A New Term’s Resolution

Some teachers get nervous, even anxious about going back to school at the beginning of a new term. I felt that way even after twenty-odd years of teaching.

The feeling never left me.

Many teachers think that teaching is unique in terms of the emotional demands it makes. I know of at least one profession that’s similar. It’s acting.

Recently I saw a wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For nearly four hours the actors transported our emotions and consciousness, created new understanding and knowledge – about ourselves and others – we did not know we could have.

That’s what good actors – as good teachers – do, every time they go on the stage.

How?  Well, they start with good preparation.

They learn their lines and get to know ‘their stuff’ – intimately. They study – not just of the plot – but the subtext and the context. They understand the characters, not just what they say – but what drives and motivates them. They acquire the necessary skills, not just ‘technical’ – but emotional skills to engage and engineer response.

They do this night after night.

Actors know that with preparation, comes confidence. With confidence they can go on stage and invite their audience to be led out of the world of reality and in to a world of imagination.

Good teachers do the same – they lead us out of our ignorance, our complacency, our stasis and in to a different place where new knowledge and understanding reside.

This ‘journey’ is called education – from the Latin ducere ‘to lead out’.

Ask an actor if they have ever conquered their ‘first night nerves’ and few if any will tell you they have. And I suspect that they don’t want to either. Nerves fuel their purpose.

So however good actors become they know they still have to prepare well, with preparation comes confidence and with confidence comes performance.

But they don’t stop feeling nervous about it.  And neither should you as a teacher – whether you’re an old hack, a newly qualified or complete beginner starting a training course.

So at the beginning of every term, steel yourself with renewed resolution:

be prepared, be confident, and yes be nervous… and still go on and perform.

As Ophelia said: “We know what we are, but not what we can be.”

Now is the time to find out. Go for it.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then at the DfE and GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk.  His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) is published in February 2014.

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14 thoughts on “A New Term’s Resolution

  1. Good advice. As I type, I’m preparing to get up 5 hours from now and perform to an audience of hundreds that didn’t request tickets. I see it as a challenge to get them to retain the plot regardless and, if i’m honest, for me to want to keep learning the lines beyond this particular tour.

    1. Not at all Claire. I’m glad it was useful.

      Seriously I would get nervous every year for the whole time I taught (22 years) – but like all jobs worth doing, there are times when you have to “ride the tiger of fear” – like actors do… the show must go on..!

      Good Luck and let me know how it goes.

  2. Thanks for this! Makes me feel not a lone as a PGCE student. Love school just nervous about teaching my first lesson after the nice Xmas break!

  3. Nice not to feel alone in the pre term nerve attack. I have often joked with student teachers about my course in acting 101. They laugh and think I’m joking until they see me on that stage and they see I have prepared, rehearsed, reflected and considered so many factors. Teaching is indeed a wonderful art.

  4. I feel all of the things you have described. Off the back of a really positive last term, it has been a thoroughly strange Easter. The body has recovered but the mind doesn’t feel sharp/is a bundles of nerves about picking up where I left off … Luckily I have another week (partly to do my assignment) and I am going into school one day to make sure I am as prepared as I possibly can be for the classes I am teaching. So happy I am not alone in how I feel.

    1. Hi James, and no, you are not lone… as I said in the piece, even after twenty odd years in teaching I was nervous about starting a new term. But there are some really basic things to do to look after yourself at this point in your career – they will sound patronising and simplistic – but they are true, and actors will tell you the same. First, get sleep, regularly. Don’t be up all night trying to chase down a perfect lesson that will elude you anyway. Second, eat healthily – especially breakfast. Third, get in to routines to manage your time. These are all in addition to the advice about good prep of course – but I’m sure you’ve absorbed that anyway. Good Luck for the new term when it starts and thanks for your post.

  5. This morning I have been contemplating the first day of a new term, a new school year, a new class – a new career. It is all a blur and any planning I have done (in the middle of a huge dose of procrastination) has been preparing for the unknown.
    Other NQTs have either told me they have done all their planning, labelled all their books and coat hooks and others have told me they will do no planning at all until they meet their class. I haven’t spoken to anyone who feels like I do!
    I felt a little emotional release reading your article. It has ‘allowed me’ to look forward to this uncertainty with a feeling of expectation of great things to come.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Katherine, don’t take any notice of what others are doing (or say they are ‘doing’) – everyone has their own way of coping with the uncertainty of a new class – some will do lots of mundane jobs like labelling to feel as if they are ‘doing’ something concrete; others will want to want to get on top of strategic issues like termly planning, so they can see their way ahead – but whatever you do, you need to feel confident. As I say in the blog: preparation makes you feel confident, confidence is the key to performance. But the great thing about teaching (and acting) is that everyday is a new performance. Go for it, and Good Luck..!

      1. I’m looking forward to having a better understanding of what and who I’m preparing for. My first week activities are preparing me for understanding the who and my studies have laid the foundations for the what.
        I think I might be ok after all!

      2. Good for you. Just make sure you keep them busy right from the off… don’t let them think you are a slow starter, or they might have a low expectation of you. I’m sure you will be more than ok..!

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