5 things I wish I knew before I started teaching
Having just finished my first year of the Teach First training programme, I have spent some time reflecting on what I would tell someone who was in the position I was in last year, waiting anxiously to start in the classroom come September. For me, changing my career path to train as a teacher was a huge step; and in the context of the global pandemic raging in the background, there were a lot of unknowns.
I hope that these tips will prove to be useful both for trainee teachers, but also for any teacher who is looking to improve their wellbeing and teaching practice!
1. Prioritise your relationships with others
This first point is purposefully vague, as I am not only trying to highlight the importance of your professional relationships with your students, their parents and fellow teachers, but also your personal relationships. Taking the time to call a parent, or talk something through with a colleague can reinforce positive working relationships. Equally, ensuring that personal relationships don’t suffer in the context of such a demanding career can help you to maintain your personal wellbeing, and encourage a more positive attitude towards your work.
2. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
Burnout is a very real problem faced by teachers everywhere, particularly with the additional challenges COVID-19 has presented to the classroom setting and beyond. I was very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive in-school mentor who would frequently remind me of the importance of prioritising my own wellbeing, particularly towards the end of the term.
Not every lesson has to be all-singing and dancing, and sometimes even the ones that are can fall flat. Plan for your pinch points, where you know you’ll be under pressure in other areas, such as marking or report deadlines, and go back to basics in your lessons. Remember, if you are feeling tired, the students definitely will be as well!
3. Self-belief is everything
One of the most valuable takeaways I got from my pre-classroom training, was that it doesn’t matter what kind of teacher you are, whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out: all that matters is that you’re there and you’re consistent. The fact that you’re there, and you’re trying your best is enough. Of course, you will make mistakes and you have lessons that will fall flat, but take the learnings from these and come back stronger. You are in this job for a reason, and you can do it!
4. Get used to dealing with the unknown
One of the joys, but also one of the biggest challenges of teaching, is that you are often required to problem solve on the spot. The key here is making your decisions with confidence. Dealing with unexpected challenges with confidence improves your classroom presence and if you are feeling more confident, your students will feel more confident in you!
5. Keep close tabs on your wellbeing throughout the year
In theory, looking after yourself is an obvious part of achieving success in both your personal and professional life. However, with five sets of books to mark, reports to write, as well as the usual weekly meetings, wellbeing often gets pushed to the bottom of the pile.
If the tell-tale signs of burnout start to show, such as increased tiredness or irritability, take a step back and re-evaluate how you are feeling, and what you can do to improve your mindset. Setting clear boundaries could help. For example, I would always keep my Saturdays for myself, to ensure that I had at least one day a week where I wasn’t thinking about work.
Keeping track of your wellbeing can help you maintain the momentum you need to make the year a great success!
Looking for further ideas to boost your wellbeing and improve your teaching practice? Our FREE teacher wellbeing packs are designed and created by teachers, to support you to find the time for personal development and reflection during this busy term.
Ella Burandt is a Geography teacher and a second-year participant on the Teach First programme.