Some of the most common worries from NQTs are: “I don’t have enough experience … ”, “I can never switch off…”, “There’s always so much to do and I know I could do it better ….” or, at the other end of the scale, “I’m such a procrastinator”. Here are a few hopefully helpful words that come from many years in teaching and lots of conversations with other teachers.
1. I’m worried about my lack of experience. Don't worry. Firstly, we have all been there. Secondly, senior leaders know that what you lack in experience you make up for in enthusiasm. And young, enthusiastic colleagues who are open, curious and flexible are really great to have around. And they tend to be a great help with the tech. Finally, we also know that teaching is a continual process of gaining experience. It's a career-long learning experience for all of us, even those of us 20 years in, so in that sense we are all still lacking experience.
2. But I’m still worried about my lack of experience.
You have survived this far. And some things won’t have been easy. Here's an insight from many years in the job: too many teachers feel they need to ask permission to do the obvious, and it holds them back. Be authentic, trust your instincts, take the initiative and do what feels right. That's how you cope. And that’s how you manage the feeling that lack of experience is holding you back.
3. My brain never switches off from teaching.
Attention is a limited resource - that’s clear from the classroom. It’s also your most valuable resource so you have to treat it like a battery and recharge it. So figure out what optimum rest is for you but don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s doing nothing. Doing nothing is often the cue for your brain to go into overdrive with all kinds of thoughts about ... the job. Doing something active counts as high quality rest, like running or cooking or making things. It moves your attention away from whatever is draining your brain and lets it recharge. Research suggests high-quality rest means you will make better decisions, reduce depression and boost your immune system. Figure out what your optimum rest is - and that's self-care.
4. I always take on too much.
That could be because you are multitasking. Be clear that multitasking is not a badge of honour, it’s a waste of resources. Constantly switching your attention between various tasks is the biggest drain on your best and most limited resource - your attention. It’s why so many teachers feel they spread themselves too thinly and never get enough job satisfaction because they always feel they could do the million things they do a lot better. Stop putting pressure on yourself to do a million things. Experience a sense of success by doing less, but doing it well.
5. But I still take on too much.
Taking on too much could also be because you need to set clear boundaries.Those who tend to take on too much tend to be over-responsible or have people-pleasing tendencies. And they are the ones who are most likely to burn out. Rephrase burning out as waking up … so recognize those tendencies, own them, and do something about it. Observe your reaction to wanting to take on something as soon as it crops up - and resist the urge to say yes. Then get your “broken record” phrases fixed in your mind to respond, like: “I can’t do that by tomorrow/next week because my time is already planned”, or “I’d love to do that, but I’m too busy to squeeze it in”, or “now isn’t a good time to take on any extra tasks”. And give yourself permission not to apologize. You are allowed to set boundaries that protect you.
6. I’m such a procrastinator.
Do you often never get round to it? Or is it that you can’t pace yourself well enough to get the task done without a full-on last minute panic? Or do you get demotivated by doing a quick-and-dirty job when time runs out? Like the over-eager types, you have to own it and put a strategy in place. Find a system like the pomodoro technique that you can customize in a way that works for you. Get a good planner. Find a buddy/mentor who will keep you accountable. But don’t set yourself up to fail by imagining you will become that new super-organized person overnight. There will be times when you won’t succeed and you need to accept that it's part of the process. Take small steps. The big wins only ever come as a result of lots of little successes.
And finally … be realistic about who you are and what the job requires of you. Be prepared to put the time in when you are new because it does take a while to gain the confidence that comes with experience. Bigger picture: when you are a little while in, if you find teaching isn’t as fulfilling as you hoped, or if your life changes in big ways, be realistic and have an exit strategy. Don’t go too far and let burnout be the wakeup call. There are people who were sceptical about teaching but tried it and loved it. There were those who were convinced it was their vocation and ended up disappointed. There are those who do it because it’s a job they do well enough. There are those who thought they’d love it and do love it. Find out where you are on that spectrum, keep it real, and keep it under review.
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