing!) and all the time I sensed a surprise – almost disappointment by my perceived lack of ambition. I tell my trainee teachers today: what’s more ambitious than a teacher aiming to become the best in the World!?
Rambling aside, this is my game-changer. Think very carefully about showing ambition by taking on multiple roles during your first year of teaching (if you’ve already been signed up then don’t panic – discuss your concerns with your line-manager). In my experience, any additional role in school will dilute the quality of your classroom practice. It’s basic physics: the more things you try to juggle, the more difficult juggling becomes. It took me around eight years to make the switch to senior leadership. Ambition is subjective and I’m still at the same school today.
I won’t compromise my teaching philosophy for anyone. You come into our classroom; you accept that we do things our way, or you leave. Simple. Actually, it’s not simple is it? The endless lists of ‘non-negotiables’ and observation hitlists; the hoops we have to jump through to prove to others that we’re awesome. Just ask the kids if you don’t believe me! It took a school improvement consultant (and former Ofsted inspector) to help me see the light. Don’t go getting yourself in trouble, but establish who you are in the classroom; don’t try to be something you’re not – be the very best version of YOU. Find your ‘knack'; your unique selling point; establish what matters to you, and never let it go.
#4 In Pursuit of Perfection
There is no perfect teacher or teaching style – Oftsed themselves have clearly stated this. You can strive for perfection, but I’ve lost too many hours changing fonts and dreaming up cute written feedback comments to realise that perfection – in this job – does not exist. There will always be a cooler font and a more gorgeous written response. Besides, we sell the idea that no learning can take place without mistakes, to every class of kids that pass through our door. Let’s at least buy into our own concept.
#5 Slow & Steady Wins The Race
What if I asked you to plan your meals for the next six weeks? The potential banana skins of such a plan terrify me (perspective…I know!). If you’re anything like me, you’ll be having a takeaway before the end of week one. I take the same view over planning. ‘Each to their own’ is a saying made for teaching, and I won’t ever criticise other approaches to the job you will grow to love – unless they’re totally ridiculous! Remember the Aesop fable, The Tortoise and the Hare? The hare is still fuming following his defeat to one of the slowest animals on Earth. He bolted off and took on too much. He had a plan and was going to carry it through no matter what. This appears to be quite a favourable method of planning. Many teachers get so far ahead, they’ll lose sight of what they’re doing right now and the finish line becomes a blur – it’s largely a result of needing to feel prepared. In my opinion, planning should be responsive and you can only react if you scrap the need to be over-organised and let go of a little control. Your pupils will reap the rewards; you’ll learn more about your role as facilitator; assessment for learning will go through the roof and – most importantly – you’ll not waste time typing up lessons that you’re never going to end up teaching. Who needs to know what they’re having for dinner in five weeks anyway?
#6 They’re Called ‘Breaks’ & ‘Holidays’
As a kid I spent my Summer holidays making dens, having water fights, skimming stones and getting into trouble. As an adult I spend my Summer holidays making dens, having water fights, skimming stones and getting into trouble. Social media cruelly alerts us to all the school work we ‘should’ be doing during our time away from the classroom. For many, the pull of school is too strong; a necessary sacrifice they need to make. Let me make this clear: if you do not look after yourself; if you take your classroom home with you, you will get squashed by it! Ignore the talk of an ‘expectancy’ or ‘having no choice’. You have a choice – make the right one and sleep.
#7 The Truth About Marking
Let’s keep this one simple shall we? Read my post on how to reduce your marking workload while benefiting your kids http://teachtothehilt.com/?p=513 Rarely will I ever plan for written outcomes in maths, English and foundation subjects in a single day. That – my friends – is a midnight marking session waiting to happen. It won’t do you any good and the poor kid that gets your 23:55 comment won’t appreciate it either.
#8 Love The Ones You Need
I have lost count of the number of times our school clerk has bailed me out of a fix; she’s incredible. I once fell out with a caretaker and spent a year rummaging around in a dark stockroom (don’t ask!) and my no-questions-asked relationship with our school cleaners is powered by end of term gifts (often – but not exclusively – alcoholic). These wonderful people don’t need me, but I desperately need them on my side – every day of the school year. I rely upon them – you will too – so look after them and together you will avoid becoming another statistic.
Social media erupted like an season of Game of Thrones this Summer. The divide throughout the teaching kingdoms actually caused people to click on the dreaded ‘Hide Posts From This Person’ tab. Resources are coming; and whether they’re free or not, electronic or paper-based, posted on the right group, at the right time, using the correct number of words or written whilst wearing the right fancy dress outfit, I don’t really care. Yes, I have strong views on the recent ‘Resources for Sale’ boom, but that’s another post for another day. Simply put, I used to be the most selfish teacher ever to walk the Earth. If I had an idea, I’d hoard and protect it – think Gollum and the ring. How ironic that today I’m sharing experiences, time and resources with people I can’t even see. You will share so much in your first year of teaching; you’ll take far more than you give but quickly learn how crucial an open, honest, sharing approach is for your success and sanity. In time you’ll get over the ‘my class’ mindset and open the hug out to everyone. When you do, your success and confidence will start to shine beyond the walls of your own classroom.
#10 Know Each & Every Child – Inside Out
From ‘Pick and choose your battles!’ to ‘Can you really get away with those trousers?'; so many words of wisdom have stuck in my mind. I remember one piece of advice for all the wrong reasons – because it really annoyed me: ‘You’re not their friend.’ They meant my pupils obviously. To this day, I’ve never really got over it. I remember taking it as gospel such was its popularity within the staffroom. After a while I cracked. I interpreted the message as needing to show discipline – I didn’t need telling not to expect birthday party invitations. That solitary piece of advice inadvertently forged my teaching philosophy and still underpins everything I do today. Going against the grain, I made it my mission to learn as much about my pupils as humanly possibly (in a non-creepy kind of way). Their likes and dislikes, hopes and fears; their achilles heel and hidden talents. I went beyond the idea of ‘knowing your kids’ by becoming one myself; beyond knowing the child as a learner, towards knowing the child as a child. That knowledge of the children in your care will you the edge over any teaching style, any resources and any level of experience. Knowledge is power and my five-year-old son is – by the way – my best friend.
So now you know it all – warts and all. Well, at least ten things; my ten things. There will be other people’s ten things no doubt; probably contradictory to mine; most definitely more helpful. As a newly qualified teacher ‘you’re not in Kansas anymore!’ You – and only you – can make things work. Get it right and you’ll enjoy a fairytale adventure in teaching. Get it wrong and you’ll end up that grumpiest teacher in the staffroom (we’ll presume you’re not one of the 4 out of 10!).
Please ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ the post – or follow me on Facebook – if you got even a smidgen of benefit from my ramblings. If I terrified you…I’m sorry! Whatever happens from September onwards, welcome to the family and good luck in all you do