Which is most daunting, a pupil's first day at a new school or the first day on the job for a newly qualified teacher? Those who have been through the second experience would probably argue the latter. Despite the excellent teacher training that exists and the teaching practice that goes with it, there is still so much that the newly qualified teacher (NQT) remains a novice at, and the first year of teaching is a huge learning curve for even the most talented of newcomers. This article explores tips and techniques to not only survive but enjoy the first year of teaching.
My first experiences in teaching were a fast life lesson in the sink or swim technique. Being an adventurous type I decided whilst doing my teacher training that I would like to teach abroad. After training in England I then got my first teaching position as a teacher of geography in a bilingual school in Mexico City. The headmaster assured me that spanish was a help but not a necessity as lessons took place in English. So with naive enthusiasm I packed up and headed out to Mexico City.
On arriving at the school, I was in for somewhat of a shock. The school itself was fine and the teachers were friendly but I did have major concerns surrounding two aspects of my new position.
Firstly I was informed that I was the only geography teacher in the school and that I was therefore required to teach every class in the school. This equated to me teaching 11 different classes from the 11 year olds in the first year to 18 year olds studying for international 'A' Levels. I had not actually expected this and the equivalent of a head of geography position was not actually what I was looking for in my first year.
Secondly although there were resources for the first to third years, GCSE and 'A' Level appeared to have little and in some cases no teaching resources. At this point, panic set in as I realized not only would I have to teach all the classes but for some of the GCSE and all of the 'A' Level I would have to decipher the syllabus on my own and create appropriate resources and case studies. To top it all I was then told that I would have to organize three field trips for the GCSE and 'A' Level students in a country I knew almost nothing about and where I had a vocabulary of approximately 9 words of spanish.
Now my teacher training was fabulous and I learnt a lot from both the university studies and the teaching practice, but this was a little beyond my means.
I survived but the experience was not for the feint-hearted. On top of the above there was of course the stresses of learning a new language so that I was able to do things like go to the shop and buy food or get on a bus or direct a taxi and there was the acclimatization to the new and different culture in which I was now living.
From difficult experiences however a great deal is often learnt and some of these things I wish to share with other newly-qualified teachers to hopefully assist them along the way in their first year.
A principle area which was lacking in my first experience as a teacher was support. Working within a team is highly recommended in the first year as colleagues are usually of great assistance to not only bounce ideas of, but to get a glimpse of a new or different perspective on situations.
Being the only subject specialist in the school I worked in, meant that things tended to take so much more time with only one brain working through tasks. Throughout the year there was also a niggling lack of assurance with me as I received little feedback and had no real way to gauge my effectiveness or ineffectiveness.
As well as casual input from colleagues, I would also highly recommend asking for a mentor. This ensures that formal time is put aside each week for you to talk about issues of concern, problem classes or students, ideas for topics, techniques for teaching certain areas of the curriculum and to generally gain advice and reassurance.
Timetabling in mentoring is a vital component to your first year not only for support but also to tap into the wealth of knowledge available from the more experienced members of staff. Mentoring is an opportunity for you to formally charter your first year progress and provides a useful record for you to look back on. If you have the chance to choose your mentor this is a preferred option so that you are able to select an individual you can easily relate to and thus gain the most out of the mentoring experience.
Organization and Time Management
Teachers always have too much work. Hence one of the things I quickly learnt in my hectic schedule was managing my time effectively and prioritizing. Any free time I had during the school day I took advantage of by marking books or lesson planning. My evenings were already full with preparation for future classes and the more I could get done during the day, the more likely it was that I would have a few moments of relaxation during the evening.
With the workload that I had been given it was unrealistic to expect that every minute of each lesson would be calculated. I had to appreciate that I would have a good idea of what I would like to cover in the class but that I would also need to be able to think on my feet.
For the first term whilst I was trying to not only prepare but invent resources for my GCSE and 'A' Level exam classes, I found I had to rely heavily on the text book in my first to third year classes because I simply did not have the time to do anything else. My priorities had to become providing appropriate materials and class activities for the GCSE and 'A' Level Groups who did not even have a set text to work with.
To keep vaguely sane I also had to understand that I could work every free hour that I wasn't at school and there would still be things that I could have prepared better for. A teacher still needs a life and I found it was so important to find a balance between working and ensuring that I still had a little free time to myself. This did not make me unconscientious just allowed me to be better focused and better tempered during the week as I had had at least a little time to rejuvenate.
One area where I was fortunate at the school I worked at was in the behavioural arena. The students on average showed good behaviour and class sizes were also relatively small. At the most classes would have 25 pupils. However even within the smaller classes, there was a wide range of abilities and motivations and it was necessary to ensure that I provided some form of differentiation in my class preparation to not only assist in learning but to aid in classroom management and interest.
The brighter students tended to be motivated and were usually keen to take on extra work once they had finished any initial class assignments. I often created worksheets for these students to test their knowledge further or if short of time I prepared some questions to put on the board for them to answer. Depending on the age of the students, pictorial displays, cartoons, plays, stories on the topic were all relatively popular additional activities for the quicker members of the class.
However if extra work was offered, it was also important that this too received marking, comments and accolade where needed. For the students who found traditional written work more challenging, I tried to make sure that each lesson had a class or group discussion element so that there were other options to help students engage in the lesson. Another favourite amongst the younger students was to end each lesson with a quick quiz and to offer one question which they had to go away and find the answer to. This created much rivalry amongst students and also provided a good starting point for the next lesson.
One thing that I found really useful for acceptance in the classroom was to get involved in extra-curricular activities and be known for something other than a subject teacher. At 23 I was teaching 'A' Level boys and girls who were just a few years younger than me, however I won the respect of a few key pupils through coaching the girls basketball team.
Some members of my 'A' Level groups were less than motivated as they intended to go to Mexican universities which required a separate qualification which they were taking and 'A' Levels were seen by such individuals as a waste of a teenagers time. However having some basketball team members in the class greatly affected the classroom dynamics and they did an amazing job of classroom management 'assistance' as well as providing motivation for the class.
Teachers are clearly not in the profession for the money but many do see the job as a worthwhile career. As a caring professional it is good to remember that no matter what you do, you will never please every student and for some you will not even reach their eardrums. However there will always be students whose lives you will change and influence in a positive way and who will be grateful for your hard work and commitment to education