Ten things I wish I'd known in my first year of teaching

It still shocks me that it's been 4 years since I started teacher training and 3 since I was an NQT. It's gone really quickly which can only be a good thing; I think life goes quickly if you're enjoying it.

My teacher training year was busy but really enjoyable, whilst on the other hand my NQT year was much more challenging, likely because it was the real deal. It was no doubt made worse because I didn't really know anyone who had gone through it, other than very negative reviews of teacher training on internet forums (which I advise anyone to avoid). I hope this post will help anyone who is unsure of what to expect of themselves, particularly if they are about to begin teacher training or if they feel lost right in the middle of it.

It's OK to make mistakes. 

You are going to make lots of them so try to get used to this. In my training year and my NQT year I made so many errors, some small and small big, it started to feel as if I couldn't do anything right at all. Learning to teach is a lot of educated trial and error and in all honesty, as long as you learn from your mistakes you will get better quickly.

Confidence in the classroom can take several years.

Don't put pressure on yourself to feel confidence in the beginning. I remember starting my first day of teaching and getting to know other new teachers who were starting with me at the school. Slightly nervous and already feeling out of my depth, I was imediately put off by a particular new teacher who oozed confidence. I made the mistake of asking him if he was nervous to which I recieved a dodgy look and was told they felt absolutely fine. I later found out (3 years later) that they were not a 'new' teacher at all. Needless to say I felt a bit silly.

Confidence eventually happens when you start to see more successes than fails in your everyday experience of teaching. You may not even notice said confidence creep up on you until you deal with something that terrified you in the beginning, such as discipling a difficult student or entering termly data without the guidance of your HOD.

Teachers love to dramatise and moan on forums.

When I was looking into teacher training I came across hundreds and hundreds of posts on reputable forums about PGCEs, NQT years and teaching generally, all written and posted by teachers for teachers.
Most of them were very negative and off-putting, some were even a bit scary. I nearly backed out of my PGCE course before even starting because of things I had read on these forums.

I gave my PGCE a shot anyway (having been talked back into it by family members) and I was shocked when I looked back on the things I had read online. My experience was no where near as awful or traumatic as I had been assured by other teachers.

Please - for your sanity - take negative, online posts with a pinch of salt.  

A tailored blazer goes a long way.

A blazer is a great investment. Not only does it look highly professional out and around the school, it gives you an edge at parent's evening (trust me here) and clearly distinguishes a boundary between yourself and the class.

When I was fresh out of university, it was quite difficult to earn respect as a working adult in the beginning. I kept getting asked if I was a sixth former by students and staff. During my teacher training in fact, I had a teacher start shouting at me in a corridor for not wearing proper uniform until, red-faced, he realised I was a teacher too. I figured my work-attire just wasn't cutting it.

So a year into the job I decided to buy some blazers in the January sale (a great time to buy an expensive one). I even went and had them professionally tailored so they fit well.

I personally feel more in character when I wear a blazer. Once it's on, I feel more like a teacher and this gives me a bit of power on a sleepy Monday morning.

Get a whistle for break duty. 

Most schools will supply a whistle if you ask for one. I take mine with me on break duty and its come in very handy, particularly when I've needed to get a group of students attention quickly on the playground or on the road outside the school.

Establish boundaries and stick to them. 

Being 'matey' never works unfortunately, even if you are 'young' and 'cool'. I think this sometimes makes it worse.

Avoid non-subject related conversation as much as you can, especially in your first year of teaching. You are new and quite often this means the students are interested in finding out as much as possible about you. It's fine to get to know them, they'll bond better with you if you show interest in them, but keep up your guard here. 

A check of how visible you are on Facebook won't go amiss here either. They most definitely will be looking you up!

Always refer to the behaviour policy. 

You can't argue with the facts. Every classroom in my school has a list of expectations for behaviour and I try to refer to this when challenged by a student.

Further to this - as and when you document challenging behaviour by a student, again make sure to refer to the behaviour policy when explaining what you did and why. It's a lifesaver when you've got an angry parent phoning up the school to ask why their child has been given a detention.

Pick your battles. You'll win more. 

The temptation to stop every student on the gate in the morning with the wrong uniform was too great in my first year. I was of course, doing what I was supposed to do but I don't think it made a good deal of difference to the bigger picture of uniform throughout the school. 

Over time I've found it easier to let go and target students little and often instead, particularly those that I teach and already have a connection with. In doing so, I'm less exhausted and they (the students) seem to listen more. Worse still if they don't listen, I can challenge them again in lesson.

If you don't know how to do something - ASK. 

And take notes of what you are asking and what it is you needed to know (for later). I keep a little Moleskine book in my planner which I use for this purpose.

Whilst your HOD is probably your go-to person for help, do make good use of other teachers knowledge in your department too. You may even want to ask someone outside of your department if it's a non-subject specific question. This is a good way to make friends too :)

Create a class tracker and track your termly progress.

I will be writing a post in more detail about this but quite simply - 

Create a table on Microsoft Word (or do it by hand if you prefer). Put all your classes into 1 column and in a seperate column, 'tick' off everytime you mark their work, do peer or self assessment or give verbal feedback. Your tracker can go into as much or as little detail as you like, as long as its beneficial to you.
Overall a tracker is great for documenting your progress and helps to evidence what you're doing when people (HOD) ask. I've brought mine to meetings and submitted them to pay review in the past, as it helps to prove I'm doing my job properly.