14 tips for early career teachers
Starting out as a early career teacher can be daunting, but it’s a truly life-changing experience that brings challenges, rewards and job satisfaction.
However, we recognise that a certain amount of anxiety and fear of the unknown can make the initial years in teaching difficult, which is why we’ve put together some handy tips to help ECTs on their way as they make their journey into teaching.
1. Keep your focus
Firstly, it’s essential that you remember the purpose of your role – to teach young people – as this will enable you to make a difference to the lives of those you teach. Even the smallest piece of support will be appreciated and while some classroom behaviour might be challenging, it’s still possible to help pupils on their way to achieving something.
2. Teaching isn’t black and white
While some parts of the curriculum are based firmly on facts and principles, plenty of it is there to encourage debate and critical thinking. You should openly encourage this and should be comfortable exploring the many grey areas, making a subject complex if you feel it is beneficial to those you are teaching.
3. The role is about you
Every teacher has certain styles and mannerisms and you should accept them as part of you. Your character and personality will have a huge influence in the classroom so you shouldn’t try to be something you’re not. Don’t be afraid of simply being yourself.
4. Accept that ECTs will make mistakes
You’re learning how to teach and mistakes will happen as part of the process. The key is to learn from them and to ensure they aid your own personal development. Revisit learning theories and strategies and talk to colleagues as they are best placed to provide support and guidance. Over time you should be able to shape learning techniques that suit your style and engage well with pupils.
5. Strike a balance
While exam periods or coursework deadlines may require more work than at other times of the year, it’s important you maintain a balance between your work and personal life. Make time for things you want to do and ensure that you sleep well – you’ll be amazed at the difference a good night’s sleep can make.
6. Don’t be scared to say ‘no’
Colleagues may ask a early career teacher to assist with various tasks or other commitments, but you don’t always have to say ‘yes’. While you may not want to appear unwilling, it’s better to do fewer tasks to a high standard than to spread yourself thinly across many different commitments. Most teaching staff will understand this when you still trying to find your feet.
7. Focus on time management
As previously mentioned, ECTs will often have a wide and varied set of commitments, so it’s often best to try completing one task before starting on another. This should be a more efficient use of time than if you try to jump back and forth between several tasks.
8. Pace yourself
It’s easy to devote all of your time and energy into making a great first impression in the months before Christmas. But remember that the year is a marathon rather than a sprint, and that you’ll need to have some energy in the tank for the later terms.
9. Passion is pivotal
Being enthusiastic in the classroom ultimately rubs off on those you are trying to teach, so be passionate about your subject and encourage your children to share in that with you. Consider fun and engaging ways that you can use your love for a topic to embrace your subject matter, regardless of if you’re working at a primary or secondary school level. If you think back to your own teachers at school, many of those you remember were probably the ones that were incredibly passionate about what they taught.
10. Be flexible with lesson plans
While your lesson plans should detail the main aspects of the curriculum that need to be covered, make sure you include time for discussion. Your plans should merely act as a template to work from and you should be flexible if a task takes longer than anticipated or if classroom discussion takes the lesson in a slightly different direction to the one you had planned.
11. Be concise with your marking
For those new to teaching, marking can take up a considerable portion of time. However, you should make your feedback as concise as possible by following a certain strategy. For instance, you may want to follow the WWW/EBI format, where you provide a few points on ‘what went well’ and something for pupils to consider in future in the form of an ‘even better if’. The latter can then be checked again on follow up work to measure progress and understanding.
12. Turn to symbols and code
An alternative marking format is to set out a code for pupils at the start of term, which includes symbols that you use when marking. You could then get your students to write down the comments that correspond to each symbol as part of a feedback session. Certain symbols could denote spelling and punctuation issues, while others could relate to effort and objectives. This should ultimately help pupils to understand what they are doing right and to grasp areas where improvements can be made.
13. Ask for help if you need it
The majority of ECTs will come across situations that they have not faced before. Which is why it’s important to ask others for help if you are unsure how to answer a question or how to deal with something. Your mentor is a fantastic source of information and professional advice, while other staff in the school may also have answers or techniques that can help you out.
14. Enjoy your experiences
Remember that you have the power to really make a difference to those you teach. You may face new situations or pressure as an ECT, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the early years of your teaching career.
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