3 stages of transition for Early Career Teachers (ECTs)

Placements are over and you clutch the piece of paper that says you are now an ECT ready to embark on your 2-year induction journey. It’s exciting. It’s nerve-wracking. You will have your own class. You will be a teacher.

But your first year in the profession as an ECT (formerly NQT) is a steep learning curve. As a former headteacher with almost 2 decades in education, I know this for a fact. There will be moments of joy, as well as moments of overwhelm – knowing what lies ahead is a key factor to being able to successfully prepare yourself for the 3 stages of transition.

The 3 stages of transitioning from ECT to QTS

As with all ECTs, the ultimate goal is to achieve Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), which in other words means successfully passing your induction years. You will go through an emotional, physical and mental journey through 3 stages – dive, survive, thrive.

Stage 1: Dive

There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end. Suddenly you are in a classroom with 30 children and now that you are a “real teacher”, you have the responsibility for planning, teaching and assessing for almost a full week of work, every week. You expected this, so whilst the workload is hard, it is something you were prepared for. What is often more a surprise is “everything else”. You now need to:

  • Set up and maintain a classroom environment (no classroom fairies here!)
  • Attend meetings
  • Prepare for pupil progress meetings
  • Meet data entry deadlines / data scrutiny
  • Read loads of emails that ask you to do things
  • Potentially lead after school clubs
  • Attend many school events (discos, dressing up “special”days, trips, parents’ evenings, Christmas dinners, charity events… the list goes on!)
  • Deal with parents
  • Prepare for various monitoring events by middle and senior leaders
  • Do playground duties
  • And many other things besides.

The sheer amount of “extra” things that come with the role of a teacher often does come as a shock, especially when you are still grappling with the length of time it takes to plan and resource lessons! Is it any wonder that this is the stage where you feel the “dive”?

Let me reassure you and look at it another way. When you first learn to drive a car, you have to consciously think of every single thing. As you try to negotiate a gear change, your steering wobbles. As you try to find your biting-point at the traffic lights, you stall when you check your mirrors. For a long time, every aspect of learning to drive is stressful and complicated because you can only focus on one thing at a time. You are so busy trying to control what is going on inside the car, everything outside the car is a sudden surprise that you must react to. You don’t really plan for the lights changing up ahead because you don’t really notice they are there when you are staring at the bit of road directly in front of the car. Do you remember how difficult everything used to be learning to drive? Welcome to being an ECT.

At the moment, every element of teaching is something you have to really focus on doing. Planning a lesson is like a gear change – full of individual components which you have to tackle in isolation. You can’t see beyond your own classroom to plan for anything else that might happen beyond it in the wider school, therefore like a “sudden” red light, the request for data from a subject leader comes out the blue and throws your routine into a stalled car mode. It is hard to drive like that; it’s even harder to teach like that. But just as you learnt to predict the road ahead as a learner driver, so you will you learn that each term has a rough pattern to it that you will be able to predict in the future. When you can start to do this, you hit the next stage of your journey.

Stage 2: Survive

This stage often starts to happen after Christmas, following a period of ultimate dive and overwhelm because the festive period in school is utterly crazy. You will start to notice that the Spring term follows a similar blueprint to the previous term and as you have already experienced parents’ evenings, playground duties, events, data drops, etc, you have more of an idea what to expect this time round. You have also planned, taught and assessed a full term and your classroom and class feel like your own. You start to feel like a “real teacher” and although still a tough role, you are starting to survive on your own two feet out there. It is accompanied by a sense of satisfaction and “I’m really doing it” feeling. The imposter syndrome is dying down a bit and you might even feel like you can get your head above water now that you are not on a dive.

Back to the learning to drive analogy, you can now start to read the road ahead so that you are not simply reacting to everything but predicting the road ahead. Your focus is still very much around your own journey in your car (rather than what everyone else is doing) but you are able to smoothly get from A to B most of the time without too many clipped curbs or stalling at lights.

Back in school, your focus is still on what you are doing within your classroom and only concern yourself with wider school agendas in as far as they impact you. In other words, you will not be thinking twice about a governors’ meeting because it doesn’t involve you; but you will be aware that you will be required to submit your class data – even though you won’t know or care what the governors will do with it. You are surviving as a new teacher.

Stage 3: Thrive

Remember in the run up to your driving test how you were able to navigate the roads pretty competently in a variety of conditions and road types? You were able to change gears without losing control of the steering and in fact, you often were making manoeuvres without consciously breaking them down to individual components. You could ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ around a parked car in a fluid series of actions. You were not just surviving on the road, you were thriving and enjoying that new-found liberty that being a driver brings.

Well to reach the thrive stage in school, you will probably have to do a full academic year, so you understand (or at least have experienced) every aspect of an academic calendar. It is possible to thrive sooner, of course, but in Spring term you will have yet to gain knowledge of exams, sports days, transitions, end of academic year handovers, to name but a few things. Whereas starting your second ECT year, you will have gone through a full cycle and this time, you will know both what to expect but also have an idea of how you did it last time. Can you see the difference? And because you are not looking only at the piece of road directly in front of the car, you are able to look up and start to see the view beyond. The further in front you can see and predict, the more you will be able to thrive.

The Alternative Stage

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that there is also an alternative stage that some ECTs face. It is the “it’s not what I want to do” stage that can happen at any point. Let me dispel the niggle in your head – making the decision that the role isn’t for you does not make you a failure. Teaching is not for everyone. A career path is a choice – even if you have already started down a particular road, it does not mean you have to travel to the bitter end. And the end will be very bitter if you force yourself through another 45 years to “save face” all because you completed a few years training. Your training will not be wasted – it’s transferable knowledge and skills. So, if you really don’t feel you are on the right career path, change direction – and change direction soon!

If you want help with this, visit the Mapleleaf Vision career coaching page to find out how coaching can help you find a path that better fits your dreams.

The Education Career Progression Series

For new teachers, the skill is to go from looking at the piece of road just in front of the car to being able to look up and see something on the road ahead.

For more experienced teachers, the skill is to go from seeing what is on the road ahead and beyond to being able to start to increase what they see either side, widening as well as lengthening the view.

For emerging leaders, the skill is to go from a broad view to a 360-degree view.

And for school leaders, the skill is to ditch the car and climb aboard a helicopter because you need to simultaneous see everything all at once.

Coming up in this series…

  • Subject leadership – how to be effective and still have a life
  • Moving from main scale to upper pay – the new expectations
  • Emerging leaders – making a successful transition
  • Leadership – valuable insights

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