My first year in teaching was like a rollercoaster - there were twists, there were turns and if I hadn't had my seatbelt on, I would have just fallen off.
And I learnt a lot. I learnt more than I have ever learnt before and, despite the inevitable tough times, I did really enjoy it too. And I would certainly encourage other people to do it too because the highs most definitely outweigh the lows and you'll never get more fulfillment than from a student telling you that, thanks to you, they got the grade they need to do what they want to do with their lives. It makes it all worthwhile.
There are so many pieces of advice I'd like to offer to somebody else starting out but rather than write you a 100 point essay, I've opted for my top eight tips which I hope you'll find useful.
1. What works for one class won't necessarily work for the next
As you'll have seen in what will go down in history as 'the science lesson where I blew things up', it was a great way to engage the students in learning about chemical reactions, and I can't deny that I was delighted. But just because that kind of interactive learning worked for them, it didn't mean it was automatically going to work on my other classes. The age of the students, their ability, the stage they're at in the year... it all has an impact on the way they'll respond to your lesson, so it's important to tailor each one to their needs and never assume you can just use the same formula each time.
2. Don't burn yourself out
Anybody who thinks teachers can get everything they have to do done between 9am and 3.30pm is giving us way too much credit! The level of planning and marking and meetings and studying involved takes up many, many hours more. And it's really easy to get caught up in it, not to sleep or to rest or to take a single moment out for yourself because you're so dedicated to doing a good job. And whilst that's obviously important, it's also vital that you don't burn out because then you'll be no use to anybody, least of all your students. You need to plan your time, use it wisely and then switch off and get the rest you need. I also really recommend having structured time each week that's just for you - see friends, go to the cinema, have a lie in at the weekend - and you'll be all the better for it. In the first year particularly that feels hard to do but if you get your time management right, you can fit it in.
3. Believe in yourself and they will too
Even though I knew it was going to be a learning curve, it still came as a surprise to me how much I was tested and constantly calling my actions and strategies into question every single day. And though it's hard when things don't go quite to plan, it's so important that you don't let it bring you down, or let your students see that you're doubting yourself. You have to believe that you can do it - you were chosen for this job, you have what it takes and you are learning more and more every day - so you have to carry that belief with you all the time. I'm not saying it's easy - in fact it's exhausting - but if you don't believe in you then how can you expect your students to? You spend an enormous amount of your time encouraging your pupils to believe in themselves so modelling this yourself is crucial.
4. Failing to plan is planning to fail
At the heart of any good lesson is a good lesson plan. You've got one hour to take your students from A to B and a plan tells you how you're going to do it, and also gives the students the confidence that you know what you're doing and that they're going to really get something out of being in your classroom. Planning takes a lot of time but it's absolutely vital; without it you're basically trying to fly a plane with your eyes shut and that is never a good idea.
5. ...but remember to be flexible
Having said that, whilst the lesson plan sets out everything you intend to happen and the objectives for the students, you've got to be ready for the inevitable curve ball that a student or a class will throw you. You soon learn how to strike the right balance between sticking to your plan to ensure that the learning you need to happen still happens in the class, whilst flexing your approach according to the response you get from the room. Children are unpredictable - that's part of the fun of the job - but it also means that if you're expecting the lesson you planned by yourself on a Sunday night to look exactly as you imagined it once 30 children have got hold of it, you're going to be disappointed. The trick is to be able to adapt quickly according to their needs and their mood and still get them where you need them to be by the end. With practise it will come!
6. Don't go through it alone
Although you might feel like it at times, you are not the only person who has ever struggled as a new teacher. Of course it's difficult - it matters too much to be easy. And the great thing about Teach First is knowing that you're one of hundreds of people starting out at the same time and facing all the same challenges. The network of people around me meant I always had somebody to talk to and not just about the hard parts, we shared the good things and the bad in equal measure and really went on a journey together. It reminded me that the challenges I was facing were perfectly natural for a new teacher and also gave me constant access to new ideas that my friends were using in their lessons which I could try in mine. And my school was full of more experienced teachers for me to learn from too - speaking to them reminded me that they started out once too and that I'm surrounded by people who are all eager to get the best out of our students so I just needed to ask for help when I needed it - whether that was for a 'death stare' from Mr MacDonald or a conversation about how best to work with a particular student.
7. Love your subject
I wanted to teach science because I love it - I enjoy it, I feel passionate about it and I wanted to make others feel the same. And I think that comes across in my teaching - I think my students can tell that I am genuinely excited by it and hopefully it makes them feel the same way. There's nothing worse than being taught by a teacher who is visibly bored by the subject - it immediately makes you lose interest in it. So just make sure that you hold onto the joy that you know can come from really understanding and engaging with your subject - it's so infectious.
8. Remember that you were a child once too!
When you get into the thick of grades and curriculum and exam results it's really easy to forget that you were at school yourself not so long ago. Being able to maintain that empathy with your students about what it's like to grow up and go through school is so important to becoming a good teacher - it keeps you grounded and ensures that their needs are truly at the heart of your lessons. And remember: if it wouldn't have engaged you, it probably won't work on them either.
Good luck! #ToughYoungTeachers