How To Survive Your Teacher Training Year
Here are some top tips to help you survive and even thrive in your teacher training year.
Don’t forget your reason for being there
On tough days it can be easy to forget why you started training to be a maths teacher, particularly when it is raining outside and when you have just had a lesson which has gone wrong (in your eyes). Never lose sight of the overarching mission of teaching – it is all about the kids, and it is easy to lose sight of this when you are having a bad day. Think back to your own teachers and the difference that they made in your own journey – and remember that you can have the same impact today.
Work life balance
A work life balance might not be fully achievable in your training year. You are simply less experienced, so everything takes longer including lesson planning and administration tasks. You will also have essays and other activities which are related to being a trainee. This doesn’t mean that you should completely forget about having a balance and start sleeping four hours a night. It is even more important to carve out time off – many trainees find having one day off a week helpful and others try to get all their work completed at school before returning home. Make sure that you keep at least one hobby which is totally unrelated to teaching, and make sure you keep doing normal activities like seeing friends and walking the dog.
Look after yourself
Teaching is a physically demanding job – you aren’t an athlete, but you are on your feet for most of the day. Make sure that you drink plenty of water, and that you eat regular snacks and healthy lunches when you are at work. Many schools have a 30-minute lunch break, which can turn into 10 minutes if you need to see a pupil or set up for your next lesson. Plan when you are going to eat lunch and when you are going to cook healthy meals at home. Ditch the takeaways and try and keep doing some actual exercise during the week. Getting to sleep on time is also important – you might do planning until 11pm, but don’t then waste an hour checking social media when you must be up at 6am the next day.
Take feedback on board
All teachers will need to take feedback on board during their trainee year (and for the rest of their careers). This can be a painful process – when you make a mistake in an office, you might have made an error in front of one or two people. When a lesson goes wrong, all eyes are on you, and it can feel like a very public disaster. Stay humble and get ready to learn from your mistakes. Accepting feedback and putting it into practice is one of the biggest challenges, but also one of the most essential things you need to do as a trainee teacher.
Teaching is a practical skill
Teaching is a practical skill, it is not like learning academic theory from a textbook (although there is of course a place for the theory underpinning your teaching practice). When you learnt to drive you probably felt daunted by a 5-mile drive in the rain and could never imagine driving from London to Aberdeen. With enough practice, car drivers become confident at covering long distances and teaching is the same. When you teach your first lesson, it is hard to imagine teaching 20 hours in a week. If you remember that teaching is a practical skill, then it will give you confidence to know that you will get there in the end.
Behaviour management is one of the trickiest areas for a trainee teacher – but never see it is an area which you have no control over. There are always things you can do to make things better. Seek advice from your mentor and other teachers, follow your school policies and put feedback into practice. You will get better and try not to get disheartened or feel like there is nothing you can do.
When you are feeling tired it sometimes tempting not to go to an end of term staff meal, or to miss out on any activities which are not compulsory. Extra-curricular activities can really help you build good relationships with your colleagues and help you to feel part of the school community. Look for extra-curricular activities within your school which interest you such as Duke of Edinburgh groups or a lunch time maths club. You might not be at your placement school for very long, but these activities can be worthwhile and make school much more enjoyable – both for staff and pupils.
There may be times when you feel like you are really struggling, and it is important to remember that this will be nothing new for your school and university mentors. They will be used to supporting trainee teachers and so it is important to seek support and help from them. Don’t bottle up your difficulties, and make sure that you access the help and guidance of colleagues. Think about your Headteacher or head of department – they will have needed support when they were training – nobody walks into the classroom as a fully competent teacher.
Don’t forget about your support network of fellow trainees, and other Maths Scholars. They are going through a similar experience and can share resources as well as tips and advice. Make the most of this network as much as you can.
Find the right NQT job for you
After you have completed two placements you will discover that schools can vary a lot and that no two maths departments are the same. Make sure that you apply for jobs at schools where you think you could thrive. This may mean a maths department which is supportive and caring, rather than a school which has got great exam results. Often you won’t be able to decide about a school until you visit it during your interview - you might feel like you can’t be too fussy in looking for an NQT position, but equally it could be a terrible mistake taking a job where you have serious misgivings.
In September you were passionate about teaching – don’t let that change as the year goes on. If you are feeling a bit dry then take some extra time to teach a normal topic in a different way – the sort of lesson you can’t teach every day due to time constraints, but also the sort of lesson that will reignite your enthusiasm. There are always going to be difficulties in teaching – tricky classes, bizarre management decisions, complaining parents, the list goes on. Don’t let these challenges rob you of your joy and passion for maths teaching.