In this week’s latest addition of the anzuk blog, we are once again joined by Kirsty Knowles, Educational Leader, who discusses the buoyancy for early career teachers to thrive.
More than ever, right now, there is an opportunity for educators to be celebrated and recognised for being a robust, resilient, emotionally intelligent and deeply flexible professional community. And having witnessed the positive difference and impact of the teaching profession during the pandemic school closures, re-opening and sustainability of ‘blended’ models of learning provided, this is an exciting era for education and for individuals to pursue this innovative, progressive and richly meaningful career.
In stark contrast, back in 1998 when I was third year into my MA, a teaching career was unfairly and inaccurately perceived as a ‘soft’ option. The myth that teaching was for those who did not know what else to do for a job or otherwise, wanted or sought to be at home with their children during the school ‘holidays’ was powerfully embedded. On reflection and after twenty years of working in education in the UK and overseas, it has become seemingly obvious to me that because it is usual for the great majority to have attended school they therefore credit themselves with being the authority for scrutinising schools and their success. Parents and carers might know their children more intimately than schools but even this claim can be challenged as children become known and develop in a different way at school and at home.
Now is also the time for the school/home partnership to be nurtured and whole-heartedly invested in – school closures forced parents and carers to re-evaluate the job teachers fulfil and reopening schools on the 1st June 2020 and in full at the beginning of September 2020, renewed society’s gratitude for all Heads, Senior Leaders and the collective staff who make school happen safely every day; not least also providing high levels of Safeguarding and pastoral provision and stimulating, engaging lessons for students to make progress. And so this is perhaps the most appealing time for new joiners to the teaching profession and for early career teachers to feel affirmed and greatly valued for their career choice. This shift in thinking should be harnessed. It is not acceptable to ignore the existing dire recruitment and retention problem across the UK with 72% of educational professionals in 2019 identifying themselves as stressed (Education Support, 2019) and a third of teachers leaving the profession within five years (Ward, 2019).
In agreement with a report by Hobson et al. (2009), my mentoring and coordinating of NQT’s (Newly Qualified Teachers) emphasised three interconnected main factors for wanting to continue into the second and third years of teaching: enjoyment of teaching; teachers having positive relationships with colleagues; and developing a sense of autonomy and ownership. All of which are underpinned by the right balance of support.
Camaraderie gives teachers new to the profession their first sense of belonging. If relationships with colleagues are easily made from a warm welcome, a full but relevant induction, approachability from staff and their willingness to guide, bounce ideas around and point in the right direction then first-time teachers feel less vulnerable immediately. And this is just the beginning of the differentiated and ongoing support and challenge NQT’s deserve as they determinedly aspire to improve.
A designated mentor to provide bespoke support is in keeping with the researched and evidence-based educational philosophy that no two children learn in the same way. Each school and NQT can decide which programme to use and they can differ in their offering but it is still very much the school’s responsibility to provide a clear, rigorous and empowering year(s) of training opportunities to motivate the completion of the NQT year for him/her to enter into the first year of teaching with confidence, a repertoire of skills and strategies, self-assuredness, a growing network of support and confirmation that this is a rewarding profession that they feel proud to be a part of. Anything less requires intervention to ascertain what could be the ‘making’ rather than the ‘breaking’ of them.
In-house CPD (Career Professional Development) is increasingly common and more so because leaders rightly realise the many benefits of utilising and shining a light on the expertise in the staff room. However, what is most fruitful is the sharing of best practice, knowledge, understanding and experiences with other schools and educational organisations which host conferences for example – an efficient and impactful way of bringing schools together. In this way, generic CPD is avoided – what sways educators from attending CPD most is a fear or previous negative experience of it being a waste of time (and sometimes money). This being said, it is imperative that schools make it easy for early career teachers especially to take time out of the classroom to engage in CPD because too often, teachers can be dissuaded from CPD if they feel it will increase their workload: pre-planning lessons and handover, build-up of marking, instability and lack of continuity for the children and so on.
Subject communities formed from the need to create subject-specific CPD opportunities are growing in popularity (Gatward, 2020). Subject Leaders and those teaching specific subjects are best placed to generate, clarify and enhance deep subject knowledge for fluency in teaching and learning. If teachers are fluent in the classroom, they will be inwardly confident as well as outwardly (the latter pretended sometimes) to work towards pupil mastery, increasing student enjoyment, their outcomes and ultimately encouraging their love for the subject. The gathering together for specific subject teaching development is far more relevant and is an authentic and organic way for early career teachers to deepen their knowledge, boost their self-esteem about particular subjects, learn and gain different pedagogies and build collegiate relationships. Indeed, subject communities can be refreshing for educators feeling a little stale.
The learning curve and genuine interest in teaching and education should continue far beyond the third year of a teacher’s career and to prevent the national UK drop out of this profession by one in three teachers by the fifth year (Ward, 2019), the teaching profession as a community needs to scrutinise what measures they are taking to risk assess and retain teachers. If positive relationships with colleagues is a chief reason for teachers remaining in education, it is reasonable to claim that everyone in the school community is responsible for helping teachers to flourish and stay in this profession. Equally, in highly supportive environments, teachers can plateau and a job that becomes ‘old hat’ can be the reason for leaving teaching. In reference to Collins’ analogy of ‘good to great’ in the context of schools (1975), early career teachers will begin to thrive if which role in the school they most advantageously fulfil is identified and a path for achieving this is mapped out. SDP’s (School Development Plans) and budgets should not limit NQT’s as add-ons, nice-to-haves, gap fillers and/or a more economical option. Early career teachers should feel ready to take on a middle management role such as Subject Leader after two to three years if they so choose. As it is for our students, it is in the explanation and modelling to others how we do what we do and in the reflection of how we can do it differently or better when mastery is reached.
As we look ahead to teaching in post-Covid times, we will have indirectly given new teachers accelerated training in using technology to enhance and deliver teaching and pastoral care remotely, and in a hybrid fashion, we will have held them buoyantly if they felt like they were sinking and we will have watched them build strength of character at a rapid pace. And thus, we have proven we are made of strong stuff as a collective body of expert educators to enable early career teachers to thrive in a profession led by Heads and Senior Leadership Teams who are visionary and brave, governors who have trust and faith in schools to be cornerstones for progress and parents and carers who are more thankful for the role which teachers and schools play in their lives, that we cannot allow negative perceptions around teaching to sprout again. Teaching can be the sought after profession it should be and the many avenues in education there to be explored offer a rich career for the taking from dedicated individuals privileged to teach and as a result, thrive.
Collins, J (1975)Good To Great , Harper Business.
Education Support (2019)Teacher Wellbeing Index. From p6: www.educationsupport.org.uk/resources/research-reports/teacher-wellbeing-index-2019 (accessed 5th November 2020).
Gatward, L (2020)Building Subject-Specific CPD Opportunities . From: Impact: Journal of the Chartered College of Teaching, September 2020.
Hobson, A, Malderez A, Tracey L et al. and Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute (2009)Becoming a teacher: Teachers’ experiences of initial teacher training, induction and early professional development. Final Report. From: https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/11168/1/DCSF-RR115.pdf (accessed 6th November 2020).
Ward, H (27th June 2019)TES. From: www.tes.com/news/one-three-teachers-leaves-within-five-years (accessed 5th November 2020).