Teacher Training year is one of the most difficult, all-consuming years that you can ever undertake. You are literally thrown into the deep end. Teaching, creating lesson plans, understanding all the acronyms being casually used in everyday speech, and not too mention trying to keep a work life balance that seems more work than life.
It is a minefield. You don’t know which way to look, which way to turn or what corner to rock in.
Just stop. Breathe. Take a moment to tell yourself firstly, how amazing you are. You are doing a job that is the foundation of all jobs, inventions, creations, thoughts and processes in the world.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment. It’s deep, but it’s true.
Every single career in the world is because of the wonderful gift that is education. Education is the base, the infrastructure created for every and all professionals that guides them through their careers. And you, as a little trainee teacher are part of it. You will be that teacher that inspires, you will be that teacher that educates that child that constantly says,
‘I don’t get it, I don’t get it!’
And then there will be the day, when the sun light shines through the window, their face starts to bloom a smile and they say the most magical three words you will ever hear.
‘I get it!’
I can tell you from experience that this phrase is so satisfying. These three words are your validation that all of the late night planning, the endless notes in the after school CPD meetings, the invisible bald patches on your head from where you’ve pulled your hair out from explaining the same thing 10 different ways only for it to be way number 11 for it to click. These words are your confirmation, your verification, the recognition of all your hard work and I’ll tell you, there is nothing quite like it.
Of course, on a cold January morning as your alarm goes off multiple times at 6am, you dress like your about to go on an Arctic expedition, your back pack dragging your shoulders 10 minutes behind you because you took all the class books home to mark but then fell asleep on top of the pile. At this point you don’t feel awesome, you don’t feel like the education revolutionary that you are. You’re wet, tired, drained and just want to sleep for a week.
So how do you go from cold, frozen, a car has just through a puddle and splashed you, dripping wet NQT to a fully fledge, overly awesome, ‘I get it’ life changer. Here are my top five tips:
I cannot stress enough the importance of sleep. Scientists tell you, your body is crying out for it and you shouldn’t ignore it. Sleep is your body’s own MOT and you need to rest your mind as well as your body as a teacher. You are essentially performing to an audience of hundreds for six hours everyday and just like any performer you need to rest. Allowing your brain to rest will also open your brain for more creative and innovative ideas as your mind computes new and old information in the night. So, it’s good for lesson planning too.
So, I have a Filofax that is my life and has my notes, schedule and additional information that I may need all stored in a pink leather book. When I was teaching, I had a bright yellow custom teacher diary that one day on each page split into 6 lessons. In it I had the lesson plans, how kids’ names were pronounced, homework the lot in it. Most of the information was laid out at the beginning of the term when I had the time to plan and sort out SOW layouts. By planning as much as I could in advance, I was able to determine what resources I would need, how much differentiation between classes I needed to complete, planned and created the homework 2 weeks in advance. Now I know some teachers are very organic, I agree things do change and planning too much does actually cause more issues than positives. So, you just need to find your balance. You want to plan enough so there are no surprises, no last minute panics because you have no ideas for lessons, and no resources for an interactive lesson (I’ve done that).
3. Take many small breaks, rather than one long break
The staff bathroom, or cupboard is your friend. Do not be ashamed if you need to have a three minute breather. Sit in the cubicle and just have a quiet moment. Or if you’re like me lock yourself in your art cupboard for 5 minutes at lunchtime or during your PPA. The standard break in the morning and the forty five lunch break are sometimes not enough and are more than often consumed by discussions with students, calling parents, or being on duty. So, steal back some of those minutes lost with smaller quiet breaks where you just sit, breathe and clear your head.
4. Remember, who you are. (Anyone else reading this with Mufasa from the Lion King’s voice?)
Have hobbies. Play Fifa, go and tread the boards in a local Am Dram, go join a gym. Whatever floats your boat, do it. If you’re not looking after yourself and not doing the things that make you smile, then you will just become a teaching robot. Go and see your friends, go to the cinema, go bowling. Life shouldn’t stop when you become a teacher. In fact, it will heighten and compliment all your activities because you will find new people to learn from, new lesson ideas and continue your own education of life for you to pass on.
5. Do your own ‘What Went Well’ Book
As a teacher you are well rehearsed in reflection. You will reflect upon your lessons, reflect upon your questioning, reflect upon the outfit you wore that day. You are a reflection master but as you get further along the trainee year, you may become more negative and over critical of yourself and your abilities. At that point you need to take a pause. Yes, we learn from our mistakes, but we also learn from our successes. Think about ‘What Went Well’ that week. It doesn’t have to be the thing that was most successful, but it can be something that worked for some of the students, or something that made you feel that warmth in your teaching heart. It doesn’t even have to be from a lesson, it could be a conversation, an action, it could be anything. This is your own personal positive reflection and is primarily there to encourage you. Keep this one positive weekly nugget in a separate book, so you have that one book that is just full of positive, confidence boosters for you for when you’re feeling a bit low or ill and you’ve realised you’ve got your most challenging class for a double lesson next.
So, these are just my top five strategies that I have found, from experience, helps during those cold months after the NQT honeymoon phase and more often than not, these were strategies that I have kept going well into my post teaching career too. They’re not miracles and they won’t solve all of your issues and problems, but the idea is that they are each a small little boost to help encourage, inspire and restore faith in yourself. After all, if you don’t inspire yourself how can you inspire your students.