It has come to my realization, rather shockingly, that I am nearing the ‘ten years in teaching’ mark. I have decided to take stock of my experiences in the last decade. Despite teaching in just two schools and having been in my current school for several years, I have taken on a variety of roles. For the past four years I have been a Deputy Head with a forever reducing teaching commitment. I have taught across Key Stage 1 and 2 and have led and/or still lead, Assessment, Literacy, PSHE and Science. I am designated safeguarding lead and am responsible for initial teacher training. I have also been Acting Head Teacher at my school, when my Head has been seconded elsewhere for periods of time. So what have I learned? What advice would I give to fairly new teachers or those who have been teaching for a couple of years and are wondering whether long-term teaching is for them? What has helped me? What has not? It could run into many pages of suggestions but here are those, massively condensed, that I deem most important for survival in the teaching profession:
- Stay true to WHY you went into teaching in the first place when you encounter any big problems. Sounds obvious, but it is easy to lose sight of the point of why I imagine you wanted to be a teacher which should involve holding a real belief in the importance of educating our children. If you haven’t got that type of belief in the first place, forget it. And if you have, keep it in the front of your mind as you battle the hurdles of (more often than not) needless change and bureaucracy.
- Develop an emotional resilience. You will need it to help you to support the many children you may encounter with a raft of emotional and mental health problems and also, to help yourself deal with it all. This is now a major part of any teaching role.
- Become less of a perfectionist. So many of us with a perfectionist personality tend to wind up teaching. Unless you want to suffer burn out and have your life utterly consumed with the teaching profession, learn to let go of those little things that really do NOT matter.
- Decide upon your passion within teaching and pursue subject leadership and/or CPD in that area. Don’t lead a subject for the sake of it (unless you are put in a position where you have to. And if you are, make it clear to the SLT that you are prepared to lead it and will do so to the best of your capabilities, BUT your real interest lies elsewhere and you want to be considered to lead this if possible in the future). Your ‘passion’ could be something completely different – do you really enjoy the parent liaison side of things? Are you interested in special educational needs? Can you see yourself mentoring others? Decide what it is and go for it. You will love doing it and your subject/interest will flourish.
- Embrace change – BUT – only change that is carefully considered. This is a difficult one; it is almost a pre-requisite that one has to be flexible to succeed in teaching. But as somebody who has witnessed change in virtually every area in the last ten years, it would be nigh on impossible to completely take on every new idea and initiative. A good SLT will ‘filter’ changes in order to prevent overload, but if they don’t, be mindful of watching which changes will definitely be implemented in your school and therefore which changes you DO need to embrace as opposed to those that are likely to fizzle out.
- Always take up opportunities to observe other teachers either in your own or other schools. This is one of the most valuable CPD opportunities which do not happen enough once you have been in teaching for a few months.
- If the planning of a lesson takes longer than teaching it, ditch it. This should not be the case and if it is, something is wrong.
- Seek out a mentor (unofficially if needs be). I personally think that everybody in a school should have a mentor regardless of their experience and position. Identify somebody in your school that you know you have a lot to learn from and make it your business to do exactly that.
- If you are fortunate to be in a school where the SLT listen, then always take the opportunity to feed back. If that new assessment or marking system that has been put in place is laborious and seems rather pointless, say so, in an appropriate manner. If there is a timetabling issue to which you have found a solution, share it. A decent SLT will be open to such comments in order for school improvements to continue. More seriously, if you are really struggling with an aspect of your teaching, do not keep it to yourself. It is the duty of the SLT to support you, and if they do not, find another school to teach in.
- Keep a record of your most fabulous lessons. These are the lessons where you know the children learned so much and were entirely engaged. Not only will this be valuable for future lessons, but it will also provide inspiration and encouragement for those days which are not so good.
There are many, many other tips for survival but these are ones that spring to mind first and foremost. I hope many teachers (happily) reach the ten year mark!