First the Good news
You passed your PGCE, schools direct, teach first training with flying colours but you are not quite the finished article, in fact even after 36 years I never felt I was the finished article, this is teaching and learning and we never ever get there! However you do now know how a classroom works, you have been observed and met required standards. In fact you might feel you survived – no one rioted, discipline wasn’t as bad an issue as you thought it might be and deep down you did experience the sheer delight of pupils learning in your classroom. You have had interviews and got a job and now you get paid too.
Last year another teacher taught a class, and you “borrowed” them for a term or less. now you have them for a whole year or if Y10/Y12 maybe two years. You are responsible for their progress, achievement, and to an extent their behaviour and ambitions. You have to report stuff to your head of dept, to a head of year and to parents…….oh and also to …….pupils.
2. You are the star not the extra
Sometime last year, you were an ” extra pair of hands” for example with a tutor group. You are now in charge and……on your own, at least in the classroom, but certainly not in the school. So start acting like the Star not the extra.
3 Welcome to Houston – Systems
Your mentor or class teacher helped out with questions that you had or issues that arose. Now you have to find them in other ways. There should still be a mentor and there should be a senior leader in charge of NQTs. Speak to them often. There should be a programme of support, get along, take notes listen, learn act. However systems can be complicated and schools have a habit of socialising them such that experienced teachers just seem to “know” what to do. So don’t be afraid to ask even the simplest of questions, however you might need to put aside time to get to grips with say ICT systems for management information, for reporting, for taking registers. Just ask, ask, ask. Pay attention at all those sessions on child protection, health and safety, data protection dealing with…. the school knows what it is doing training you, make sure you learn.
4 Basics of preparation and practice
During teaching placement you had time in school to prepare lessons and maybe try out the odd activity such as a practical. You will wonder how to fit that in but preparation is the key. You do have a few lessons from last year under your belt but these are different children – your children and now you have more classes and (see above) more responsibility. As quickly as possible find out where dept resources, schemes of work etc reside, how to access them and work with experienced teachers on planning. As for practicing those activities, well that’s after school now methinks. Remember this will get easier but take a deep breath just now.
5 Marking and feedback – you just knew they would be here
Oh for the luxury of teaching practice with maybe 1 set of workbooks to mark each evening, now it seems non stop. You must work out a sustainable way for marking and feeding back. Guess what, that is just like the rest of us, so again ask, ask, ask. Don’t think you can spend 4/5 mins on every book for every class. BUT do not get behind, if you letting it slip, talk to your mentor. What is the school policy, mark every week, what do they mean by mark, and what are they marking? A lot of judgment rests on the quality of what is in a pupil’s book – mentors will look, other assessors, in due time Ofsted but perhaps more importantly parents and children. You can have a big impact here. Personally I am not a scary kind of teacher but I get good behaviour in part by what I put in books, odd comments about the written work but odd comments about behaviour, contribution: ” well done today Ash, loved your answers, keep it up – though I think the homework could have had more detail” and reinforce that verbally. Just occasionally you are sat at home, finished prep for tomorrow and a bit overwhelmed with marking – then stop, get to bed and turn into school refreshed and be on top of classes, far better than everything marked but you tearful by lunch through lack of sleep.
6 Background disruption – please No
If your classes experience this, which some almost certainly will do, then do not despair, but please please please do not ignore. You are not rubbish but you need to tackle the pupils and the situations. Discuss strategies, get ideas and maybe watch the group with more experienced staff and tease out what they do and therefore what you need to learn. You are after all an NQT and the ‘new’ gives it away you have stuff to learn.
I do sometime say to our NQT pace yourself through the day. Maybe get a class to read silently for a while, maybe have a very straightforward activity. As a Chemist I wanted every lesson to be fairly spectacular and soon learned I would probably not be surviving the year. You can’t do a lesson like you prepared for your PGCE tutor to watch for every lesson. So learn to pace yourself but get a great lesson in every few days to ensure you remind yourself what a great job it is and that you can do it.
8. Extra curricular
I think these activities are vital ( see this post) but you are an NQT with lots of years ahead of you and so only do what you can manage. At one interview I was asked by the chair of governors if I would help on a ski trip and an overseas trip. I really wanted the job and as this next sentence came out my mouth I thought I was kissing good-bye to the job but I said: “It seems to me the school needs lessons well prepared, classes well taught, work marked and pupils prepared for public exams, and the labs tidied up to be interesting learning environments; as we have just had a baby I can’t see me getting away for skiing but once the day-to-day is sorted of course I will do my bit.” In all honesty I got up ready tp leave but I did get the job and the deputy said that was exactly right for the school. Do something , maybe the odd bus or dinner duty, show willing, maybe something you really wanted to do as you were thinking of teaching like playing your flute in the orchestra but just dip your toes in. No one will thank you for taking the football team but not marking books or forgetting to order equipment until late.
9 Other wonderful people in a school
I’ve mentioned staff but now learn to love the support staff, people who photocopy for you, caretakers, ICT wizards, office staff who will always try to help, if appropriate lab technicians too. They will have seen a lot of new teachers like you, and whilst not necessarily knowing how you are doing they do know the pitfalls and if you can pass the time of day with them, appreciate them you will get lots of support just where you need it.
Schools have their own diary or calendar and it brings a rhythm to the school. of course this is based around holidays ( half terms, start of year etc) , seasons (winter/exams) and then parents’ evenings and reporting. You need to try to watch out for this. Many an NQT overlooked or wasn’t told that “next week we need the assessment data completing, so hope you have done the test”. You haven’t or there is a work audit due and the work you needed to do for that will hijack something else you had planned. Try to read beyond the dates and look over each year group and identify when the pressure points will be and work with others to minimise those pressures
I’ve never been sure about the “don’t smile until Christmas” malarkey but you must set out from the word go your expectations. You must keep to rules, you must in a sense do as the “collective wisdom “ suggests – otherwise there is trouble around the corner. So set high expectations of behaviour, of work ethic in your classroom, of standards of work, of standards of dress – including your own. Pupils actually like all that and will conform, they like to know where the lines are but they will try and cross them – someone will definitely not do homework so what will you do, exactly what will you do when that happens? You may not know but please don;’t say “Someone not doing homework, well that really was a massive surprise!”
12 Feedback and Self confidence
Get lots, the more the merrier. before you plan tomorrow reflect on today. My NQT notes I reread for this post and I discovered my plans were more brief than my reflections and I remember what a great resource that proved in my second and third year – ah yes, that didn’t quite work; ah no, that practical didn’t really illustrate the learning objective etc. However the most valuable is that from staff observing you AND you finding some time to observe them. These aspects should steadily build your confidence and help you grow into the role and you will see next year looks possible and manageable and you know what you can do better. You will make it through and be even better next year.
New teachers bring bags of enthusiasm and new ideas and new ways of doing things, we really love people like you – if you can learn some of the traditions in your school to get the best out of children and marry the two you will be just fine – but exhausted.
There is a lot of advice on blogs and in the TES and if on twitter via @Ukedchat and #NQTChat . The TES supplement “new teachers” published September 18th is a good read too. Meanwhile make sure you join a teacher union they often have lots of very useful stuff for NQTs. Here is a good article from the Guardian too.
Making every lesson count: six principles to support great teaching and learning by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby
Classroom behaviour: a practical guide to effective teaching,behaviour management and colleague support by Bill Rogers
Teaching in UK Secondary Schools – a PGCE, School Direct and NQT Starter Guide for that Long Road Ahead by Hari Indran
Teaching in UK Secondary Schools: Being Organised from September through till Christmas: by Hari Indran
There is a very good guide from the NUT