What makes a successful trainee teacher? Persistence and resilience according to NQTs

I’ve currently been thinking about “what makes a successful trainee teacher” and have been discussing it with my NQTs and trainees. There are, of course, plenty of blogs out there suggesting how trainee teachers can survive their first year of teaching, how they can manage behaviour and reduce their workload. UCAS has some pretty good blogs on this.

However, my own NQT and trainee colleagues highlighted persistence and resilience as essential to being a successful trainee teacher.

Here are some of their views:

Persistence – Wanting to walk away from teaching after a long hard day but realising your reasons for teaching and getting back up the next day to do it all again. – Pirun

A successful trainee is one who is persistent with how hard they work, but who also ensures they have time for themselves to recharge. Someone who builds really positive consistent relationships with pupils and puts effort into every single pupil they work with. A successful trainee is resilient and does not let one bad day ruin the other days of their training. Someone who learns from the job as well as from their mentors and teachers at uni; and the pupils always have something to teach you.  – Charlie

I think a successful trainee is proactive and wants to learn. Someone who wants to learn from others, learn from their own mistakes, is resilient to any criticism from mentors or even students! Persistence is key, keeping your head up and staying confident while battling through the days. – Alex

For Pirun, Charlie and Alex, persistence and resilience are the keys to success. The two words can simply be defined as:

  • Persistence (noun): the fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
  • Resilience (noun): the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Nonetheless, why are these two so important? I would suggest we have two competing issues here. First is the manic rough and tumble of school life; schools – as we know – are hectic places full of children who have so much to do, say and learn. Second, and no less demanding, is the importance of the Teacher Standards. Trainees have to attain these in order to gain QTS and, considering there are 9 broad standards (8 teaching related and Part 2 focusing on personal and professional conduct), the potential stresses and strains of achieving each standard within a year is obvious.  Therefore, we have come up with 9 possible ways to nurture trainees’ resilience:

  1. Build positive relationships with colleagues – try to become friends – and socialise if possible. These relationships can be both supportive and fun. Get involved with social activities amongst staff. Also, ensure you maintain good relationships with friends and family away from school – maintaining that important work/life balance.
  2. Everything is a learning process. Don’t be afraid to embrace the “f” word (“failure”); problems are there to be solved next time round. See challenges as opportunities. Although her research is challenged by some, read Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset for a good perspective on this point!
  3. Don’t panic when things go wrong. Avoid over reacting and turning a “molehill into a mountain”. How we respond to setbacks and challenges has a massive impact on whether we eventually solve them. Remain calm.
  4. Be realistic about what you can achieve. Set yourself simple targets – perhaps related to the Teacher Standards – to achieve over the course of a day, a week, a month or the year. Work with your mentor on this. You are not expected to be an expert teacher within the first couple of weeks of training.
  5. Be proactive; don’t dwell on things. Tackle your worries and concerns head on by doing something about it. Even if these are small things, they can make you feel much better than procrastination.
  6. Focus on the task at hand – one thing at a time. Yes, this is hard for teachers; we receive 11 million bits of information every second, but our brain can only effectively process only 40 bits of information, according to Shawn Achor, one time Harvard academic and author of The Happiness Advantage. This means we can get bogged down with cognitive load, which hinders our clarity of thought.
  7. Take breaks regularly. Allow yourself a lunch break or get a coffee to enjoy. However, whilst taking these breaks, ensure you avoid work. If talking to colleagues during a break – stop your teacher talk!
  8. Celebrate your successes. Take time at the end of each lesson to reflect on “what went well” and congratulate yourself. You should cultivate a positive attitude towards your abilities and potential.
  9. Remember why you want to be a teacher. We often forget this, especially when challenged, exhausted or when things go wrong. Nevertheless, most people enter the profession with idealistic ideas of helping others and improving the life chances of the pupils they teach. There is nothing wrong with being idealistic; please, please, please remind yourself of this whenever possible.

Picture credit: pxhere.com (used under a Creative Commons Licence)


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