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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.continue reading
Every school year, a school always goes through some new changes or simply experiences new things that the staff is now required to do or complete. The changes could be related to the school’s curriculum, to some new professional development based on new initiatives, new building procedures (like fire drills), new mandatory training (like child protection), etc.
For many things (like ones actually dictated by the host country), they are mandatory and the admin simply just needs to fit those required things into their yearly meeting schedule. Combine those required things with the other things and initiatives that a school wants to do, it can make for a sometimes stressful school year for the staff (and admin!). Furthermore, balancing these new things with your normal planning work and actually teaching students can prove to be very challenging.
So what are some of these new initiatives that international schools are focusing on in recent years?
A number of international schools are having their staff work with the Managebac program. There are 57+ comments related to Managebac on our website.
It’s also fairly certain that your school is now or will very soon be going through an accreditation. ISC has 347+ total comments related to school accreditation on 247 international schools at the moment.
With regards to curriculum, it appears that a number of schools are doing training with the Common Core curriculum. There are 24 comments that are about the different schools taking on this in recent years.
And the list goes on…
What is a possible plan then for balancing all of these newly added things so that staff and admin don’t get too overwhelmed? As one ISC member wrote about working at United Nations International School (Vietnam), “the [needs to be a] conscious adoption of a “less is more” ethos.”
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of new things added at a school. Our members can share what current international schools are doing in this topic. There are a total of 567 comments (Sept. 2018) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 65 comment topics called – “Recent things that the school has taken on (i.e. new curriculum, specific professional development, etc.).”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“The use of Kagan cooperative structures is the focus for this year. The entire faculty had 2 days of training before the commencement of the school year with another session upcoming later in the year. The goal being student engagement. Most of the faculty have been receptive and are already using the structures in their classrooms…” – Seoul Foreign School (Seoul, South Korea) – 147 Total Comments
“The school just finished a multi-year curriculum initiative designed to put the entire Pre-K through 12th grade curriculum documents onto Rubicon Atlas. The school seems to focus most on literacy in the Lower School, innovation and design in the Middle School, and IB/AP in the Upper School. School-wide, there is a focus on Differentiated Instruction, but this takes different forms in different divisions. There is a new Head of School coming in for the 2018-2019 school year…” – American School of Paris (Paris, France) – 47 Comments
“The administration said they care more about kids learning English and Maths rather than any other subjects. What makes the school unique, seems independent of what they are pursuing; bring more local students no matter what their academic level is…” – Changchun American International School (Changchun, China) – 122 Total Comments
“Professional development this year has included IBDP two-day Category 3 in-school workshops on the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge. All staff also completed a Stewards of Children online course and a one-day first aid and CPR course…” – Tsukuba International School (Tsukuba, Japan) – 25 Comments
“The school has offered, over the past two years, very little in terms of professional development. There has been talk of a curriculum change to the Cambridge Primary Curriculum for September 2018…” – Cambridge School Doha (Doha, Qatar) – 57 Comments
“The school is just setting up a Professional Learning Centre to improve instruction and practice at the school first. The school has designated professional learning time on Friday afternoons and encourages professional development…” – YK Pao School (Shanghai, China) – 38 Commentscontinue reading
Of course, new teachers can try and organize some outings themselves, but it is nice when the school organizes some of it. The returning teachers and administration know the city better, and they can help facilitate some really fun parties and/or outings.
Most new teachers will not know so much of their new city/country, so the school could organize some day trips to nearby nature areas or special towns of interest. If the school doesn’t want to take to you too far away, they can easily host some events in popular local restaurants or fun places of interest.
Even if you don’t like the places the school takes you so much, it will definitely be an opportunity for you to bond with the returning staff members as well as the other new teachers. Bonding with new teachers is important. Typically, new teachers tend to bond most with each other and they become lifelong friends (even after one or both of them moves away). If you are lucky, there will be a number of new teachers that you will able to connect with.
Excellent international schools will definitely have a plan of events for all new teachers at the very beginning of the school year before the students arrive. A carefully planned week full of different events will definitely pay off as the new teachers will start their integration process on the right foot, thus making them enjoy their new surroundings and most likely do their best working at in their new school.
Luckily, International School Community has a comment topic on our school profile pages related to this topic of new teacher orientation plans/events. Our members can share what current international schools are doing in this matter. There are a total of 107 comments (August 2018) that have been submitted by our veteran international school teachers in one of the 65 comment topics called – “Where did the school take you in the city when you first arrived? What were some staff outings/party locations?”
Here are a few of those submitted comments:
“We often hang out around campus or downtown on the weekends, but many people like to use the Arex to go to some of the cool spots in Seoul. Many of us go for picnics in Lake Park or down to the Canal Area for visiting noraebang (singing room) or bars. There really is quite a lot to do in Cheongna and new places are going in all the time. Several faculty members like to go play screen baseball and screen golf.” – Cheongna Dalton School (Incheon, South Korea) – 60 Total Comments
“Most of the staff parties and gatherings each year, when not on campus, are held at the high-end hotels in the area. There are a few Indian restaurants that also seem to be popular among the teachers, so the parties often end up going back there after a year or two of somewhere else.” – NIST International School (Bangkok, Thailand) – 242 Comments
“New faculty were invited to dinner in town one night and to the directors’ home another night, which was intimate and nice. There was another faculty gathering at the director’s house soon after school began, and a holiday party in December.” – International School of Stavanger (Stavanger, Norway) – 44 Total Comments
“In the first week, we were taken to Taygaytay to Lake Taal for lunch. As well as this we were taken to one of the school’s service partners which is an orphanage. Trips to a cash and carry store and markets are also arranged in the first week. The divisional principals will have a social gathering at their homes for new staff and the superintendent hosts a welcome back BBQ.” – International School Manila (Manila, Philippines) – 71 Comments
“No city tour. It’s all administrative and logistic arrangements; a meeting with the principal, on campus, where you will be told when you need to submit your Scheme of Work @ curriculum planning. Next, you will be taken on an apartment hunting adventure by a HR personnel.” – Raffles International Christian School (Jakarta, Indonesia) – 42 Comments
“They had a get to know you party. Old members of staff came and you got to know people. They also took us to Carrefore and Ikea when we first got there with a coach. This is helpful when you’ve just arrived and you’re trying to figure your life out. They also take you to get a bank account set up and take you to the required medical.” – Western International School of Shanghai (Shanghai, China) – 368 Commentscontinue reading