A guest blog by an anonymous Early Career Teacher (ECT)

I’m coming to the end of my first year of teaching – it’s had its ups and downs, but I’m pleased to say, mostly ups. Being a trainee teacher last year was tough and I struggled to balance the demands of the course, my school and my relationships. Oh, and a pandemic as well. The idea of a work-life balance remained elusive. So, I made a promise to myself to prioritise wellbeing this year. And it has been better. I implemented various strategies that some very wise people have taught me along the way. I’m sharing them in the hope that any trainees out there who have just picked up their shiny QTS certificate can do more than just survive their first year.

Emails – The single, most useful thing I’ve ever done for my sanity is turn off my emails on my phone. It was like my stress levels went through the floor overnight. No more checking them last thing before bed and then subsequently staying up all night because a parent emailed and wants to meet with me ‘urgently’. Whatever it is can wait until I’m sat at my desk in school with a cup of hot tea, ready to face the day. I wish I’d done that from day one.

Communication – Being open and honest with your mentor or induction tutor is a key thing – let them know if you’re struggling with how to manage workload/students/parents. Don’t make the mistake of trying to take it all on from day one because you’re afraid experienced teachers will look down on you if you don’t. Staff are there to support you and help you build a healthy work life balance for yourself as they need new teachers to stay in the profession for as long as possible. There’s always help at hand. Some of my department even helped me mark some papers this term when I was swamped with reports and no gain time. There are people who are sympathetic to new teachers (and take those who aren’t with a pinch of salt!). Just keep communicating your workload and tell someone ASAP if you’re worried about meeting a deadline. You’ll build respect far more quickly than trying to cover up mistakes. And you WILL make mistakes! But don’t beat yourself up about them. You’re still learning.

Communicating with others in your department really helps too. It was very tempting to be in my shell at the start, particularly as everyone else is so experienced in my department, but I quickly learned that EVERYONE has an odd chaotic lesson, or a challenging parent, and sharing this at break times helped me learn coping strategies and I found it easier to ‘let it go’ at the end of the day, rather than take it personally. Also, for some subject knowledge questions, it’s far quicker and easier to ask someone at break rather than research or try and figure out the answer alone – even experienced teachers sometimes have to think about A level questions!

ECT work – Set aside one hour a week of your in-school timetable dedicated to ECT work. And stick to it. It’s very easy to let this slide when you have lessons to plan, tests to mark and parents to email, but it’s a slippery slope if you get behind. Doing it in school gives you a cut-off time before the next lesson and you’ll get it done quicker. It may seem like a waste of time at first but be open to more efficient ways of working and it will save you hours of work in the long term by improving your practice.

Environment – Think about where you’re working on a task – I love my department, they’re like a second family, but I know I will be able to mark twice as many papers in a quiet classroom or corner compared to in the office when everyone’s on PPA.

Hours – Give yourself a cut-off time at the end of the day and think realistically about how many hours a week you are working. Everyone will have a different working routine but everyone needs a break too. I find it’s helpful to actually write in my evening/weekend activities, the stuff I do for me, in my teacher planner, so that I actually do it, and I have to fit work in around it, not the other way around! You will be far more valuable to your classes the next day if you have had a good sleep and something to eat (even with a very sparse lesson planned) than if you have stayed up all night planning. Similarly, on a 5-period day, allow yourself at least a proper break time and a fairly free lunch. Physically remove yourself from your laptop and get a cuppa, have a chat with a colleague or go for walk. Emails can wait. You will be glad of this by the time Period 5 comes around.

September nerves – Lastly, the biggest shock to the system is September as a new teacher (or quite possibly any teacher?!). Make some time to just be in your classroom(s) before the students descend. I personalised my room with some maths bunting and organised the stationary cupboard. This seems like a small thing, but having a sense of place helped me visualise teaching and took off some of the pre-performance nerves.

Be prepared with behaviour management strategies and how you’re going to set expectations and embed routines but don’t spend all summer planning perfect lessons in minute detail for the whole first half term. I was told this and yet I still spent well over a week planning lessons for classes I’d never met because I thought I’d be getting ahead. I scrapped and re-planned these as soon as I met my classes. I know it feels like you’re about to go white water rafting without a kayak, but a lesson will take three times as long to plan when you don’t know the class. Have a few, flexible activities prepared that have a focus on getting to know your classes, but don’t go overboard. Your summer holiday is far better spent relaxing, recharging and preparing yourself mentally for the task to come.


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