Starting off as a teacher can be an extremely daunting task. Gone are the days of having another teacher in the room as a safety net or a reassuring smile. It’s now just you and the class. It can be a worrying time for some but it really doesn’t have to be.
Your NQT year is going to be tough, slightly more manageable than the training year, in my opinion, but still tough. You’re going to have ups and downs but more importantly, you’re going to make mistakes and that’s absolutely fine!
It’s a short period in terms of your career, where you can observe others, bring fresh ideas into your department, enjoy a little more CPD and really get to see how you want to teach.
Here are some tips to help you along the way in your NQT year:
1. Make mistakes – You’re human!
Ask any teacher and they could easily tell you of a lesson that went down the proverbial toilet or fell so flat on its face you almost needed the school nurse.
It’s perfectly fine to make mistakes, just make sure you learn from them. As teachers, we’re all familiar with Dweck’s growth mindset but it’s key to not slip into a false growth mindset, make sure you learn how to succeed and not just repeat methods that repeatedly get the same result, which you’re ultimately not happy with.
Don’t let the fear of making mistakes crush your creativity or limit your risk taking. You wouldn’t tell a student to stop trying new things if they failed so don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re human so act it. If it makes you feel better, use your own mistakes as a teachable moment and model how to bounce back and improve – model that resilience we want to instil in our students.
2. Don’t overstretch yourself
I 100% admit when I was an NQT I wanted to volunteer for every opportunity, clubs, displays, revision classes, making booklets and updating schemes of work. You want to show how eager you are and prove to yourself how good you are at your new role. But you will have a lot of work to do just making your lessons, marking books, marking assessments and all of the other things that take up an awful lot of time. You won’t be able to take every opportunity that arises in your first year.
Take your time and settle in. Only once you’ve found your feet and you’re comfortable take on a little more…a little being the key phrase. Keeping a healthy work/life balance is very difficult, especially in your early years. A little trick I used was allowing myself to take Saturday off each week – this might not be possible every week but for the vast majority it will work and allow you to sleep in, relax and enjoy your own life.
3. Have high expectations
Set high expectations of the children. Not just classroom behaviour but also with the work they produce and set the bar early. Model the type of answers or work you’re looking for to get the top marks. One thing that I would definitely avoid and have seen a few times, which bewilders me, is when students are completing an activity during the lesson and the NQT checks the work and gives minor feedback which doesn’t push the student’s learning further or a task such as ‘make sure all your sheets are glued in’. Consider Bloom’s and Anderson’s taxonomies or using a questioning matrix to prepare a challenge task for each activity.
4. Remember your why
As I said, there will be many ups and downs along the way and it can seem like an extremely long road. But, no one forced you into this career. You chose to become a teacher. Sometimes you need to remember why you made that decision. A little technique I use is keeping a small book of ‘wow’ moments. These things can be huge or tiny; they just need to make you realise why you became a teacher. Little events like helping a teary student through a friendship crisis or huge events like helping a disadvantaged student get across that line and get a grade 4. These moments feel fantastic at the time and can bring that ‘why’ back to you when you’re feeling down.
5. Be ‘YOU’
How many of us have heard the ‘no smiling until after Christmas’ rule? For me, that just doesn’t work. I usually open with as many terrible dad jokes or puns as I can squeeze in and end up almost jumping up and down explaining historical events. I want to enjoy my job and to do that, I need to be myself but I also want my passion for my subject to shine through to the class.
You might find that the no smile rule works for you as that is the style of teacher you want to be and if it is…Go for it! There’s no right or wrong way, you need to find the way you want to teach and do it. It’s very difficult trying to impersonate another teacher. Of course, there will be techniques you observe from colleagues you’ll want to adopt but try to avoid being a carbon copy. It won’t appear genuine to the class and they are like bloodhounds so will soon sniff it out.
Enjoy your time as an NQT. Embrace the challenges and remember how far you’ve come since the first time you stood in front of a class and delivered a starter or plenary.