The new school year is careering into view already. Plans are being crafted, return to work stress is growing like a weed. My thoughts turn to the newbie teachers about to join our faculty – both newly qualified and in training. Here are some handy tips for new teachers in particular, based on some time-worn experience:
1. Expectation is everything. Call it a self-fulfilling prophesy or the ‘Pygmalion effect‘ – but it is simple common sense that the expectations a teacher has for their students has a huge impact upon how they will go on to perform. New teachers need to possess an infinite capacity for hope and optimism: despite the challenging students, the bad days at the whiteboard and the energy whittling workload. Such optimism helps us to retain high expectations in the face of such spirit-sapping salvos. Couple high expectations with both determination and perseverance and you have the qualities to survive and thrive in teaching.
2. ‘The Rule’: ‘No speaking when I’m speaking’. If one small ring can rule Middle Earth, then one simple rule can surely spread orderliness in our classrooms. Novice teachers often take for granted that students understand what we mean by the simple act of listening. They don’t. Show them what ‘active listening‘ looks like and feels like. Hold onto this one rule like a wild dog with lock-jaw. They need to listen to you and others – unequivocally. Explain, repeat and reiterate exactly why listening makes for successful learning. Expect it and demand it consistently.
3. Consistency is king. Good teaching is all about consistency. Forget about brass band parades that masquerade as outstanding lessons. Great teachers grind away at challenging learning; they have clear classroom rules and they use them consistently and with unstinting fairness. Students may not like your rules, or the challenge presented by your towering standards, but if you are consistent and relentless they will respect you. Execute your three Rs: relentless and rigorous routines. You can smile before Christmas (a smile is an excellent behaviour management tool) or whenever you like, just be consistent.
4. Focus on feedback. I will spare you the catalog of research, but feedback matters. It works. Formative assessment is the daddy, so ensure your written feedback is top notch (I have written a post with some tips here) and don’t forget how crucial oral feedback can be for developing the knowledge and understanding in every lesson (once more, I have a doc for that! See here).
5. Ask great questions. Sometimes even the best of teachers are distracted by shiny new teaching tools or the latest acronym driven craze to sweep the teaching nation. Effective teaching comes down to what effective teaching has been built upon since Socrates was busy corrupting the youth of Athens – great questions! We want students to hoover up knowledge and understanding and asking great questions lets us know exactly what they know and what they need to know. Probe and prize away at your little cherubs to help them succeed. This post of mine hopefully (my most popular) can give you a few further tips for great questioning – see here.
6. Know thy student. Relationships matter. In most classes many students spend hours with their teacher but they actually spend little time speaking directly to them. We need to develop our knowledge of students so that we can develop our relationships and best help them learn. As stated in tip 5, we need to know what they know and what they need to know. We also need to know the nuances of their character: who they work well with, why they are in a sleepy stupor when they should be slaving away, or what books they enjoy reading. Don’t be frightened of data. It helps. Own the data and don’t let it own you. All this information connects to successful learning. I won’t go into the nuances of differentiation and all that jazz, but that is about knowing your students too. The better we know the students in front of us the better we can help them learn. Simple.
7. Make lists. Make a list of your lists! Being an NQT can be a confusing storm of activity. Any given Monday can be a dizzying barrage of lessons, meetings, data management jobs etc etc etc. So make lists. Identify priorities on those lists (I suggest your lesson planning and marking are high on the priority agenda) and manage them as best you can. Allocate colour codes, timings, deadlines, or whatever helps you to get the job done.
8. Ask lots of questions. The best teachers were never the most assured novices. They were/are humble enough to know they need help and support. They ask lots of great questions. The seek out knowledge and ask politely for help. Don’t worry if your mentor or Subject Leader appear snowed under, it is their professional responsibility to guide you. Not asking questions will likely cause you and them more work and heartache in the long run!
9. Learn to say no. By all means get involved in the social life of the school. Build support networks, make friends and keep what is the crumbling semblance of a personal life, but also learn to say no. Being a new teacher is incredibly hard. Select a school trip perhaps, but don’t book a season ticket for such trips. Read a good book, but don’t look to run the book club. What you are aiming for is that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – a work/life balance. If you find it please let me know and we can share the patent!
10. Build a memory palace. This a cracking revision strategy for students – see here – but my version is one where you build a palace where you store rooms full of positive fragments from your novice teaching experiences. Those moments to actively remember are that make the crappy days tolerable. The moment diffident David bellows out an inspired answer like a modern day eureka, or when your resident hardened crim’ solves a quadratic equation or unpicks a Hamlet soliloquy. Place the small card at Christmas from the unassuming quiet kid on the mantle-piece of your memory palace. Remember and revisit the good stuff. The fragments we shore against our ruin. They make perseverance possible. They pave the pathway from novice to toughened expert.
Hopefully these tips are useful. Remember to keep reading, reflecting and keep learning like your career depended on it – because, well your career depends on it. And good luck!