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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
'Wise words' for new teachers
Elizabeth Holmes offers some timely advice to people starting out in their first teaching jobs.

It may well be the job you have yearned to do all your life, and you have probably just gained the badge of honour that is Qualified Teacher Status, but none of that is sufficient to contain the trepidation that some newly qualified teachers experience when the first term of the new year arrives.

teacher doing paperwork
A reduced timetable of 90% of the usual teaching load in your school
A schedule for formal assessment meetings
An induction tutor and named contact at your "appropriate body" (usually the local education authority)
A job description and all relevant literature such as departmental handbooks, school policies and procedures.
The over-riding concern for new teachers in England and Wales seems to be induction.

Much hangs on this period - usually a year for full-time teachers - because it must be passed successfully to teach in the maintained (state) sector.

It is not all assessment though. Induction is just as much about receiving targeted support and guidance as it is about being judged on your teaching skills.

The new "career entry and development profile", launched earlier this year, will be crucial in helping you through the planning stages for your induction.

John Carr, head of induction at the Teacher Training Agency in England, said: "Thinking about professional development needs is part of the lifeblood of teachers nowadays.

"The profile is there to support precisely this process of sitting down, discussing progress, setting objectives and planning how they will be met.

"It is not something that stands there alone or that will, in itself, do anything."

Starting out

For 24-year-old Catherine Walsh, who did her initial primary teacher training at St Mary's College, Twickenham, the profile is a central focus of her induction.

Just starting her first teaching job in Farnborough, Catherine has already used the profile as a constructive basis for induction planning.

"It was really useful for me to sit down and consider what it is that I have to improve", she said.

"It is something for me and my school to work with and when I start my new job, I'll go through it with my head teacher and induction tutor to ensure that my goals are appropriate for me in my new school."

This is an important point for John Carr.

"The profile isn't about putting statements in a box," he said. "It is about the discussions that help new teachers to think about their development; it is about collaboration."


Honesty is the best policy when deciding what needs particular focus during induction. It is well worth maximising the opportunities you will have for professional development - after all, you may never again have your timetable reduced by 10% for this purpose!

For Catherine, her biggest concern at this stage is planning.

"When I was on teaching practice I was given the basic framework to work from, and although I have last year's planning and the other half of the year team to draw on, I'm still daunted by the fact that it is all down to me now and I have to get it right.

It is important to make time for yourself
"There's a temptation to feel that you have to be fully planned for weeks in advance because it is so stressful to be planned for just one or two days ahead.

"My preference is to have at least a week in advance planned otherwise I feel as though I'm floundering, but I'm going to have a bigger teaching load than I've ever had and so much is new to me."

While curriculum issues are bound to dominate as you get to grips with the subject(s), year group(s) and general workload, generic issues such as behaviour management will need your ongoing attention, regardless of whether you teach in a primary or secondary school.

Talk to any teacher of any year and they will say it is not the major disruptions or "events" that cause most stress.

It is the ongoing, low-level indiscipline such as talking while you are, wandering round the room with the purpose of antagonising other pupils and constant interruptions when you are in full flow.

Class rules

Prevention is more effective than cure for these incidents. As soon as you start teaching a class, set your ground-rules.

If the pupils can have a say in the development of these then all the better, but fundamentally they will set out:

  • how pupils should speak to each other and to you
  • the way pupils listen to each other and to you
  • attitudes to homework and classwork
  • attitudes to time management and the completion of work
  • the way pupils should sit and move around the room
  • how lessons will begin and end.

Frame all rules positively - "listen when I'm speaking" is more effective than "don't talk".

You should also aim to build on your right to teach without interruption and theirs to learn in a safe and calm environment.

Classrooms are busy places. With teachers engaging in an estimated 1,000 interactions a day, you will soon come to rely on these rules.

But they will be broken. And you will need to revisit them on a regular basis.

Aim to anticipate bad behaviour and distract before it takes off. Praise as early as possible
Avoid shouting, if only to preserve your voice
Be aware of precisely who is misbehaving. It will rarely, if ever, be the whole class
Always talk to a child who is not behaving well in your class after the event when you are both calm. Reiterate how you can best work together. Children of all ages respond to this
Never react with sarcasm, humiliation or a raging temper. Use soft words and hard arguments.

The key here is to learn what misdemeanours need immediate action and what can be left to a menacing stare or a quiet chat at the end of the lesson. Pick up on everything and your lessons will be stilted.

Use a variety of non-verbal cues such as making eye contact with the offender and subtly shaking your head, or dropping a card saying "listen, please" on the child's desk.

This will increase the chances of your lessons flowing with slick efficiency, humour and warmth.

For anything more serious, such as persistent indiscipline, fighting, excessive rudeness and so on, you will need to refer to your school's discipline procedures.

Know them before taking your first lesson and stick to them without fail. Draw on the experience of your induction tutor and line managers when dealing with the miscreants.

Underlying all of your attempts to create a constructive working environment for pupils will be the relationships you build with them.

Teaching is all about strong relationships built on trust and mutual respect. You might set the rules at the start of the year, but the way you relate to your pupils and vice versa needs attention right through to next July.


For Catherine, the expectations she has for how her Year 2 class will behave are intricately bound up in the wider scope of her work as a teacher.

"I'm really looking forward to setting my classroom up exactly how I want it," she said.

"This will all help with behaviour management. We're going to do a literacy lesson across the whole school based on classroom rules and routines so that they know right from the start what's expected of them."

Although new teachers have to hit the ground running (there's no chance of easing yourself gently into the term!) learning how to pace yourself through those weeks between September and December will ensure you don't collapse in a heap of exhaustion over your festive celebrations.

The term will have its rhythm and you will need to determine when you have to give your all and when you can pull back a little and replenish your resources.

Teacher wellbeing is a hot topic in the profession right now for good reason.

Catherine is already aware of the toll the job can take.

"I'm going to try to take care of my wellbeing in this first year but I know that it'll be hard to maintain a balance because it is physically and emotionally demanding," she said.

"I've got to make sure I have a life outside work so that I have time to see my partner, time to see my friends and time to just watch TV and do nothing. OK you have to let it dominate sometimes but you can't let it take over your life."

Wise words indeed.

Elizabeth Holmes is the author of The Newly Qualified Teachers Handbook, published by RoutledgeFalmer.

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