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How To Succeed As An ECT: The Top Five Tips For Early Career Teachers

Starting out as an ECT can be as daunting as it is exciting! Here are some top tips for all those making their first brave steps into the wonderful world of teaching!

Advice overload!

There are countless articles and blogs offering useful advice to ECTs embarking on the start of their career in teaching. This is such an exciting moment in your life: a year – in many cases, several years (I’m an “old skool” four year B.Ed graduate!) – has culminated in success; you’ve survived your first experiences of teaching interviews; and you’ve been offered your first job as a classroom teacher. All those late night essays and exhausting teaching practices have been worth it and have led to this moment. So here, for what it’s worth, are my top 5 tips for ECTs looking to find some focus amongst the heady hysteria, natural anticipation, and occasional nervousness that will be experienced in the coming days and weeks. My disclaimer is this: you need more than these five tips, so read this blog alongside all the other articles and columns you find for ECTs; and start trusting yourself – you’ve made it this far, and you will go further. Sometimes you can have too much pre-emptive advice…

That being said:

1. God gave us two ears and only one mouth

This isn’t a comment on religion, faith or beliefs. It is a phrase my mentor used to say to me when I was an ECT (we were called Newly Qualified Teachers – NQTs – back in the day.)

It was used to remind me to listen and reflect more than to challenge and justify. Your mentor may have a different style, a different approach and / or different ideas to which you’ve seen whilst training. But they will be experienced teachers – something you are not – and they won’t be out to get you. Quite the opposite. So do listen, do act on their suggestions, and enjoy this intensive period of almost 1-2-1 coaching which won’t ever come again in quite such a focussed way. Klopp and Guardiola are renowned for improving their football players, and for working with footballers who can’t wait to devour the coaching they are exposed to … so don’t be reticent to take this opportunity to improve yourself in the light of your mentor’s advice. And definitely avoid defaulting to justifying what you are doing as “right” when someone is telling you something different. The ECT induction period is not the time for this.

2. Work hard

Avoid the notion that you shouldn’t work hard. Too much advice for ECTs is about saying “no”, not working at weekends and leaving school early. It’s well-meaning advice, and achieving work/life balance is crucial, so I don’t want you to misinterpret this advice. My message is more nuanced because I believe that a good work life balance can be, and should be, achieved alongside a strong work ethic, a “can do” attitude and a growth mindset which supports self-belief, personal drive and determination. 

Teaching is a graduate profession; it is hard work. It does involve some evening and weekend prep and work. It does involve a wider contribution to the school, so there will be school fairs and discos. There is a classroom environment to set up and manage. None of that is easy. It is demanding and it does draw on  time. And when you begin in your career it will take longer.

My message is not all work no rest. That would be irresponsible and ridiculous. Rather, my message is about appreciating the profession you are entering and the responsibility and privilege that comes with it. Attitude is everything. An occasional “no” in the right way, given in the right tone and at the right time is better advice, in my opinion, that those who tell you to look at everything that comes your way and refuse to even entertain it. Make a positive name for yourself and find your w/l balance with time and experience rather than beginning with a set mindset that may pose greater challenges than a flexible and willing approach will present.

3. Use your ECT and PPA time effectively

This is easier said than done, and does improve with experience. I remember my very first PPA session really clearly – released from the classroom and off to the staffroom where I sat wondering how I should use the time. Nobody ever teaches you this! I spent my first PPA sessions marking work, photocopying sheets, reading emails and drinking tea. Big opportunities for getting into experienced colleagues’ classrooms to observe best practice were missed. Big jobs like planning sessions or gathering reflective evidence for my ECT (NQT) file were left for later. The big tasks inevitably ended up being done at home and the smaller work that didn’t require access to colleagues or presence in the building were done in the staffroom. I had it all the wrong way round!

My advice: list what you have to do inbetween the bit in the classroom; from marking to timetabling, from finding / making resources to pre-reading the next guided reading text, from planning lessons in the medium and short term to getting into other classrooms to watch, learn and grow as a practitioner – and then organise it into jobs that require the school, the HR of teachers and your mentor, and those that could be done elsewhere. Then prioritise them in terms of how big a job they are for you i.e how long will they take you to do. Finally allocate jobs to your PPA time so that you are organised in advance of getting your hands on this precious, precious time and make the most of it. Don’t do what I did and turn up at your first non-contact session not quite sure what to do with it!

4. Ask, ask, ask

You are at the very start of your teaching career. You are not expected to know everything, even it sometimes feels as though you are! Ask whenever you are unsure of something. Your mentor (and the SLT!) do not want you to fail – they want you to succeed… to thrive! So if you need guidance, support or advice don’t suffer in silence. Reach out, be it your mentor or a friend you’ve made on the staff. No question is too small to ask, and you’ll always feel better for asking!

5. Use your mentor well

The relationship you form with your mentor is going to be crucial to making your ECT induction work. Listen to their advice, meet their deadlines and act on their suggestions. Use them as your first port of call for support and guidance. Pop into some of their lessons to observe and be prepared for your meetings and discussions with them. But remember, they’re not there to do your job for you, so be realistic with your expectations about their role in your induction.

And finally….

There are countless education professionals on #EduTwitter ready and willing to help and support. Build up a strong network by following and engaging with teachers from fellow ECTs through to experienced school leaders like myself. You’ll nearly always find a supportive and helpful person happy to help with resources, hints, tips, blogs and social chit-chat which sometimes evolves into realife friendships.

To finish, here is something I read recently on the ECT Partnership website:

Remember your why. Maybe you have a passion for your subject, or you enjoy working with young people, or maybe you want to do something that really feels like you are making a difference. Whatever it is, write it down now and use it to help you remember the bigger picture when you go through a tricky period. Share it with your mentor – they can remind you when you most need to hear it. YOU WILL do an amazing job, your dedication will pay off.

Wise words for sure! If you’ve read this blog and have your own words of wisdom for ECTs please do add them to the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

And in the meantime, let me wish you the very best of luck…. and enjoy the ride! Oh. And make sure you join a union too!

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