7 Tips for Newly Qualified Teachers – How to begin with confidence
Before I got my first teaching job, right after visiting my first trial lesson, a senior teacher said to me something that no teacher wants to hear – something that will likely be true for most newly qualified teachers: “You don’t know how to teach!… But I like your personality, the way you interact with students, I see potential so I’m willing to offer you a job.” I was happy but felt shattered at the same time.
I took it personally because I really wanted to be a teacher and felt so excited about the opportunity. I promised myself to prove to the head teacher, to my students and to myself that I am a great teacher and after more than 20 years that have passed since that time I am sure I know what helped me keep my promise. I also know that as a newly qualified teacher you should not expect from yourself to know it all as there is simply no way you possibly could at the beginning of your teaching career.
As long as you stick to your promise to take every opportunity to grow as a teacher, you will succeed.
Expect chaos and overwhelm
At the beginning of the academic year many teachers who are just starting their career might feel pressure to prove their best in the classroom and to the wider community. As a fresh teacher without substantial teaching experience there is simply no way you can organise your classroom and even after school time smoothly and have it all nicely sorted out just to follow the similar routine every day.
I remember spending 2-3 hours at home after work preparing my lessons for the next day! I was frustrated as I had literally no time left to relax and live my life and was wondering how all those experienced teachers manage to deal with a workload of 20-40 lessons a week. I started with 4 hours a day only and at that time it just seemed impossible to prepare high quality learning experiences without ending up completely exhausted.
No matter how good your teacher training was you are going to enter the environment where the rules can change with every hour of your teaching. This does not mean school/preschool is a dangerous stage and new teachers will find it hard to cope with the ever-present chaos and make sense of it. It just means you that what you know about teaching is very different to teaching itself. Instead of experiencing it the hard way it makes sense to follow simple rules that can help new teachers discover their teaching styles and bond with students. These rules will be applicable no matter whether it’s preschool or school.
The following might help you organise your first weeks of teaching:
- Be yourself
The best way to win your students’ hearts is to show them who you are as a person. By staying natural you are more likely to bond with your students than when you pretend to be someone else. There is no point of trying to build a wall between you and them by adopting a serious and formal attitude just to gain their respect. You will become more trustworthy and your students are more likely to open up to you when you show them your positive and friendly side. At the beginning of the year there may be lots of new students attending your classroom and they may also feel insecure – it may help to let your students know that it’s your first days as well.
Depending on their age and stage of development you may organise bonding activities that may help the entire group get to know each other. Younger children like to bring their favourite toys or objects to the classroom, talk about them and play with them to feel more secure. You may also bring your own special object and share with your students why it’s important to you. This helps build trustful relationships from the start as students get to know you as a person. Experiential hands-on activities are particularly recommended as they help children engage in meaningful interaction, release pressure and build positive relationships.
2. Treat your students as partners
Positive communication based on partnerships is the best way to secure long-term relationships and this is true no matter whether you teach in a preschool, at primary or even secondary level. When you respect your students for who they are they are more likely to trust you, ask for advice and take it onboard. Positive relationships help create enabling environments that support learning, exploring and discovering the world. Whatever subject you are teaching, even when widely considered as less exciting or particularly difficult, if you build positive relationships with your student they will be more willing to respond to your efforts and even guide you towards your best teaching. Focusing on positives and a process rather than a result helps establish trustful relationships and build both yours and your students’ confidence.
3. Learn who your students are
Use your first weeks and even months to learn as much as you can about your students. This means finding out what they interests and talents are, what kind of activities and teaching methods they respond to best, what they learning styles are and any special circumstances and needs they have that you will have to include in your planning. The best way to do it is to observe your students during natural classroom interaction and the activities you planned for them. Try not to look for specific talents and strengths but rather stay open towards anything that your students are willing to demonstrate and your findings will help you plan the most suitable experiences for them.
Students’ reactions to the experiences you offer them will give you the most precious feedback you can ever gather – your students will show you all that you need to learn about your own teaching style, expose your weak points and highlight your achievements and unique strengths as an educator. Their successes and behaviour should be your hint to discover the best way forward.
4. Discover you teaching style
Finding a link between your teaching and your personality might help you discover your assets. You might notice that some experiences, teaching methods, tools or activities that you plan and use bring you more joy, seem more natural for you and may help you become more effective as a teacher. Use them as often as you wish but remember to keep the class balanced in order to appeal to all learning styles and your students’ individual learning needs and preferences. You may be drawn to work with visuals, music or movement – and it’s perfect, by all means follow your bliss as this way your students will find it easier to connect with your and the experiences you offer.
Let me share an example – as a teacher I’ve always loved bringing dynamics into classroom as I am also very active person. So, I discovered a way to teach reading comprehension through movement – a simple trick of placing reading texts on the classroom walls to help students walk around and make sense of jumbled paragraphs in different parts of the room while discussing the content with their friends. Adding gentle music in the background was an instant hit too and helped students relax. Those who preferred reading while sitting could do so too. To maintain balance, I always made sure there was a mix of settling and more dynamic hands-on activities on offer. So, you can see how easy it is to follow your joy, work through your strengths and incorporate your unique personality into your daily teachings and still offer balanced learning environment.
5. Be flexible
Undoubtedly, one of the most important rules for new teachers is to be flexible in their planning and teaching. Having little experience you might be tempted to try approaches, techniques and tools recommended by others or found in teacher’s handbooks and to follow them from a to z only to discover that your students do not really respond well to what you offer. I made this mistake so many times at the beginning of my journey until I learned how to adopt and adjust. This is when you need to learn how to be flexible. By all means try new approaches and techniques, observe how your students react to them and use your observations and your students suggestions to change and adopt your methods to suit them well. Flexibility in teaching is the most important but the most difficult skills to develop and it takes time. As long as you are observant and reflective you will get there.
6. Reflection time
A good teacher analyses each classes they teach, hour after hour to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Being reflective is not about finding errors to prove you are hopeless. It is about finding ways to become even better to be able to offer the highest quality educational experiences for you students as this is all what teaching is about. Think about things that worked for you and your students during the last classes, which experiences they enjoyed the most, when they seemed the most excited and productive and you will find the key to the best teaching.
Observing more experienced teachers is a good way to grow providing you can still be reflective and find how those things that others do can help you discover the best version of your own teaching style. To put in in context, my husband was my guru when it comes to teaching. Right after completing my studies I felt I knew nothing about teaching and him sharing his tips with me helped me see how I could use some of his strategies, test them, modify, adjust and use them to my advantage, to still be me. It didn’t take long for me to level up with him and together we soon started creating learning experiences for children – we opened our own schools and nurseries, started training teachers and shortly after we became assessors and guided others on their journey. 20 years forward we are still a powerful team of master trainers creating exciting and empowering teacher training programs for passionate educators around the globe. Empowering you to become a MASTER TEACHER is our mission.
7. Final Golden Nugget
If we were to give you one and only one piece of advice to help you kickstart your teaching journey it would definitely be the thing we always say:
“If there is one thing teachers need to learn now, it’s how to offer Active Experiential Holistic Learning”
Experiential Learning helps your students be hands-on and engaged in a meaningful way – they get to interact with the world using their senses and their bodies. They get to communicate, work in partnerships, discover, explore, formulate ideas, predict, assume, plan, test and so much more. It also helps children become authors of their learning experiences so there is a win-win situation both for you and for your children.
Adopting Experiential Learning in your daily practice helps you offer more exciting and engaging learning contexts from day one and reduces chances of disruptive behaviour and the need to engage in time-consuming lesson planning. This will offer you more space, time to observe your students and your teaching style. At the very beginning it’s a great help. You don’t want to experience complete overwhelm (which is what usually happens) when your meticulously planned lesson does not work, you can barely cover half of what you planned, your students get disinterested and become disruptive and you lose your confidence in yourself and start to question whether you are a good fit for this job.
Experiential Learning helps you minimise this all and offer high quality education from day one. It allows you to deliver pre-structured but also child-led learning experiences with the latter being particularly important in the early years education.
No one learned how to teach in a week, most of the very good teachers proved to be hopeless during their first months of teaching. Believing that you can be a great teacher is something to definitely stick to as this very belief will drive you towards discovering the best in yourself and in your students. Good luck and enjoy the journey!
We are here to help – make sure you take advantage of our teacher training programme and resources that will help you create a solid foundation and offer engaging learning experiences for your early year or early primary students!
WHAT TO DO NEXT
To help you learn how to apply Active Experiential Learning in your setting, Natural Born Leaders has launched a new teacher support programme ACTIVE LEARNING BOOSTER.
It’s a self-paced hands-on online training programme for Early Years and Primary Teachers who are ready to offer Future-Oriented Education based on Active Experiential Holistic Learning and Development.