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The Trials of a Newly Qualified Teacher

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Being in a classroom for the first time was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever encountered. But, 20 years later, I am still alive to tell the tale, loving what I do and you will too.

When I think back on my first year as a teacher, I still break into a cold sweat. At the time, I thought that I was doing the best I could, that is, the only teaching experience I had previously to my first position as a preschool teacher was two hours observation in a classroom down the hallway from me before being “thrown to the wolves”. Knowing what I know now after nearly 20 years of being an “educator”, I see that I was barely surviving and had no real clue to what I was doing or maybe more importantly, why I was doing it. Things did get better though and I was very determined to do a good job. Now, I am a great teacher. I can say that with confidence and pride. I know what I am doing in a classroom and I know how to educate and motivate my students. Along the path of becoming a “great” teacher however, much of what I did learn, if I am honest, came through the many mistakes I made, sweat I shed and tears I cried. It has been and sometimes still is, a very humbling road that I have walked and the first step along that road was finally breaking down after 6 months of floundering in a classroom and asking a fellow teacher for help. The teacher in question was more experienced than me and had no idea that I was struggling through every waking moment within those school walls. I had been too embarrassed and scared, even terrified to ask for any help right until the moment that I knew that I could not go on another day without someone having my back. I thought that other teachers would judge me or see me to be inept but this one did not. She helped me to get back on track and she is one of the reasons that I still love teaching today and why I will always go out of my way to support other teachers that ask for my help in whatever small way that I can. If I could go back and do it all again, I would have been honest from the start with my colleagues and I would have asked for help earlier on. I would suggest to new teachers that they find a “mentor” in their work place. It should be someone who you find to have similar views to teaching and someone who motivates or inspires you. This is a person who may be willing to look through your lessons plans or, time permitting, would let you sit in on their classes which will serve as a model for your own lessons and teaching techniques. Any valuable lessons that I learnt during my first few years were hard earned. I made many, many glorious mistakes, which threatened to break me. They did not. Here I am, still standing and alive to tell the tale. If my experience lies in the errors that I made and I could translate those errors into something tangible, say money, then I should be a very wealthy woman. But let me be clear: I still make mistakes now and there is no easy way to learn how to teach without living, breathing and Googling it. 20 years later, I am still a work in process and I revel in the fact that there will always be circumstances, especially when teaching children that can surprise me. This is not a negative fact, rather, this is the beauty of our profession. The role of being an “educator” is two-fold because our students are there to educate us too and I wouldn´t have it any other way. New (and experienced) teachers have a wealth of information at their fingertips that can help them to develop, advance or refresh their skills. Let´s face it, you can Google anything these days and up pops two billion options for activities catering to any aspect of teaching. The British Council offers a wide range of online courses (many of them are free), as do sites such as Coursera. There are also a variety of educational MOOCs and learning platforms that you can pick and choose from. Read up on your (ESL) subject of interest. I always have to hand a range of books on Drama (101 More Drama Games for Children by Paul Rooyakers), Art (The Usborne range is fantastic) as well a huge amount of books about literacy, language learning and bilingual education as those are the areas that I focus on (and enjoy!) the most. There are also many Facebook pages for you to follow or browse and one of my favourite sites is the The OT Toolbox which has served me well both as a parent and an educator, offering lots of practical, well-explained ideas and activities for developing and supporting gross and fine motor skills with young children. One of the most important lessons that I learnt (very late on and as a parent) is not to sweat the small stuff though, and learn when to let things go. We are all human and we all make mistakes. Tomorrow is a brand new day with maybe just as many challenges as yesterday, but also just as many possibilities and learning opportunities too. As a more experienced educator, what other tips would you offer new teachers to the profession? Do you have a secret stash of books or list of top websites that you have cultivated over time to suit your teaching needs? What about new teachers? What have been the biggest challenges that you have faced so far and if you had one question about your profession, what would it be? Beki Wilson