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For all the newly qualified teachers out there, you have absolutely got this, even if you find yourself thinking that you don’t.
Let me introduce myself, I am an ECT English teacher, and career changer and I came to teaching later in life, having spent a decade working within corporate marketing. Now here living my best human-first teacher life, employed by a local school that offers me the challenge I so need, to enjoy what I do. Changing lives, little win by little win.
No one ever said teaching would be easy, and if you read the news or follow any teacher focussed forums, you will know, as do I, that it most certainly comes with its challenges. But, when we find ourselves in our darker moments, wondering if we made a huge mistake in taking this path, we need to take a moment, gain the perspective and look for all the positives that exist in each and every day. Even on the toughest of days, there will be a student or two, who bring the positives. Cling to those, cherish those because if a child felt they could speak to you, you have already made more of an impact than you may realise.
So, let us get down to the nitty gritty, how have I managed to survive the first term as an ECT, and what is it really like to finally be ‘alone’ in the classroom?
Fortunately for me, I took the school-centred initial teacher training route in to teaching and did so with a fantastic school and a truly amazing training provider, the Basingstoke Alliance for School centred initial teacher training (BASCITT for short!). This meant that I was well prepared to embark on owning my own classroom.
The human-first approach that Dr Richens and her wonderful team embed within all of their training and research, spoke to me on many levels. One particular element of this approach really rang true for me, if we can first show our students that we care, they will then realise that they are safe to learn within our classrooms. Essentially “they don’t care until they see that we care”. I cannot preach enough on this point, especially when working in challenging schools where behaviour is a real concern.
My approach with all students, even the most challenging, is to treat them with a calm, kind and consistent response. To get down on their level if they are displaying undesirable classroom behaviour and ask the simplest question “Are you OK?”. This may seem simple, but it is powerful and helps to build teacher-student respect. It is my belief that you cannot effectively teach, until you have built these relationships with your classes. Once they know that they are safe in your classroom, they can relax in to learning, why? Because they can trust consistent routines with a stable and consistent teacher.
I was also fortunate that I am able to have my own classroom. This is extremely helpful in building confidence, as when you feel you own your space, it is your domain, your displays, your textbooks, you are in control.
Aside from this, I like to ensure that my lessons are planned in advance, that I feel confident in my subject knowledge, and if I have any concerns or questions, I speak to my HOD or 2IC without hesitation.
Lessons need to be engaging, and I try to achieve this by using a variety of differentiation techniques, talking aloud my thoughts to my class, holding class discussions and debates, and finally, integrating my own love of the arts to ‘perform’ with enthusiasm. Is it tiring? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes, a million times over.
I am unwavering in being my authentic self, with the added professionalism and training supported by research, that has enabled me to be confident within the classroom. This is how I have survived my first term as an ECT. Being human-first through and through, even in the face of behaviour that challenges and pushes limits. Calm, kind and consistent. Students know a genuine, caring teacher from one who is not.
My advice? Quite simply, be your authentic self, find a way to see the positives in your day, even on the hardest days. Get out on the corridors, on the door in the mornings, be visible, greet all students with a smile. Speak to your colleagues and you will realise that you are never alone. But above all, be human-first. Like a stick of rock, it must run through you and all that you do.