Welcome to the hardest (but quite possibly the best) year of your life.
There is no getting around it – from the start of your Summer Institute until about now next year is going to be hard. Harder than you can imagine. People will tell you this but it won’t hit home until you’re in the middle of it.
A few thoughts from someone who is just coming to the end of their first year on the programme (in no particular order):
1. Keep going. Unless you are very, very unusual, there WILL come a time where you want to quit. I don’t just mean ‘I can’t really be bothered with the workload any more’, I mean ‘I cannot physically, mentally, emotionally continue’. If this point comes (it did for me in January), draw on all the support available to you, cut back on everything, and take a few weeks respite by dropping everything except planning and teaching. But whatever you do, don’t quit. Because it does get better. Everyone will tell you this too, and you won’t be able to believe them. But it does. I now absolutely love my job – only four months ago I was in pieces.
2. Don’t try to do everything at once. Remember that you are about the least experienced teacher that will ever be responsible for delivering curriculum content. You need to remember that, even if those around you, those giving you feedback, those asking you to improve, forget how inexperienced you are. Focus on doing a few things well: get behaviour right, plan well, get to know the kids. Everything else (differentiation, AfL, marking, teaching creatively) can come later. Get the basics right first.
3. Get used to failing. By dint of getting onto the Teach First programme, you’re a high achiever, probably an over-achiever. You won’t be used to failing. In teaching you fail every single day. Get used to it – don’t let it get to you. Because you will also succeed every single day. It’s a bit overwhelming to deal with all this failure, and all this success. Keep both in proportion if you can.
4. Be a beginning teacher, not a Teach Firster. Over the Summer Institute, Teach First will attempt (repeatedly) to tell you that you are an ‘outstanding graduate’ destined to change the world. Perhaps you are. But from the first day you walk into school, you’re: a drag on the rest of your department; a huge risk to the school; and probably serving your kids poorly, at least at first. Don’t believe the Teach First hype – instead be as humble as you can be with other staff, build relationships, and persuade your department and school that you are an asset not a liability.
5. Be positive. Every day there will be magic moments, although you might not always see or remember them. Whenever you do, celebrate them, talk about them, write them down, remind yourself of them. Positivity is contagious (as is negativity) – the more positive you can be in front of the students and fellow staff, the more you will get into a virtuous circle.
6. Even if you’re doing everything right, it takes time. You will want to be good quickly. Unless you’re a spectacular human being, you will not be good quickly. One reason is that the kids will take a while to accept you as their teacher. You can address every feedback point, practice every outstanding teaching technique, mark every book every lesson. It won’t work. At least, it won’t work in the way it works for more established teachers. This is because of the way the kids will react to you. Don’t mistake a poor reaction from the kids with you failing. If you’re doing the right things they are working. It might take time for this to become evident, but every day you do the right things with the kids brings you closer to the day when they treat you as an established, competent teacher. Then everything gets easier!
Lastly, there will come a time during the year when everything starts to come good. The harder you’ve worked up to this point, the more challenging it has been, the closer you’ve come to quitting, the better it will feel when it comes good. Enjoy it when it comes, because by heck you’ll deserve it!