Date published: 15th November 2019

Published by: Education Support

Early Career teachers face a huge learning curve and it’s easy to feel isolated if you’re struggling, or to reach burn out if you take on too much and can’t switch off. Lisa Fathers shares some tips to help trainees manage their mental health and wellbeing.

When I look back to the early days of my teaching career there were times when I felt out of my comfort zone and overwhelmed. Being able to ask for help, having an excellent mentor and finding the relevant support was crucial to building up my confidence and working through every-day challenges so that they didn’t accumulate. While it’s well-documented how many experienced teachers are feeling stressed out or quitting the profession, how can we make sure we nurture and offer the right emotional support to those who are new to teaching?

Early Career teachers face a huge learning curve and it’s easy to feel isolated if you’re struggling, or to reach burn out if you take on too much and can’t switch off. Each school is different and for some individuals it might seem like a challenge to remember student names, while others may struggle to manage behaviour.

Being aware of the things that are likely to cause you anxiety from the outset, in addition to potential pressures that are likely to affect your wellbeing, can help you take a positive and proactive approach to managing mental health. We all started somewhere so be kind to yourself and make use of the help that’s out there.

Education Support has now extended its helpline to offer free emotional support to trainee teachers and keeping these tips in mind may also help:

Put yourself first

You cannot pour from an empty cup. You need to make sure you give yourself time to refuel your energy. Establish a routine that puts you at the heart of it. Allow yourself time to exercise, socialise, protect weekends, relax often and most importantly prioritise sleep.  Plan your meals for the week ahead if you can, making sure you are eating a balanced diet. You cannot be at your best if you do not protect your health and wellbeing.

Approaching behaviour management

Often a challenging area for trainee teachers is accessing quality training around this. It is important and ought to be part of your course. Taking time to get to know your students is vital to ensure someone has helped you understand the school or student context. Know the whole school behaviour approach, but also understand that for a small minority of students, universal behaviour systems are unlikely to work. Speak to other teachers in the school about their behaviour approaches and talk to them if you find behaviour a challenge. They will be able to offer support and often you will find you are not alone. That is always reassuring. Don’t go home if you have faced a challenge without talking about it first. Discussing it will make you feel better and allow you to reflect upon your approach and your lesson.

Ask for help often and don’t over burden yourself

You are training and learning – nobody expects you to know everything and you should be asking for help about all sorts of things. You should have a supportive mentor you can talk to about anything. If this isn’t the case, then you need to shout up! Don’t volunteer for everything to make a good impression if your time is tight. It’s okay to say NO!

Improve subject knowledge and confidence

As an NQT (English) I remember using various bought notes like York notes etc, as well as asking colleagues for examples of annotated texts and having to do lots of reading around topics. Your degree will not have prepared you for the range of topics you have to teach so be kind to yourself. We all started somewhere and during those first few years of teaching you are learning more than the students. That’s okay, you can do both well. Your subject knowledge will develop as you progress throughout your career but remember there is already a vast array of materials you can access via the wonders of the internet and social media. Be cautious with your sources and personalise the material as this will increase your confidence around your subject knowledge.

No man (or woman) is an island – reach out

Make friends, reach out, develop an informal support network of other teachers, fellow trainees and people in other departments and even other schools. You can share similar challenges, off load, halve planning time and feel ‘together’.

Take a Mental Health First Aid Course

This will allow you firstly to take a good look at what is in your own stress bucket and how to empty it but will also give you a good understanding of how to spot any worrying signs in your colleagues or students. Being proactive in managing your mental health will allow you to feel in control and help develop your resilience.

Reflect but don’t dwell

It’s good to continuously reflect on our approach as that’s how we learn.  Get feedback but once you’ve evaluated it, don’t over-dwell on things. Worrying about what has passed won’t change a thing.

Lisa Fathers is Director of Teaching School and Partnerships, Alliance for Learning SCITT (part of Bright Futures Educational Trust). She is also a national Mental Health First Aid trainer and tweets @LisaFathersAFL

If you are struggling with your mental health and wellbeing please call our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561. 

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