By Sarah Dean on 03 Sep 2020
Ten Top Tips to Make Your First Teaching Year a Success.
Well, the week you have been waiting for is finally here. You are about to embark on a fantastic journey into your teaching career. You have completed your teacher training, are fully qualified and are about to have your own class of children to nurture and shape into life long lovers of learning – so what is there to be scared of?
All of this can be daunting. Even the most experienced of teachers still get pre-school jitters: the restless night’s sleep before they step foot into the classroom for another year - it is only natural!
We know many of you may be feeling a little apprehensive and nervous about the school year ahead. This is to be expected, especially in these unprecedented times. There will no doubt be some challenges ahead, even for the most experienced of teachers, but the year will also be filled with great times too.
Take a deep breath and remember that you are ready for this and that you are not alone. There are plenty of people out there to support you. Communication is key to success in schools. Do not be afraid to talk to your senior leaders and other teachers in your team, share any concerns, ask questions, listen to advice and try out new strategies and techniques. Teaching is an ongoing journey; there is always something new to learn.
For now, let us leave you with our 10 top tips for a successful start to an NQT year during these strange times:
1. Get to know your pupils
Spend time talking to your pupils, getting to know them and their individual interests. This will help when planning lessons and activities to engage them and means you can select texts and other stimuli they will enjoy. Understanding their current needs is important to settle them back into school, support their mental health and engage them in learning again.
Give children the time and space to talk to each other. They may not have seen their friends since March last year and will need to build back up these relationships. They will also be feeling nervous and perhaps worried about the new school year, and even a new teacher. Create a supportive and welcoming atmosphere to help them feel safe and comfortable again in a learning environment.
2. Set clear expectations
Most of your pupils are likely to have been out of school since March. Some may have been accessing remote learning, others may not have had this opportunity. Either way, what is for certain is that every child has had to adapt to a different daily routine over the last few months. Some may have had limited structure and access to education, others perhaps attempted to learn on digital devices without the support of a teacher and almost all of them will have had a reduced rate of social interaction with children of their own age.
We do not yet know the impact that the pandemic has had on our pupils, but what is for certain is that it will take time and patience for our children to settle back into school. Make sure to set clear learning and behavioural expectations from the very start and model your expectations. Keep reminding children of these and give them chances to practise these, but also chances to talk and build relationships again. It will be a balancing act in the first few weeks; reflect on this daily, identifying what is working well and what may need adaptation.
3. Cultivate professional relationships
As mentioned above, you are not alone - you have a huge support network around you to utilise.
Returning to school during the pandemic is strange for everyone, it will take strong team work and resilience to get through this. It is important that you spend time building relationships with other staff. Make sure you have time out of the classroom during breaks and lunch times to build relationships with others and socialise. Prioritise your mental and wellbeing: the children need you to be in class to teach them, so look after yourself to ensure you can do this.
Strong relationships with parents and carers are also essential to help children to achieve. Make yourself visible and approachable when you can for them to discuss any concerns they may have. They too will be feeling apprehensive about their children going back to school and teachers can be there to put them at ease. Make sure you know the protocols in place for maintaining safety and preventing the spread of COVID-19 inside school.
For more information on how to ensure a safe environment see the COVID-19 support guide for schools.
4. Be organised, be prepared, be adaptable
Organisation is essential. Make sure you have a clear and well-structured timetable to your week and try to stick to it. It can be difficult to start with, however if lessons over run they eat into time for other things often meaning something has to be dropped. Timetables are renowned for being jam-packed as there is so much to fit in.
Often transitions between lessons and ‘tidying up’ can be time-consuming parts of the day. Be organised before the start of the day and try to ensure that you have all of the resources ready for lessons that day. This way, transitions between lessons and activities can be smoother.
Sometimes, lessons don’t always go to plan. You can spend hours preparing the perfect activity for children to finish it in ten minutes finding it too easy, or sometimes too difficult. In this instance, don’t be afraid to change your lesson, be adaptable and come away from your lesson plan. This is okay. Don’t try and force something if it is not working, as the children will not benefit from this and that is when problems can arise.
5. Think about your recovery curriculum
The mental health of our pupils is, rightly so, our first priority in these upcoming weeks. We must acknowledge our pupils’ feelings of anxiety and confusion during such strange times and understand that it might take some children longer to settle back into school than others. Adapting your curriculum in the first few weeks is essential. Have a look at our recovery curriculum resources which provide units of planning using texts to support mental health, encourage outdoor learning as well as opportunities for talk and PSHE. You may also find our blog all about supporting children’s wellbeing useful.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that children have missed out on learning over these last few months, whether they have been learning remotely from home, or in bubbles during the summer months, teaching has looked very different and inevitably children have missed out on part of the curriculum.
Talk to the children’s teacher from the year before, ask them about the learning your pupils have missed. In order to help these children ‘catch-up’ we cannot ignore this missed learning, we cannot start these children off on a new year’s curriculum without addressing these skills, but we have to be realistic. Talk to your phase leaders about which skills are essential and must be taught - can this be done through utilising other subjects, such as through reading?
Safeguarding is crucial and perhaps now, even more so than ever. Children may have experienced challenging times during ‘lockdown’. The NSPCC (2020) reported that “… contacts to their helpline about the impact of domestic abuse on children have increased by 32% since the start of the lockdown, to an average of one an hour.”
Children in your school, or even your class, may be classed as vulnerable and may need further support. It is important that you speak to your Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL) to find out if any of your pupils fall into this category. Familiarise yourself with the school’s safeguarding policy and procedures and make sure you know the protocols to follow if a child makes a disclosure to you, or if you are worried about a child for whatever reason. If you feel that something is not right, then tell your DSL immediately, it could be critical to that child’s safety.
7. Be a reading role model
Reading is such an important skill for children to master. It is imperative that all children learn to read fluently in order to be able to gain knowledge, read for enjoyment and improve their vocabulary and spelling.
Our children need time to repair their friendships, strengthen their mental health and feel safe in school again. We know from extensive research, such as that from The Reading Agency (2015) that ‘ Reading for pleasure has many non-literacy benefits and can increase empathy, improve relationships with others, reduce the symptoms of depression and improve wellbeing throughout life.’ Research by Dr. David Lewis (2009) found that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 68%, reducing heart rate, easing muscle tension and improving state of mind.
Reading for pleasure must be a priority on your timetable. Be a reading advocate: talk about books, introduce children to books, share stories with them, get involved in their conversations about books they are reading and be seen reading! There are plenty of ideas to support this on our FREE webinar ‘Creating a Reading School’.
If you love reading, then so will they! If you would like to improve your knowledge of children’s literature, then you may wish to subscribe to newsletters from Peters Books and Love Reading for Kids.
8. Know your curriculum
Knowing the curriculum for your year group is important. Familiarise yourself with the content of both your school curriculum and the National Curriculum (if appropriate to your setting). Ensure to develop your subject knowledge of areas that you may be unfamiliar with. It is also good practice to understand where children have come from and are heading towards, so familiarise yourself with the year groups above and below as well. Understanding the demands of the previous year group will be particularly important this year as you will need to adapt your curriculum to ensure gaps in learning are filled. We will be exploring this in more detail in the first session of ‘New to Teaching Network’ meetings. Visit our website for more information or to book your place.
The Department for Education has published a useful document which indicates the key learning found in the Maths curriculum. Our basic skills documents for English also identify the most crucial objectives which must be secure before moving on to your year group curriculum. Both sets of documents can be used in conjunction with your school’s own curriculum to help you prioritise important ‘missed’ curriculum elements and objectives that can be ‘caught-up’ on quickly.
9. Keep up with CPD
If you do not already have an account, consider creating a professional Twitter account. There are thousands of excellent teachers and educational experts on there sharing invaluable resources, lesson ideas, planning, educational updates and much more. It is also a great community to be apart of and provides further opportunity for networking. Follow myself @SDean235 and @OESchoolDevelop for regular updates, resources and blogs from One Education.
CPD is important to develop your practice. Ensure that you reflect on your teaching and talk to your mentor about ways in which you can improve. We also have a whole host of free webinars on our YouTube channel which you can access at any time. These include, ‘Planning a Writing Unit’, ‘Teaching Spelling and Grammar’ and ‘Teaching Reading Skills’.
One Education are hosting our popular ‘New to Teaching Network’ sessions online this academic year. The first session is being held on Wednesday 16th September 2020, however it will be recorded meaning you can catch up at a time to suit you. This will be the first of five sessions throughout the year. It is going to be a fantastic opportunity to come together virtually and network with other NQTs. The session will provide a supportive and positive atmosphere to talk about concerns, ask questions and share best practice.
The first session will provide a chance to network, as well as also exploring the possible impact of COVID-19 on pupil’s learning, giving you the confidence to adapt the curriculum to suit the needs of your children. The training will provide tried and tested ideas and resources that can be implemented into the classroom straight away to provide quality first teaching and ensure pupils are supported in the learning they have missed. To find out more or to book a place, please visit our website.
10. Use your NQT time wisely
Your NQT time is precious and should be used wisely. You are entitled to 10% off-timetable (in addition to your PPA time) for NQT-related activities. This time is a great opportunity to develop your practice. Ensure that you reflect often on your progress within the teacher standards and personal targets set. Build up evidence throughout the year of how well you are doing to work towards these standards. Ask other practitioners if you can observe their lessons, or speak to them about how to best improve your practice in areas that you struggle with. Use the protected time you have this year to help improve your skills and become a better teacher.
Join us at our first session of the ‘New to Teaching Network’ on Wednesday 16th September. To book a place on this training, please visit our website. If you are unable to join live, this session will be recorded and accessible afterwards.
This year will come with challenges, but will also bring excitement, joy and lots of fun.
Enjoy it and do not be afraid to ask for help.
- The Reading Agency, 2015, Literature Review: The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, BOP Consulting
- Cremin, T, 2011, Reading for Pleasure and Wider Reading, UKLA Resources.