10 tips for my NQT self
October 10, 2019
As a new cohort of graduating teachers look forward to their first role as newly qualified teachers, I reflected on how mine was coming to an end and contemplated on advice I would have given myself at the beginning of mine and how I might have done things differently.
My A-level chemistry teacher on my first day of A-levels taught me and my peers a very valuable lesson and outlook, and one I still use today. “Close your eyes and imagine it is results day and you receive your brown envelope with your results in it. You’ve applied to the university you want, and they have given you a conditional offer, all you need are the grades. You’re so nervous and all your friends also have theirs and are opening their envelopes one by one. As they do, a wave of euphoria and excitement hits them as each is successful, but now it’s your turn. You open your envelope. As your eyes glance along the bold letters, instead of the same ecstatic emotions, you feel distraught because you, out of all your friends, are the only one who missed, and what makes it worse, by one grade. The realisation sets in that you are not likely to get in to your first choice, maybe not even second, or worse still, not at all. The summer of relaxation before heading off to university vanished by the thought of frantic phone calls hoping and praying that clearing will allow you in, but it is still no guarantee. You think to yourself, if only I had a time machine I would go back and tell myself to work harder instead of going out every Tuesday because its student night or play that extra hour every night of COD and instead study.
Now, open your eyes. You found the time machine and you’re here, back at the start where you can put those things right. I exaggerate for effect of course but the premise is the same. There are a few things, had I known, I would have done differently, or paid more attention to, which would have made my NQT year a little easier, not least for starting and maintaining good habits. So as we dive in, do not take these as things you must do or “another one of those teachers who thinks they know everything” but someone offering some gentle thinking points about what might make your NQT year, and beyond, a little less stressful.
1. Get to know the resource material
Most schools offer at least a 1-day induction. Some more and some offer PGCE students an early start at the school in June upon completion of the course. DO IT! I was unfortunate not to do this due to personal reasons (I got married instead) and had I known this I would have altered my wedding dates to allow me to attend the induction period at the very least. As a result, I started the academic year behind and it took me at least 7 weeks to get up to speed with the material, the schemes of work on top of other equally important bureaucracy areas such as behaviour policies, school policies etc. Our main job as teachers is to teach and if you are not comfortable with what you are teaching, everything else becomes much more difficult to understand and implement.
2. Get to know AND understand school policies
Aside from teaching you are expected to enforce and follow school policies ranging from behaviour management to meetings and duties. Naturally it will take some time to fully understand and feel comfortable and confident in following said policies as it is often much easier to understand once you see it in action. Try your best to think of every scenario and how you would deal with it. As you will likely be new in your school, the students will try you catch you out and push the boundaries. This is when they will find you if you know the policies or not and can set the tone for the rest of the year or longer. Read, read and read again and run through some scenarios in your head with how you would react and how you would deal with it.
3. Marking – there is no escape
There have been some improvements in recent years in terms of workload for teachers and one thing that has improved significantly is the quantity of marking. Though marking is immensely important, or I should say feedback, for student improvement, it can take up most of your time outside of the classroom leaving less time for planning and preparation. Each school will have their own marking policy and it is essential that you understand how the marking works and how often it needs to be completed. On top of this, it is important to understand HOW the marking is to be done and what notations should be used for the marking. I recommend making a timetable for yourself of which classes you will mark on which days and stick to it. A little marking everyday is much easier than no marking and having to do it all in one afternoon/evening. Your marking will also be more beneficial to the students as the marking time will be less each day so feedback will be more constructive than a standard comment.
4. Track and get to know your students
During my PGCE one of the tasks we were asked to do was to track three students. By this they asked us to find information on them (SEN, PP etc) and then keep a record of how they were doing whether that be BfL, scores, homework or just a few notes about students that stood out, both strong and weak. Though the actual task was monotonous and tedious, I realised in my NQT year just how useful it is to do this. Each school has their own set of students with their own personalities. It really helps to get to know your students, what makes them tick and what makes them bored. Additionally, track students who have a record of being stronger and weaker and try to support them as much as you can. Every student needs to make progress so ensure you use techniques (extensions, scaffolding, keywords etc) to allow ALL students to progress.
5. Get to know your school’s focus for the term and year
There are a plethora of areas that schools can focus on and each school is different. Some schools focus on classroom environment and management, some on teaching and learning and others on the tasks surrounding it. All schools will have some form of CPD and twilight session to address all of these, but most will identify their weakest and try to improve them. Knowing what areas are being targeted helps you to understand the current ethos of the school and drive with all colleagues in the same direction. It also helps you when completing your official observations as it shows your observer you are paying attention to what management are wanting to focus on and that you are taking the CPD sessions seriously.
6. Don’t get lost – finds your rooms
This isn’t a make or break but can lead to unnecessary stress at the start of term. In all schools I’ve been to, students like to think they are on control without being in control. They like to know that there is always someone else they can ask if they don’t know something. If you are asking students how to get to rooms, some students can get a bit confused and it may even harm your respect, particularly with the older students. It’s not the end of the world, but if you are constantly asking students, then it can have an impact. Get to know your rooms, how to get there from your previous room and what the layout is. This will help with room transitions so your start of lesson is as punctual as possible to cut down on classroom disruption as possible and knowing the layouts will help you organise your seating plan as early as possible to avoid classroom disruption.
7. Who are the specialists?
All teachers will have some expertise in one area of teaching or more. Find out who these people are and what their specialism is. As an NQT you are expected to find more answers on your own so seeking out those who are more experienced could not be more important at this stage. If you are struggling with classroom management, as many teachers do, find out who is the expert. Ask them to sit in your lesson and to find out what you could improve. If you are struggling of thinking how to teacher a certain topic, find out the subject specialist and quiz them, or better still, observe their lessons to see how they engage their students. Questioning is a major focus currently. Seek out someone who is great at questioning students and having discussions.
8. Get to know your colleagues
In my first school I didn’t see my colleagues outside of school save for a wedding. I regret this looking back because I would have enjoyed my time a lot more had I made the effort to get more comfortable with my colleagues. I may have asked more questions and progressed more so as a teacher. There were some great teachers in the department so use them, both for professional advice and social relaxation. The usual Friday drinks at “the library” are there for a reason so go, enjoy yourself and moan to your hearts content so the people at home don’t have to listen.
9. Reflect, reflect, reflect
The PGCE does a great job of getting teachers to become reflective. This becomes especially important as you enter your NQT year and beyond as there isn’t someone who is observing you most lessons and telling you where you need to improve. It is important than from the outset you assess yourself and think about common weaknesses over a series of lessons. One suggestion could be to keep a diary and write a few notes after each lesson/day about things that what went and things that didn’t. This will help you really understand areas of strength and weakness. Once your NQT year is complete, you will have yearly appraisals where you set your own targets and to meet them you need evidence. This relies on you knowing what our weaknesses are and how to overcome them which requires you to know yourself as a teacher.
10. And finally, enjoy it!
Your NQT year is very important because it helps you to understand yourself and how to become an independent teacher. The career you have chosen is a very rewarding, challenging and exciting career. One with many prospects and benefits, both personally and professionally. This is your springboard for a (hopefully) long, happy and successful working life. Enjoy it, set out with the mindset you wish to continue with and try, though it may seem difficult at times, to relax, destress and remember why you got into teaching.
I hope these 10 suggestions help you enjoy a more productive and less stressful year. In my experience, my PGCE year was more stressful though not all teachers have the same opinion. Just remember, you’ve done it before, you can do it again.
This article was submitted by International School Community member, Steven Simnett.