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NQT Life

This week's Monday Blog comes from a talk given by Miss J Dodd, teacher of English and NQT here at South.  In this talk, she shared her wisdom on what to expect during your NQT year.

What I found out in my NQT year.

Having a tutor or a form group is hard work.  They soak up a lot of your time.  In fact, you’ll realise quickly that your tutees have an incredible sense of timing.  It can be the start of a full teaching day and they will choose the last 20 seconds of registration, as your first class of the day is lining up outside, to decide it’s time to talk.  Having said that, the role of the form tutor is essential in forming effective relationships.  It is vital that a child has someone they can talk to, whether it’s about academic, social or emotional issues.  A form tutor has a privileged position in this respect.

Getting stuck in to the wider life of a school is a must.  Schools can be big places with lots of people. To build a good support network of colleagues, it’s important that you reach out.  Don’t be anonymous.  Make yourself known to people.  One of the simplest ways of doing this is to immerse yourself in the extra-curricular life of the school.  This might be through sports clubs, societies or Duke of Edinburgh.  As well as forming relationships with your colleagues, it will also strengthen your relationships with students.

You will feel as though your lessons aren’t good enough.  They are!  With an increase in teaching hours, it stands to reason that you won’t have the time to pour hours and hours into each lesson plan. You might feel that this results in your lessons being ‘worse’ than while you were training.  They’re not.  Often, your lessons are more focussed as reality hits that these classes are yours, for the year and you have a curriculum to get through, come hell or high water!  You will spend less time planning and agonising over lessons because you’ll have no choice.  Not every lesson has to be outstanding in its own right.  Being consistently good is outstanding.

You will experience a higher workload and a lot of that will be marking.  Where marking is concerned, it is much easier to form bad habits than it is to break them further down the line. A classic example of a bad marking habit is the writing of copious feedback and the associated need to take books home because there simply aren’t enough hours in the working day.  Look closely at your school’s marking policy and do what’s expected – no more.  Scrutinise your marking and run it through the effort/impact test.  A marking timetable, allocating a slot in your working week for marking should ensure you stay on track, are realistic in how much you can do and do not end up carting suitcases of books up and down the carpark.

Observations never stop being nerve-wracking.  The good news is that lesson observations will become fewer and further between, but you will still feel anxious when they happen.  Observations as a qualified teacher are less of a performance and more an opportunity to hone your craft and develop specific aspects of your teaching practice. The emphasis is and should be, far more on the students and their learning, rather than you and your delivery.

Consistency is key.  Having your own classes is a wonderful thing, but it is tempting to put wanting to be liked ahead of ensuring good routines.  Routines and high expectations are key to getting the best out of your students.  Teaching isn’t and shouldn’t be a popularity contest.  Yes, things are easier if the pupils like you, but they will respect you for maintaining an orderly and safe classroom.  Earn their respect and they will work for you.  It is much easier to start off firm than it is to try and claw back authority a few weeks into the term, when the pupils have become more comfortable and they start to test where your boundaries might lie.  Make it clear from the start and you’ll make things a lot easier for both yourself and your learners in the long run.

Being an NQT does not mean you’re on your own.  As a trainee teacher, you get used to having other adults in the room.  Often, trainees look forward to the day where they can ‘fly solo’ in their own classrooms without a mentor looking on.  The flip-side of this is often that an NQT can view needing help as a weakness.  The support is still there to be used when needed.  As an NQT you should continue to have a mentor in your department and an induction mentor within your school.  It is their duty to ensure that you are supported and making good progress throughout your NQT year.  Leaning on this support network is not a sign of weakness or an indication that things are going wrong. Equally, use the expertise that surrounds you.  Asking colleagues for ideas and/or resources is not a bad thing.  Teachers are usually more than happy to share and you can save yourself a lot of time by using existing resources rather than reinventing wheels.

Bad behaviour isn’t personal and isn’t your fault.  Teaching is a team effort and whether students are poorly behaved or little angels is the result of a chain of events, often stretching beyond the start of the school day.  A lot of poor behaviour can be down to the specific needs and circumstances of the child in question.  If you’re experiencing problems with certain pupils, talk to someone.  It might be their tutor, their year head or your mentor.  Often you’ll find that there is a back story and by working in collaboration, you can find a way through.

It’s okay to have a bad day.  Teaching has its ups and downs.  There will be days that test you to your limits, but there will be as many days where the pupils surprise you in the best possible ways.  Hold onto those moments.  Keep any cards, notes, emails of thanks and praise.  Have a box or a folder for anything positive and stash it somewhere in your classroom.  This will help you through the difficult days.

Teaching is rewarding, despite the occasional bad day and difficult pupil.  Your NQT year will be demanding and challenging at times, but don't forget to enjoy it.  Remember to lean on the support that's available.  Take opportunities but resist the urge to take on too much. Surround yourself with positive people and celebrate every success. Good luck.

J Dodd, Teacher of English, NQT

Click here to find out more about our work as an NQT Appropriate Body and how we can support your NQTs through their induction period.