Every summer since I began teaching I have felt the twisted knot of anxiety that I will have forgotten how to do it once September comes around – that I am an imposter. These anxieties include concerns about classroom management (no one will be quiet and listen), teaching (I will forget what I am saying mid-sentence) and learning (how will my students come to understand?). When I have changed school, these concerns have been even greater. Of course, these worries do not come to pass. And yet…
I know that in these feelings I am not alone (Malone, 2017). Performance anxiety can hit everyone, from the most experienced teacher to the newest of PGCE students or NQTs. So how can we curb these concerns, and quieten the unhelpful voice in our heads? How can experienced colleagues support those who are new to the profession or who are changing school as they prepare to take up new roles?
How can mentoring and induction help?
Good quality induction can often fall by the wayside in the pressure to get on with school life. When first day INSET is full of new school year meetings, new teachers often find themselves in the classroom armed with a school calendar and a policy book but with minimal information that counts. Supportive mentors and colleagues will ensure that a new teacher has the information they really need to get started: ‘Induction and mentoring strategies facilitate workplace socialisation, enabling improved person environment fit.’ (Sharplin et. al. 2011).
If you have a new colleague starting in your department, whether fresh to the profession or simply changing school partway through career, consider how you might make that transition easier. Contact them and offer a listening ear and an opportunity to chat through any questions they have about their new role. Be open and honest about your own experiences of starting in a new context and build their confidence to share concerns. Offer realistic support within the school policies – e.g. a buddy system for behaviour management. Share the unwritten rules, from the fact that only Bill sits in the blue chair, to the ways in which policy is translated into practice in your context – how does the behaviour policy work off the paper?
It is easy to forget how big and rambling school buildings are, and how hard it is to learn the new geography of a school when also trying to get on top of staff and class names. Remember that bewildered look Year 7s have permanently on their faces until October half term? Well that is almost certainly the feeling your new colleague is trying to suppress in their effort to make a good impression. So be kind and consider what socialised induction might look like in a less time-pressured environment. Call by and collect your colleague on the way down to briefing or the staff room. Show them where their duty spot is, and perhaps even do the first couple of duties with them to get to know them and help them understand the ‘unwritten’ rules so prolific in schools (no new member of staff picks up by osmosis that the silver birch near the bench by the running track is out of bounds). Most of all, give them a detailed run down of all the locations at which toilets can be found in the school (both staff and student loos) – this kind of intelligence is vital if they are to avoid being caught short or being caught out by Max with his toilet pass.
Accept that your new colleague may not ‘hit the ground running’ or demonstrate their full potential as soon as they take up the post. They will need time to establish themselves with colleagues and students, and to understand new schemes of work and exam specifications.
Value their experiences elsewhere. Yes, they don’t know how YOUR school works. Yes, what they are suggesting might have been tried before and not worked in your setting. However, they do have a new perspective on your school practice and have something valuable to say, so be open to their critique and willing to discuss your rationale for things which have become accepted practice. Be prepared for them to make comparisons back to their previous situation and for them to make these comparisons through rose tinted glasses. Generally, they have come from a position of strength, of knowing their competence within the expectations of that setting, of feeling secure. Now they are in a place of insecurity, it will naturally take time for them to feel less anxious and more like they belong. When this happens the tendency to look back will quickly recede. So, indulge them to some degree in their wistful remembrances, whilst making the most of any new ideas you can glean from the practice they’ve observed elsewhere.
Above all, be kind and keep being kind. Do it consistently across the term and year, not just in the first week. Support your colleagues new and old. Be open in your practice and desire to learn and continue developing. Become a team which provides mutual mentoring and coaching in all its guises.
Green, C., Roebuck, J. and Futrell, A. (1994), ‘Combating isolation: a first year teacher support program’, Rural Educator 15 (3),pp.5-8.
Malone, L. (2017) ‘Coping with Anxiety on a New Job’, National Association of School Psychologists Communique; Bethesda Vol.46, Issue 1: 9-9.
Sharplin, E., O’Neill, M. and Chapman, A. (2011) ‘Coping strategies for adaptation to new teacher appointments: Intervention for retention’, Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 27, Issue 1, pp.136-146.