I was approached recently by edarabia.com to write a short response to a few questions for an article they’re running. One of the questions was about what I remembered most from my first day as a teacher. I wrote less than I’m going to share with you now but the thinking of that day made me want to share more than the response allowed. So here it is:
Your first day of school as a teacher will be one to remember. That sense of excitement and nervous apprehension will definitely raise your adrenaline and get your heart racing. It’s the start of an amazing journey and one that will leave your mark on this world forever. You will inspire generations. You will make a difference to so many people.
In life, our values embed young. Our understanding, knowledge and temperament evolve though and so my first ever teaching practice lesson on my BEd was with a bunch of Post 16 students – talk about scary! All those experiences don’t prepare you for that moment when you start teaching as a qualified teacher however, when you’re not being observed almost all of the time. The thing I remember most is walking into the room that I would be teaching in and realising it was real. As my eleven year old Year 7 tutees filed into my room, their faces pensive and nervous about their first day at the school too, it was pretty scary! We started talking and I ran some ice-breaker activities and before we knew it the bell had gone for break and two hours had gone by.
I did what (I guess) many teachers did and prepare my lessons to the hilt for my first day. I spent more time organising activities and preparing resources for those first two hours than the two hours it took to spend that time together. If I can offer you any advice, do whatever you can to ensure you never spend longer preparing a lesson than the lesson takes. Sure there are times when changes in syllabi in relation to books to study in English for example, might take extra preparation or if you have to teach a new area of History you hadn’t studied before. Another truism is that as you develop in your career so you will not only have more resources to turn to (especially if you’re a connected teacher sharing resources amongst your PLN such as is seen on #teamenglish) but you will also become far more efficient. You will have developed your skills and in turn you will become better at what you do.
Two colleagues of mine gave me some advice on my first day as we shared cigarettes in the smoking room just off the staffroom (I say room, it was about 5ft square with a broken extractor fan – needless to say it was gone by 2001). One teacher (an NQT from the previous year) told me the following (I paraphrase), “Don’t try and be great at everything right away. It’ll come with practice. Just keep at it”. The other piece of advice was, “Don’t push in the lunch queue, stand in line with the kids and use the time to get to know them“. I have kept to those two pieces of advice throughout my career and they have always helped. We don’t get to be brilliant at everything straight away. It does take time and practice. Taking the time to chat with your pupils around lunch time is just one of the many simple ways you can develop strong and important positive relationships with your pupils.
My first day had me filled with fear beforehand but left me elated by the end. I’d taught a few lessons, met a few new colleagues and started the daily routine of clearing my pigeon hole. I’d managed to navigate the school site, find rooms and remember some names too. I’d even remembered to bring in some biscuits for the admin team as they’d been so helpful when I’d been in on interview and on day visits before starting.
The journey to becoming a teacher is a long one and to finally reach it is a huge achievement. Teaching is one of the best and most rewarding careers there is. It’s really hard work and therefore it’s important to take time for yourself. Most of all though, make sure you enjoy it!