This week I have had a few messages from probationers who are finding the year tough and were looking for tips and advice in general and outdoor tips specifically.
The probation year, or NQT year, is the most challenging year you are likely to do as a teacher. There is so much to learn, so much to do; you feel like you are working around the clock and are exhausted and overwhelmed. In addition to this is the emotional aspect. You have worked incredibly hard to become a teacher, and your sense of self is changing from being a student to being a teacher. It is a lot, a whole lot.
Coupled with that, many students did not have the hands on university experience they should have, thanks to the pandemic. I know at least one teacher whose first time in front of a class on their own was when they closed that door on their first day; all their uni placements had been during distance online learning. Then there are the demands the profession is under just now that even experienced teachers are feeling. Yup, there is every reason to feel overwhelmed. That is normal.
But that does not mean there is nothing you can do about it. There are many things you can do. Yes, getting outside is absolutely one, but here are some simple things to start you off.
- Switch off at a decent time, my cut off was 9pm, but I would often tell students and new teachers to make it 8pm. There is no point trying to work when utterly exhausted; you will take longer to get things done, you will make mistakes, and you will end up burning out. So, accept that to do list will never have everything ticked off and get some rest!
- In that vein, also know that you need at least one work free day a week. Two is ideal, but that is not always achievable. But, ensure you have one day that you do not do any work at all. You need this. If you get ill, you cannot teach, so learn to look after yourself.
- Find the wins. It is easy to focus on all the hard stuff and forget that you are doing an amazing job, and you really are doing an amazing job. Take some time each day to write down at least one, ideally 3-5 things that went well. Find the wins as they will help keep you motivated.
- Be kind to yourself. Yes, you are awesome, but you will also make mistakes this year. That is what the first year of teaching is for. Own them, learn from them, but do not dwell in them. Take that learning and move on.
- Not every piece of work needs marked. Yes, you need to follow your school’s policy, but it is a rare school that says every piece of work needs oodles of marking. Find out what the policy is and use that to your advantage. There will be the time you take marking home, and that is ok. But, do not take too much home, or you will not do it. I liked the carrier bag rule, if the jotters did not fit in a standard sized carrier they did not come home as I knew it would be too much. And I mean a standard sized carrier, not a big bag for life. We all see teachers who take big bags home; I even worked with one who would take a box home. They often had a deep sense of guilt because they did not get it all complete. Whereas a bag, that is easy enough.
- If you have an evening or weekend where you do not have time to work, or are just too tired to, then leave the stuff at school. It becomes an added weight as soon as it is in the car or home, just in case you find time (even though you know you won’t). It is ok not to take your work home with you.
- Hot water, honey, a quarter of a lemon and an inch of grated ginger were often my go to drink when my voice was failing me, or I had a sore throat. There are many bugs in schools , and you need to develop your immunity, but you will be catching them while you do. So, that magic wee drink there would help me fight infections and support my vocal cords when I was ill.
- Know that this year will pass quicker than you can imagine… take the time to bond with your class; you will never forget them!
- Be honest with your management and support. If you are finding things hard, the workload a lot, or just feeling tired, lost, overwhelmed etc., then speak to them. You are not the first to feel that way. But, they can only help you if they know. So talk to them!
- And finally, take your class outdoors. It lowers stress, anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate and more for you and the kids. It also improves attainment… and the best bit – often there is no marking when outside, so it can even decrease your workload!!
But, when it comes to taking your class outside, what are my main tips.
- Be firm but fair, just as you are in the classroom. Share with the children that while you appreciate that you are heading into their playground and play space, you are heading out to learn and the same rules and expectations apply. And, do not be afraid to curtail a lesson and head indoors if things are not going to plan!
- Start with simple lessons, like the senses poem or Andy Goldsworthy inspired art. Your first couple of lessons outdoors are not about the curriculum but instead about teaching the expected behaviours and introducing the routines – read this blog for more tips
- Know that the other staff are not watching you. It can be normal to worry that everyone will be watching when you head into a public space, but that is not the case- ain’t nobody got time for that! They all have their own jobs to do and are busy people.
- Short can be good, too – you do not need to deliver an entire lesson outside; it can be a short 15minute input to support a lesson. For example, suppose I am doing shape. In that case, it might be going on a shape hunt, or if I am learning about dinosaurs, it could be to measure them in the playground, or maybe I am looking at adjectives in literacy and so will go on a texture hunt – the ideas are endless. Outdoor learning can support indoor learning; it does not need to be stand-alone. Indeed, Education Scotland is looking for it to be curriculum based!
- Finally, do not reinvent the wheel. I recently heard the phrase professional piracy. There have been many teachers before you; there will be many after. They have all had ideas, and you can steal those ideas and adapt them to use with your class. Of course, to make that easy, our book and members site can help
Finally, know that your probation will pass quickly, and in time, you will laugh about the things that seem huge and even forget many of the struggles. Enjoy this year. You can do this, and you are amazing. The fact that you are reading this blog shows how much you care, and at the heart of it, it is that care that makes you a great teacher.
My email is always open to those I can help and support. I do allocate time in my diary every week just for this. So, if you do have questions or need a chat, please feel free to email me at the top of the page – feel free to use it!