If you’ve just qualified as a Primary Teacher, well done!
Seriously – well done. Give yourself a massive pat on the back because it’s not an easy thing to do.
So… are you ready for your first class?
Have you got your books labelled, your stationery sorted, your classroom organised and your planning for the first half term done?
Have you backed your display boards – and discovered that it’s really a two-person job?
You are not alone.
New teachers up and down the country experience a mixture of excitement and nerves at this time of year.
But try not to worry – your new school is packed with people who can help steer you through your first few weeks.
Teachers with a few years under their belts remember how tough this job can be in the beginning and will be the greatest font of knowledge you can tap into when you’re starting out.
And here at Total Primary, we also decided to help you out.
Because you don’t know what you don’t know… right?
So we asked a group of experienced teachers the number 1 piece of advice they would give to someone about to start their teaching career.
And do you know what? They had a LOT of great advice and we gathered it all here so that you can benefit from it.
But we didn’t stop there.
We’ve also added a bunch of resources specifically designed to save you hours during your first 2 weeks of teaching a new class. And we’re adding new stuff all the time.
We’ve included loads of stuff to help you to get to know your children and to stay on top of things during your first few weeks.
Yeah, we’re good like that!
Here we go…
1. Ask for help
Everyone remembers being a new teacher. It’s a massive learning curve.
And everyone around you is busy. Really busy. Busy like they work in Accident and Emergency on a Saturday night busy.
So you don’t want to admit that you need help and you probably don’t even want to admit that there is something you are finding tricky.
You’ll probably turn to Google a lot and that’s OK but in the end only the people who work in your school can tell you about your school.
That’s a really important thing to consider – other members of staff will be only too happy to help but they’re incredibly busy. If you need help, you’re going to have to ask for it.
But who do you ask?
If you’re an NQT, you’ll have an Induction Tutor who you can contact with questions, worries and so on.
But what if you have a subject-specific question? What if your Induction Tutor isn’t at work today or is run off their feet and genuinely just doesn’t have time for any more questions? What if your Induction Tutor doesn’t know the answer either?
Getting to know who is responsible for what is one of the most important things you need to do right away in a new school.
If you get this right – if you are asking the right people the right questions, you’ll find that you get answers much quicker and the answers you get will be much more up to date and accurate.
2. Listen to your TA
A good Teaching Assistant is worth their weight in gold.
If you are lucky enough to have a Teaching Assistant (TA) or Learning Support Assistant (LSA) dedicated to your class, you already have one of the best resources available to you.
Ask me if I would rather have a good TA or an average teacher supporting me and I would take the TA every time.
Teaching Assistants know everything.
Really. They know everything.
They have often been at the school for a very long time. They have seen Heads come and go. They have seen teaching staff come and go. They have seen children come and go.
They know what works. And they know what doesn’t work.
They have seen every teaching style and lived through every government initiative.
They are a walking encyclopaedia of school knowledge.
And TAs, as well as other support staff, are there to help you.
That’s their job. They don’t expect you to know everything.
To be honest, if you go in and pretend that you know everything, not only will you not be kidding anyone, you’ll be potentially damaging a very important relationship.
In the words of one Teaching Assistant…
So get to know your TA – get to know each of them if you work with more than one.
And remember that nobody expects you to be good at job right out of the gate. Not even your TA. Be honest. Admit when you don’t know something or you’re not sure if you’re doing the right thing.
Your TA is a great person to build a relationship with.
They’ll help you with all sorts of things and they’ll be there to listen to you when you need to vent.
3. Get to know your children (and their parents)
Seriously. Learn their names before the start of the first day, if you can.
Learn them all by the end of the first day.
No excuses. You are their teacher. You should at least know their names.
Getting to know the children in your class is one of the joys of teaching. Each of them has a personality and they’ll all be unique.
You’ll get to see these tiny people blossom and grow under your guidance. It’s a beautiful thing. Enjoy it.
Some of them will be wise beyond their years. Some of them will be funny and make you laugh out loud. And inevitably, some of them will be destructive.
On my first day at my last school, a child threw a chair at me. I don’t mean that he kicked it in my general direction; I mean that he deliberately picked it up, aimed it at me and hurled it.
Luckily I ducked.
And yet, over time, that child became one of my favourite children ever. I loved him more than I have loved any of ‘my children’. Why?
Because of this…
Which goes with this wonderful piece of advice…
Now, I’m not saying that you should praise a child who throws a chair at you. I certainly gave the young man who threw a chair at me short shrift and asked him to immediately leave my classroom.
But I think it’s worth bearing in mind that children behave the way they do for a reason.
The best thing you can do for any child is to set boundaries early and stick to them. If there’s one thing you want to be known as, it’s the fair teacher.
Most children will accept being disciplined when they have made a mistake and they know that the consequence is fairly applied to everyone. Really.
Getting to know the parents of your children is just as important. Just because you teach their child every day, doesn’t mean that you know their child like they do. You can’t and you won’t.
Treat your children’s parents as the experts in their child. Ask for their advice. Listen to their comments. Act on them. Value them.
The best thing you can do to get to know your kids and their parents is to start collecting information.
You may be lucky. You may have information and files from the children’s previous teachers.
But the best thing to do is to take all that information and condense it all down onto 1 sheet of paper (where you can).
Collect the basic information for each child (name, date of birth etc.) and then check if there’s anything you need to know in the following areas:
SEND – Special Educational Needs
Is this child receiving additional support? In what form? How is it recorded? Monitored? What resources are available to you to enable you to support this child?
Pupil Premium funding is additional funding available to children who are eligible for Free School Meals or who have been eligible at some point during the last 6 years. It is money that is intended to be used in a specific way so make sure that you find out if there is additional monitoring of these children in your school.
EAL – English as an Additional Language
What is this child’s home language? How long ago did they start learning English? At what level is their English? Do you need specific resources for this child? How much English do their parents speak? Are there special arrangements for communicating with their parents?
Does this child have any medical needs? Asthma inhaler? Epi-Pen? Food allergies? Do they have an medical history that you need to be aware of? Have they received Speech and Language therapy in the past because of a medical issue? Have they missed a portion of their schooling because of a medical issue? Do you have to use specific resources or make allowances for this child because of a medical condition?
CIN / CP – Child in Need / Child Protection
Is there a history of Social Services involvement with this child? Speak to your school’s Designated Safeguarding person and ask them if there is anything you need to know about any child in your class.
Remember that even though their answer may be ‘No’, this doesn’t mean that there is no history. Child Protection and Child in Need history will only be revealed to you if you need to know about it.
And if there is any information about a child in your class, treat it with the utmost confidentiality. Just because you have been told, doesn’t mean that others have. Do not discuss any Child Protection or Child in Need information with your TA, with other members of staff or with your friends and family. Remain professional.
EHA – Early Help Assessment
Has there ever been an EHA completed for this child? Different authorities use different terms for this process but EHA is very common – check with your SENCO or Head which system your Local Authority uses.
It’s a form that is completed by the school to ask for additional help for a family that is struggling with something before it becomes critical. It is completed with the parents and usually with a senior member of staff too, although that’s not a requirement.
Situations where you may require an Early Help Assessment include:
– When a parent is struggling with their child’s behaviour and they would like help
– If there has been a bereavement and you would like to access counselling for a child
– If a child is at risk of exclusion because of their behaviour
– If a parent is concerned about their ability to be a good parent
Completing an EHA will usually allow parents or children to access additional support such as counselling, parenting classes, social and emotional support etc.
Is there any significant family history that you need to be aware of? For example, is there a history of dyslexia or ADHD in the family? Does the child see both of their parents? If not, what is the history? Have there ever been concerns about any member of their family? Are there any rules about who the child can/can’t go home with? Do they have a release password?
Does the child have friends? Who are they? Have there ever been any issues with friendship groups? Is there anything in place to help this child with their social development? Nurture group?
Hopefully that’s enough to get you going. If you have all of this information about each child, you’re off to a good start.
4. Start as you mean to go on
There’s an old teaching adage that says that a teacher should never smile before Christmas.
I think that it’s trying to say this:
But when you’re working with young children, you have to smile. You have to smile a lot.
However, you still have 30 children in a small room.
Let’s face it, if you were a parent whose child had 29 friends over to play for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, you’d be tearing your hair out! And that’s before you have to consider teaching them.
So you need to set your rules early, enforce them consistently and apply them fairly.
It will be of no great surprise that there was a lot of advice for you from the experienced teachers about getting this under control early on.
Sometimes it’s easier to ignore the little things. Yes, it’s frustrating that your lesson will be disrupted again so that you can address low level behavioural issues, but taking the time to do that really will mean far fewer disruptive behaviours in the long run!
The tough part is that the boundaries that you set in your classroom will never be exactly the same as someone else’s.
Why is this so tough?
Well, it means that nobody can produce a nice little checklist of things you need to stomp on right away and things you can be more lenient with.
It also means that the children have to get to know the boundaries of each teacher they meet. This is why the same classes (and the same children) behave differently for different adults.
Remember your first teaching practise? Remember how the class of angels became unrecognisable as soon as you were in charge?
Chances are this is familiar to most of you. With a new teacher in charge, the children (even the well-behaved ones) will need to discover your boundaries.
And we don’t mean the boundaries that you discuss on the first day and then display beautifully on the wall as your Class Rules. We mean the boundaries that you will actually enforce.
What will you tolerate? How far will you let them go before you pull them back?
Let’s take an example:
Do you allow shouting out in your class?
What if it’s the right answer?
What if a child thinks they might throw up?
What if the child next to them is hurting them?
What about brainstorming sessions?
What about when they are working in a group? A group of 3? A group of 8?
See, it’s easy to write ‘We Put Our Hands Up When We Have Something To Say‘ on our class rules. I know I’ve had that written on every set I’ve ever made with a class but the reality of the rule is much more complicated.
You’ll come to your own decisions about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
And every other teacher in your school with the same rule written on their wall will come to their own decisions.
And that’s where it gets confusing for the children.
In your class, they may be allowed to talk without putting their hand up when they’re working with all of the children on their tables. In other classes, they may not.
In my class we may have a brainstorming session where they are allowed to shout out their ideas as long as nobody else is talking. In your class, they may not.
For each little area of behaviour, there are TONS of variations, largely based on the teacher teaching the class.
So here’s a Top Tip.
Find out a bit about the teachers your children had last year.
Ask around. If you can, get in and observe them as early as possible.
It shouldn’t change what you will allow the children to do in your class but it may give you an insight as to where you need to do some work.
If they allow a lot of discussion with children around them and you prefer a quiet room, you know that you’re going to have to teach the children how to keep the noise down.
If they expect the children to work in silence and you prefer them to bounce ideas of each other, you know that you’re going to have to explicitly tell the children this, teach them how to do it effectively and maybe even encourage some of the quieter children to have a little more confidence.
Enforcing discipline isn’t about shouting or giving consequences for every little infraction.
Bear this wonderful quote in mind:
Sometimes people use “respect” to mean “treating someone like a person” and sometimes they use “respect” to mean “treating someone like an authority” and sometimes people who are used to being treated like an authority say “if you won’t respect me I won’t respect you” and they mean “if you won’t treat me like an authority I won’t treat you like a person” and they think they’re being fair but they aren’t, and it’s not okay.
Just because you are in a position of authority, doesn’t make it OK to humiliate, belittle or otherwise embarrass a child for their actions.
Keeping a calm and effective classroom is far more effective when you break it into 3 parts:
1. Be clear with your expectations and remind the children of them often. Really often.
2. When a child makes a mistake, remind them of your expectations and allow them to adjust their behaviour.
3. Only give a consequence when a child has been reminded of the expectations but has deliberately chosen not to change their behaviour.
Start with these and you’ll be off to a good start.
But remember that you will never ‘get on top of’ behaviour management. It is constant.
When you go into someone’s class and they have a class of children who are engaged and well behaved, it’s because they’ve spent hours setting clear expectations and they reinforce them constantly.
There’s no short cut. No trick. No cheatsheet.
It’s just hard work and repeating your expectations over and over again.
5. Keep a To Do list but accept that it will NEVER be finished
Ahhh… the teachers To Do List!
Every teacher has one.
Some keep it in their diary, some on sticky notes, some on their laptops and some in their heads.
But every successful teacher has one.
Because the thing about teaching is that it’s not just about teaching.
It’s about remembering that Ben is going home with Anna tonight.
And finding time to take Archie to look through the lost property box to try and find his jumper that didn’t have a name on it.
And completing the necessary paperwork to take your class to Warwick Castle next term.
And changing Sam’s reading book because he read to you this morning and has made great progress.
And speaking to the Computing Coordinator about why the link on the school website doesn’t go where it’s supposed to.
And asking the Head if you can book yourself on that Maths course next week.
And talking to Jack’s Mum to let her know that he cried this morning because he thought he had lost his lunch box and wouldn’t get to eat.
And completing the next round of data for your class.
And speaking to the Special Educational Needs Coordinator for advice about how to help Anesh with his pencil grip.
And remembering to give Amy her inhaler before she goes out to play.
And planning your lessons for tomorrow.
And a million other things.
Some big. Some small. But all vital.
There’ll be stuff that has to be done today.
And stuff that has to be done this week.
And stuff that has to be done this half term.
And you have to find a way to remember all these things that works for you.
Make it one of your first jobs.
Seriously. Put it right up there with establishing expectations.
Learn how to prioritise so that things get done at the time that they need to get done.
And remember that the list will be never-ending and that you will add to it quicker than you cross stuff off.
So there you have it…
To Do Lists – vital but destined to remain unfinished.
6. Look after your health
Teaching is a tiring job. Both physically and mentally.
You are on your feet all day, bending down over tiny people in tiny chairs.
You have to be absolutely on the ball every minute that you are in charge of your class.
Don’t be surprised if you come home and fall asleep on the sofa every day for the first few weeks.
Seriously, it’s exhausting.
7. Pace yourself
Are you ready for the number 1 mistake that new teachers make?
Thinking that every minute of every day needs to be planned in detail.
It really doesn’t.
I know it’s tempting to over plan, especially to begin with because you’re nervous and maybe a little unsure of yourself and you woke up last night after a nightmare where you were standing in the middle of a classroom surrounded by children who were expecting you to know what to do but you didn’t…
But seriously, you can’t prepare for everything and every minute when working with young children. You just can’t. So please don’t exhaust yourself trying.
Apart from anything else, this level of preparation is totally unsustainable and you need to maintain your sanity as well as a work/life balance.
Now if you read any teaching literature or have spent more than 5 minutes in a staff room recently, you have likely heard the phrase ‘Work/Life Balance’.
In short, it means this…
I’m willing to bet that most of you probably spent a good portion of your summer ‘holiday’ preparing for the next half term. Now, that’s great and the summer ‘holiday’ is when a lot of teachers take the opportunity to get up to date but you have to be so careful not to let this job take over your entire life.
In fact, you’d be amazed at how much of the advice these experienced teachers gave you was actually to do with making sure that you didn’t work.
Oh, and when it all goes wrong and you have a terrible lesson…
So that’s it.
That’s our advice for new teachers starting this September.
Teaching is a hugely demanding job. It takes over your life and your brain and can seem like it is a never-ending mountain of tasks.
But it’s also the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.
The feeling you will get when a child finally understands something they have been struggling with. Or you find just the right way to enable them to access the topic. Or the first time a child with behavioural difficulties makes the right choice and then looks to you for reassurance.
That’s when it’s all worthwhile.
And that’s why we created Total Primary.
We wanted to create a place where teachers, both new and experienced, can learn how to be better teachers.
Where you can access resources that will save you hours every week.
Where there is a professional platform for discussion and everyone can contribute.
Our aim is to Save Teachers Hours.
How much time can we save you?