5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Teaching
Taking the first steps in your teaching career is exciting and daunting in equal measure. Everyone follows a different path into teaching and finds their feet in different ways. At the end of the day, no matter what you might hear from other people, you need to make this experience what it needs to be for you.
Some people allow teaching to completely engulf their life, whilst others understand that it is still just a job. Either path has no bearing on how good you are at the job, so define what you want it to be for you. With that being said, here are a few things that any new teacher will benefit from remembering.
1. Don’t just take any job
When it comes to picking a new school, teachers often fail to think about themselves and their own happiness. It is very important to pick somewhere you can genuinely see yourself being happy and comfortable. You won’t always know what a school will be like until you start work, but a great place to start is just by going with your gut. Choose a school that gives you a great feeling, since the happier you are in your role the better you can support and look after your students.
Similarly, don’t feel pressured to simply accept the first job that is thrown your way. There’s no need! Look around, take your time and pick a place that you know you like. After all, this is a place that you will be turning up to every morning and spending the majority of your days. Where do you want to spend your time?
2. It’s okay not to know everything
Remember, you are only human. If you are new to teaching you are inevitably going to come across people that have more ‘experience’ than you. What you need to remember is that you are at the start of this journey, and you need to pave your own way. It’s okay to not know everything, and it’s okay to seek advice. This is a time for discovery and learning, and an opportunity for you to gain a deeper understanding of the profession so you can move forward with more confidence. Don’t be worried that you don’t know everything; instead be excited about everything that you will come to learn.
3. Manage your workload and stay organised
Organisational skills are a massive part of life, and now is a great chance to hone these skills. Figuring out what works for you early on will be a great asset later on in your career. Keep on top of things, and figure out a system for your marking and planning. These skills will guide you and will enable you to do things at your own pace. The more you stay organised, the more you’re able to control the pace at which you work.
When you first start teaching it can be very hard to adjust to such a fast-paced environment and deal with things being thrown at you from all angles. These things don’t stop, and so it is hugely important to pace yourself. If you’re forever going to be rushing around, you will run out of energy quickly and everything will seem more overwhelming than it really is. You should go at your own pace and take it as it comes, as you will be far better equipped to keep up.
As a trainee teacher on my first ever placement, I remember walking back to my car with a whole box of books I was taking home to mark. As I got to the boot of my car, a fellow teacher stopped to tell me, “That’s a bad habit you’re getting yourself into”. I had no idea what he was talking about, thinking that it was part and parcel of getting everything done. My colleague went on to explain that if you stay organised and manage your workload throughout the day, there’s no need to ever take that much work home with you. That was the last time I ever took work home with me, and it will benefit any new teacher to remember this.
"Be open to new suggestions, but remember that you know best what you want to achieve."
4. Have your own ideas and back yourself up
You may find that you will be told a myriad of things from a wide range of people about how to do things when you first begin your journey. Some advice will certainly resonate with you, whilst some might seem completely bizarre. Remember that there is no single right answer to anything. Have your own thoughts and ideas and know what it is that you’re aiming to achieve, then take on board things that add to this. Be open to new suggestions, but remember that you know best what you want to achieve. Just make sure you’re clear about what this is.
There may be times when you need to be extremely resourceful in your approach. There will be plenty of moments where you find out last minute that a printer isn’t working, or that your cover isn’t coming in. Have a bank of ideas to help you in these situations, but also don’t be afraid to go off the fly. Just think back to when you were the children’s age. What would have excited you?
5. Always, ALWAYS put the kids first!
There have been many times in my career when I have come across some rather questionable policies and procedures that have been adopted by schools. You will have moments like this, where it is unclear why certain policies have been followed. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like these policies or protocols are truly helping the children and people they’re supposedly there to help. When you come across something like this, my advice is to simply remember why you’re there and who you’re aiming to help. Staying firm in this knowledge will always help you do the right thing.
It is inevitable that you will make mistakes in your first year of teaching. What matters is that you learn from these mistakes and use them to grow as an educator.