Managing the excitement

March 2010


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The thrill of starting a teaching career is a real asset for new teachers, but one that needs to be managed carefully, suggest school support advisers

Excitement and passion for the job are among the characteristics of beginning teachers, according to the staff of Accent Learning, the school support division of Victoria University’s Viclink. These are certainly desirable traits for teachers and also helpful for providing the energy that gets many new teachers through the demands of their first couple of years in the job.

Education adviser Libby Paterson recalls last year’s batch of first-year teachers, saying at their first meeting they were full of excitement about their classrooms and at their second meeting about the professional relationships they were developing with their students.

But new teachers also need to remember to pace themselves, say Paterson and colleagues Mike Perry, also an education adviser, and Rosemary Christian, Accent Learning’s education programme manager. To a certain extent that means keeping that aforementioned excitement and passion focused. For example, if your passion is drama, don’t leap into directing the school production in your first year of teaching. “Less is more as far these things are concerned,” Paterson says. “A lot of PRTs are working extensively long hours when they start out, just to keep on top.”

Paterson, Perry and Christian also suggest that new teachers avoid roles with significant responsibility such as head of department, teacher in charge or new entrant teacher – all positions in which PRTs sometimes find themselves. Such roles are very demanding for people who should be concentrating on developing their teaching practice and working towards registration.

Paterson notes that for some teachers, the demands of life as a beginning teacher do not strike home until the third term of their first year. Until then, their energy and excitement have kept them going, but by term 3 they may be starting to flag physically. She urges new teachers to keep an eye on their work-life balance and their hauora or general wellbeing.

Christian suggests that good planning is a must. “When you are new and enthusiastic you have got far more ideas than you can fit in. If you stick to your planning, you can focus on a few things and do them well.”

She notes that the complexity of teaching different lessons to different groups in the same classroom can be challenging.

Perry says it is helpful for new teachers to remember the two foundations of good teaching practice – the relationship they have with the students and the philosophy or passion that underpins their teaching. When the going gets tough, it is those two things that teachers must fall back on, he says.

New teachers are entitled to an advice and guidance programme and it is important that they understand that this means more than simply popping off to observe other teachers’ classes or to attend a course.

Perry explains that an advice and guidance programme should provide coaching and mentoring that focuses on teaching and learning rather than just the administrative aspects of the job.

Says Paterson: “It’s about reflecting on and modifying your practice as you go, rather than just a whole lot of content around your learning area or something along those lines.”

Tutor teachers

It’s the role that people get because they can’t say no. Or because they volunteer. But there is a lot more to being a tutor teacher than simply having a few years of teaching experience to share or the willingness to do the job. Unfortunately some teachers find themselves with this crucial responsibility with little preparation.

In recent years that has been recognised and there has been greater emphasis on preparing tutor or mentor teachers to support and advise beginning teachers.

Mike Perry says a critical first step for any tutor teacher is to clarify their role. “Often they don’t know what they are being asked to do,” he says. “Only once you get an understanding and acceptance of the role can you start to develop an effective mentoring programme with your PRT.”

At the heart of mentoring is the ability to guide rather than simply provide friendly encouragement. “It’s got to be more challenging, but also more supportive,” Perry says.

He says principals and deputy principals need to look carefully at their responsibilities and at who they are appointing to tutor teacher positions.

Rosemary Christian notes that the responsibility to guide new teachers goes beyond the mentor teachers assigned to help them. “All teachers have got a responsibility to ensure PRTs get the best deal possible,” she says. It does not matter if a teacher moves on to another school after they register, the teaching profession as a whole needs and benefits from new blood.

She says principals also need to be careful about the positions for which they hire beginning teachers.

If a PRT is not performing well, they need to be told. “The possibility of not being recommended for registration can’t be sprung on them at the end of the two years,” Christian says. The two-year advice and guidance programme needs to address issues as they arise.