A reflection on a first year of teaching with lessons learned, from Toria Bono.

I remember the day as if it were yesterday. My first day with my first class, as a proper teacher. I was so excited! I had spent the whole of the summer holidays creating words using WordArt and laminating them, as I wasn’t quite sure what else to do. They festooned the wall near my teacher chair, which I covered in some golden fabric I found. The pencils were sharpened and the paper supply was plentiful. I welcomed my new Year 1 (five to six-year-old) children in.

This was in the year 2000. I didn’t have a teaching assistant and I found myself alone with thirty little people. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, although I had been given lots and lots of photocopies of handwritten planning (yes, we wrote our plans by hand back then). I read a book (a solution that I have relied upon heavily over my twenty plus years in teaching) and I found out about the little people in my class. My class. I discovered that most of their names began with J and that they loved being read to.

I knew from that first moment in my classroom that I was meant to teach. I felt like a puzzle piece that had finally found my jigsaw. I slotted in and, despite the ups and downs, I fell in love with my job.

The continuation of learning

I remember feeling that sense of pride that they were my class and pinching myself that I was finally a real teacher. However, not everything was easy. I hated asking for help – I felt as if I should know everything. Experience counts for a lot, and I wish, looking back, that I had leant more on the more experienced teachers. I was worried that if I admitted that I didn’t know something, they would judge me – I kept forgetting that I was learning. Help was kindly offered by those who I worked alongside and, as I received it, I found my way. I became more and more confident with each passing day.

There were many wonderful moments in that first year, but there were also many challenging ones. In the year 2000, we did the Literacy Hour and the Numeracy Hour and we were expected to do this from the beginning of Year 1. The wonderful transition that happens nowadays from Early Years to Key Stage One didn’t exist then and expectations were very different. I look back at how I taught Year 1 at that point and shudder. No wonder some of the children struggled to meet the demands placed upon them and no wonder I found it hard. But I knew no different.

The value of experience

As a student teacher, I had never taught children whohad an autistic spectrum condition and, in my first class, I had a child with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) who found the structure of Year 1 overwhelming. He would often knock everything off all the tables upon entering the classroom and roar. I had never dealt with behaviour like this and didn’t know what to do. I felt as if I was failing and blamed myself for his behaviour. No-one explained why he was behaving this way to me and I didn’t know all that I do now about teaching children with special educational needs (SEN). Again, the experience and support from my year group colleagues bolstered me up and I began to learn strategies to help this little person.

In the Autumn term, I met with the pupils’ parents for the first time, and I was terrified. A wise teacher however, who was very long in the tooth by the time I started, gave me some top tips for dealing with parent consultations. She told me to write down something for every child – notes that I could read from if I froze. She told me to have a clock in front of me and stick rigidly to the time, to stand up if I ran over to indicate that I needed to move on. She said that as lovely as I may appear to the people that I was giving extra time to, the people after would just experience delays and possibly frustration, which wouldn’t make conversations with them as easy. She also told me to suggest meeting again if an issue couldn’t be resolved in the ten or so minutes given.

The power of hindsight

I discovered that I couldn’t work 24/7, that my to-do list would never be done and that support from others was vital (I might have mentioned that before!). However, I wanted to prove my worth by taking on more responsibilities and showing everyone that I could do more, be more. Alongside another newly qualified teacher, I ran the choir, organised the nativities across the school, put together music concerts and made myself useful.

Looking back, I realise that I put a lot of additional pressure on myself when I didn’t really need to. However, I wonder if any early careers teacher has ever just allowed themselves to be in that moment, to be the person who is learning, without offering to take on any additional responsibility. I wish that I hadn’t pushed and pushed myself so early on, but hindsight is a great thing.

6 tips for ECTs

If you are an Early Careers Teacher (ECT) here is my advice to you.

1. Ask for help

You are learning and don’t know it all (yet). Mind you, saying that, I have now been teaching for nearly a quarter of a century, and I realise every day how little I actually know!

2. Just be

The career progression will come but you will never get back this time again – time when you can just focus on being a teacher. Just like childhood, we don’t realise how special that time is until we are older (or more experienced).

3. Ask for help

Yes, I know I have said this before, but it is important! There will be children who are challenging, planning you don’t understand, and technology you have never used – but there will also always be someone who can help you.

4. Book in time to rest and stick to it

Your mental health is so important and the best way to keep this healthy is by doing things that are good for you, including not working 24/7! It is so easy to just work, work, work when we start teaching (as I said, your to-do list will never be complete), but this won’t make you a good teacher. Children need us to turn up fresh and ready each day, not exhausted. If you are rested, you are more able to deal with the challenging behaviour, tricky planning and infuriating technology – you will be able to take it in your stride. If you are tired, then these are the straws that break the proverbial ‘camel’s back.’

5. Tread carefully

Now a mother myself, I realise that when I am talking about a child to a parent, I am talking about their universe, so I must always tread carefully. I convey difficult messages from a place of love and care and not from a place of judgement. Remembering this, alongside the advice I received from that wise teacher many years ago, means that I enjoy and indeed look forward to parent consultations.

6. Enjoy the firsts

There are so many firsts that you get to experience in your first few years of teaching, but sometimes we forget to enjoy them. Relish your first class and all the things that you learn alongside them. Don’t hide your excitement from your colleagues – spread that joy! Personally, I love seeing and hearing the joy of firsts from the ECTs that I work alongside; I live vicariously through them.

I truly hope that you learn to love teaching as much as I do!

Author

  • Toria Bono

    Toria Bono is a teacher who has worked in a variety of educational roles over the past 20 years and is a fellow of the Chartered College of Teaching. Toria is also the founder and owner of ‘Tiny Voice Talks’ which includes a podcast, a book and a Twitter space for educators to find their voice and connect with others.
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