8 Tips to Survive your First Year Teaching!

Having changed career to enter teaching at the end of the last school year, I knew I was heading for a challenge. I have started work at a boys’ secondary school in mid-Kent and am currently now half-way through my first year of teaching. Here are my top tips on how best to survive your first year of teaching to anyone else new joining the profession…

1) Don’t be afraid to try something new

Particularly in your first year, this is the perfect time to try and find out what works for you before you become set in your ways and routines. If you try a specific room layout and you think it works well, why not mix it up and try something different just to see if it works even better?! I originally had my room set up in rows of tables, just because that is how I learnt at school, but just decided one day to change it to groups of tables instead… Now the boys all speak to each other when on a task instead of all asking me the same question 30 times in a lesson!

2) Don’t take it personally

It is crucial to remember that boundaries are important, that you are their teacher and not their friend. If you treat them too informally then you will not earn their respect. You can be polite and friendly without being too relaxed… But just don’t take it to heart if you cannot win a particular student over! There are always going to be students that play up and do not like you regardless of how hard you try. The fact of it is that, as a teacher, you are a figure of authority and teenagers are programmed to rebel against you.

3) Rewards are more important than sanctions

It is far too easy to forget to reward the good behaviour when you are punishing the bad. If you constantly lead with the sanctions and threats but forget to reward them on those rare occasions they actually do what you ask then you will never win in the long-run. You need to be fair, punishing them when they misbehave but remembering to reward them at the times when they do well or follow instructions. I have already seen the difference a brief positive phone call home can make to the most difficult students and how it can make them think twice about what they ‘could’ be in for if they make an effort. After all, they are still children and need positive incentives at times to pull them in the right direction.

4) Speak to others for advice (even if you don’t end up following it)

Your co-workers will have a wealth of advice, even if you don’t always want it! Don’t ever be embarrassed to ask for advice because the chances are others who have been there longer will have seen it all before and then some. Whether it is teaching techniques, resource materials, behaviour management… there will always be someone who can steer you in a direction you may not have considered. Just remember that teaching is by no means a ‘one-size-fits-all’ where the same thing tried with their student will achieve the same result with yours. I have to treat most of my classes differently already, being harder on some than others, because the same approach will not work with them all. Try something if you like the sound of it, but abandon it if it goes horribly wrong and then speak to someone else for a different idea to try!

5) Make the students believe you don’t want to punish them

One of the best tips I have picked up is to make them genuinely believe you do not want them to attend your detention… Tell them how you would love it if they don’t turn up so you can go home early and have them think “in that case I will go to it just to annoy him”. I am always now telling them it is a hassle for me if they turn up and they honestly think by turning up they are getting one over on me! Previously when I was hassling them that they ‘had better turn up or else it would be escalated’ they had no incentive to go, and suddenly now their attendance at my detentions has greatly improved. That now means less chasing and less paperwork for missed detentions than before so I am not complaining!

6) Mix it up to keep them focused

Try to breathe a new lease of life into your lessons by doing something they haven’t done in a while. If they always do PowerPoint presentations, do a worksheet… if they always do worksheets, do some board work… and so on. If you do the same thing every lesson you might think they are paying attention or listening but may instead be surprised to find they are day-dreaming and listening to the bare essentials instead, just enough to fool you if you put them on the spot but not enough to pass their exams. Keep them engaged with different and mixed approaches to the lesson and half the battle is already won.

7) Don’t smile until at least Spring time!

Do not let your guard down. Keep that stern and scary face until at least after Christmas before you relax just a little bit. The majority of teaching is just acting. If you can maintain that persona the students will be nervous and fearful of pushing your limits. It only takes one well-timed telling off out in the corridor to earn you that reputation where they do not want to mess with you even if you don’t teach them. If you take a ‘nicey-nicey’ approach from day one they will think you are harmless and you will be on an uphill struggle forever more trying to create a positive learning environment. Once you are sure they know not to push your limits, after a while you can start to relax and show them you are just a human being too who has a nicer side when they behave and do as you ask.

8) Have fun with it!

We all go to work to earn a living but those that go into teaching do it for the love of the job. There are too many hours out of the 9 to 5 spent planning and marking to be in it just because teaching ‘pays the bills’. If you do not enjoy what you are doing and are stressing about your work, this will come across in your teaching and the students will then react to it creating a negative spiral of stress for you to deal with. However stressful your work or home life is you need to leave it at the door and put on your best smiley face when the class comes in. Even the child you dislike the most has to be treated like your favourite student ever. Just try something different if things become stagnant and try to have fun with it. The more fun you make the lesson, the better reaction and reputation you will have. We all remember those teachers at school whose lessons we did not enjoy, and then those who were a great inspiration to us during our school years… be THAT teacher.

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