The days are short, the nights are long. Your classes are dancing circles around you, and as you panic your weekend away worrying about the looming book scrutiny- for which you have weeks of pupil response missing- you find yourself shutting down. You sit at your desk, your eyes glazed over, wondering why on earth you decided to begin a career in teaching.
You need help.
Firstly there is absolutely nothing, nothing, (lets go for a trilogy), nothing wrong with this. I have never met anyone who didn’t struggle during their PGCE or NQT year: it is part and parcel of the job. Every school will have a support program for both of the aforementioned, and it is not only your right but your duty to use the support when necessary.
So why is something so simple so complicated? This is due to a combination of factors: The teacher often feels that if they ask for support they will appear lazy, incompetent, or that they ‘can’t hack it.’ Also, trainees and NQTs are often under the supervision of teachers who are teaching a full timetable: the teacher struggles to find the time to help, the trainee senses this, feels like a burden, then just stops asking.
This blog will outline both when and how to ask for help, for your sanity and ultimately for your pupils: Unhappy teachers are ineffective.
When will you need help?
The reason why most teachers will need help is directly or indirectly due to workload. You may contest and say that classroom management can also play a huge part, but I am convinced that if a teacher wasn’t spending so much time making sure literacy is marked in purple, content in red, strengths highlighted in green, and areas for development in pink, then even the most rowdy class could be disciplined with no external involvement: classroom management is workload.
The sad fact is that the teaching profession can be immorally paradoxical: giving someone 60hrs of work a week and then not telling them how to manage it is plain wrong in my opinion. One reason I wrote The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual was as an attempt to solve this problem. I would strongly recommend reading this for trainees and NQTs as it will enable you to create more of a life-work balance (I deliberately switched the words around in the latter) and help you to avoid pitfalls.
So how do you actually ask for help?
As a first port of call, most mentors will aim to empower the teacher to deal with whatever issue they present. Suppose you come to your mentor with a class which constantly talks over you. S/he will give you advice on how to deal with this from their own experience and you will then go and act on their advice. This is normal for most mentor meetings. But what about when you absolutely need help, i.e. you’ve done xyz and it still isn’t working. In that case, the last thing you want (or can stand) is for it to be thrown back on you. With this is mind, always make sure you have tried everything yourself first before you ask for help. In the former example, you could say: ‘I rang 7 pupil’s parents last week. I gave out three detentions and I’ve changed the seating plan twice: please can Joe Bloggs move to your room during my lessons for a week or so?’
If you need help in prioritising because you are swamped with bureaucratic tasks, say something to the effect of: ‘I’ve marked my year 11s, 10s, and 8s but I’m totally struggling to keep on top with my year 7s as well. Is it ok if I peer assessed the final assessment?
But everyone’s so busy! No one’s got time!
It is no secret that both you and your mentor, (and if you’re a PGCE, the class teacher also) are pressed for time. When arranging to speak to someone about getting help, learn this key phrase:
‘I need some help with xyz, when is a good time we can chat about it?’
The mentor/teacher (unless they are someone with an axe to grind) will genuinely want to support you. As they have their own workload to keep up with however, they will have to plan you in. Asking for help using the above will indicate that you indeed need the help, and that you are sensitive to the teacher’s time. Who wouldn’t help you then? If you randomly bump into them during a free and start listing the things that are giving you chest tremors, there is a good chance they will just say something either to simply absorb whatever emotion you’re experiencing, or just politely fob you off.
In summary then, if you’ve proven to your mentor/class teacher that you realise that the first port of call is you, and you ask for it in the correct way, then there is absolutely no stigma in asking for support. So get asking! It’s your right. On a lighter note, you may have a very familiar relationship with your mentor in which case most of the above you either already know, or just doesn’t apply to you. (Once, a mentee of mine shouted ‘Yes I’ve fuckin’ added them!’ when I asked her if the year 7 EOY grades were on the system. She passed her NQT year with flying colours).
A note on sharing resources
I have and still do come across many trainees and NQTs who insist on spending hours making power points and worksheets that already exist. There is no harm in adapting existing resources for use in your lessons! I mention this as it is often the obvious help which trainees and NQTs just don’t utilise. But again, as before, you don’t want to come across as someone who doesn’t want to do their own planning, so do be careful how you phrase it: ‘I’ve made a power point with some levelled questions, a diagram and a video on, but is there anything on the shared drive which I can adapt that covers the basics? Should suffice.
By Omar Akbar
For more advice and guidance check out The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual: What they don’t teach you at training college. Available on Amazon £6.75/£3.99