Top 5 Tips for Trainees and NQTs

As the summer holidays continue, it is great to see more and more trainees and NQTs joining the hive-mind of #Edutwitter and reaching out for advice on what is best to be doing ahead of September.

There’s no one size fits all approach – each teacher, classroom and school context is different.

My main piece of advice is to do what works best for you. Learn from experience and trial different ways of doing working, until you find what works for you. Sometimes it takes time. But mainly, you do you!

What I have learned over my three years so far in teaching is these five key points.

  1. Get on Twitter –

Ok, ok, this one might be redundant as you probably came to this blog post via Twitter. But this advice is golden. Twitter is an amazing network that can always help you out when you need some advice on how to approach a strategy or need signposting to some knowledge. Simply put, Twitter is the best form of CPD. You can tailor it to how you want it to work for you. None of this generic INSET CPD we have at school, but focused and individualistic to yourself and what you need as a newly practising teacher. If you have come to this post via another route that isn’t Twitter, then get yourself on there and embrace the hive mind of #Edutwitter, especially if you are a History teacher … the history teacher community is the bomb! But be wary, just like all social media, Twitter can be a cesspit. Avoid pile-ons, sub-tweeting and attacking others for the sake of it. It isn’t good Twitter etiquette and doesn’t reflect on you well – especially as you’re using the networking site in a professional capacity.

2. Don’t stay beyond 5pm

This is one I have had to learn myself. As a trainee, there is this attitude that you need to stay late to show willingness and that you are working hard. PLEASE DO NOT THINK LIKE THIS. It is not the approach to take. If you are staying behind because you actually do have work to do, then fine, but don’t force yourself to stay behind and always remember the work will still be there tomorrow. If you have everything finished, or it can wait till tomorrow, then grab your bag and coat and get going! That also means not taking work home if you don’t need to. In my training year, I took work home all the time, but I found in my NQT year, making the conscious choice to not take work home actually improved my wellbeing, as I can get home and do non-work related stuff. I found that actively thinking about my work-life balance allowed me to have a clearer distinction between what was work stress or personal stresses in my life, and not letting them bleed into each other.

3. Lean on others

May this be co-planning, collaborating, bouncing ideas off each other or emotionally leaning on someone. Find that person in school who you can go to. It doesn’t have to be your Head of Department or your mentor, it could be another teacher or member of staff in the school. There are plenty of staff that I lean on at school, from colleagues in my department to friends in other departments or support staff. I go to different people for different things. It’s all about building that support network in what can easily become a lonely job. Build a network of people that you know you can go to at the end of a long week and just go ‘Pub?’ and go and unwind. It also doesn’t have to be people within your school, again this is where #Edutwitter comes in useful, but also rely upon friends outside of teaching, too. Teaching, though a passion and a major part of your life, you need to remember that it also isn’t all of your life. This is why work-life balance is crucial.

4. Perfection is not always necessary

Teaching seems to attract the perfectionists. The do-gooders. The conscientious pedantasists. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But what is wrong with that is the trouble we put on ourselves to get everything perfect.

We are going to have bad days. We are going to have bad lessons. We are going to deal with that student in the wrong way. We are going to slip up and mess up. And you know why? We are humans. We are not robots. Teaching is a human professional – we are dealing with humans each day and every day, majority of them not in control of their emotions properly. So, it is going to be tough.

A reframe of our mindset from being a perfectionist is doing our best in the moment. It won’t be perfect, but it sure will be better than nothing. Strive to do your best and perfection will come along in its own time (but then, maybe it never will).

5. Have a life outside of teaching

I referenced this a little bit earlier on, that we need to be able to strike a work-life balance and remember that we are not all teachers 24/7. We are people outside of our “Mr This” and “Ms That”. That’s why it is important to have friends who are outside of the teaching world, have hobbies outside of teaching and spend time just not thinking about teaching. It’s easier said than done – especially coming from someone who runs a blog intermittently about teaching in his spare time.

But there are also other rules and stipulations I have in my spare time and personal life that do not revolve around teaching.

I love to cook – I am love food and experimenting with it. This year I have went plant-based (not vegan, as I haven’t cut all animal products out, but working towards it) and this has led to me spending time experimenting with food, researching food and nutrition and understanding more about my health and wellbeing. As part of that, I run a food Instagram account – despite it being called Flexigan Teacher, I try not to post about education related stuff, saving that for Twitter, but from time to time I do. This is completing detached from teaching and gives me some respite to allow me to explore my other passions.

I work out – barely, but I do. I see a Personal Trainer once a week, straight after school. Which is great as it forces me to leave school at a certain time and go move and get fitter, which in turn makes me a better person to be in the classroom. Endorphins etc. Setting that time each week, and not letting work encroach on it, is invaluable and one that should be highly prized and protected.

I don’t date teachers or those obsessed with me being a teacher – the former, I would say is not a hard rule but is one that I avoid. The latter is a hard rule. I’ve been on dates with teachers and it has just ended up being a sort of pseudo-interview about your teaching or your school, forgetting all about the myriad of other things that make up who you are as a person. I don’t knock those who do date, or are in relationships, with teachers, but it’s not for me. The worst is those who obsess or fetishize that you’re a teacher. I won’t go into much more detail, but EW and block.

The way we approach being teachers varies and differs from one person to the next. Some see it just as a job that pays the bills, some see it as their vocation … their life’s mission. And neither are better or worse than the other. It’s just about finding what works for you and ensuring that you are doing the best by you.

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