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9 things I’d like to tell a newly-qualified me

By Claire Field - 17 Jan 2024

In the “four stages of competence” learning model, the learning journey starts with unconscious incompetence: you don’t know the things you don’t know that you don’t know! That was me; a newly-qualified, dewy-eyed teacher, full of ideals and enthusiasm. If I were my own mentor, here’s some advice I’d give myself.

  1. Find a friend: I had a brilliant mentor who taught me so much and I really wish I’d written notes on all the things she told me. She knew everything about teaching and about the school, from where the secret Pritt stick stash was hidden to how to get the best out of parents’ evenings.
  2. Mixed-age teaching is hard but also amazing: watching the older children help and support younger ones (in my case as they came up from KS1 into KS2) and seeing them grow is wonderful. Also if you keep the children for two years you really get to know them and to see them develop and grow as people and as learners.
  3. Build relationships: with colleagues, with parents, with the children.
  4. Teaching assistants might just save your life: metaphorically if not literally! All the TAs I have ever worked with have been so kind, patient, nurturing and supportive. They worked so hard with the children and the relationship they had with them was a different one to mine as the class teacher. They also kept me sane on some tricky days and for that I can’t thank them enough.
  5. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re learning too: encourage the children to share their knowledge with you – about the rules of football in PE, their favourite books in English, their ability to play the piano in music. Help to show that the acquisition of knowledge is a life-long endeavour.
  6. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: I wrote an incorrect answer on the board when an Ofsted inspector was sitting at the back of my class. One of the children pointed it out and we talked about how she had worked out the correct answer, every mistake can be a learning opportunity!
  7. Take care of yourself: teaching is a marathon not a sprint. You give your all every day and it is exhausting. Make time for yourself and your family and be sure to take time out to relax, keep up hobbies and interests and above all look after your mental health.
  8. Hold on to your sense of humour: you will need it! At the end of the day when things haven’t gone to plan, your lessons have been interrupted and nothing quite happened as it should have, if you can find a way to smile about it and turn into a funny story then all is not lost.
  9. End the day with a story: finishing off a busy day at school with the calmness of a chapter of the class reader brings everyone back together for the shared experience of a good book. Don’t let it slip or be pushed out by finishing off time or read at high speed. Take a beat, slow down and enjoy the story.

What about you? What advice do you wish you’d been given at the start of your teaching career?