The following article comes from Headteacher Chris Foley, who offers advice for newly qualified teachers.

It has been a very strange summer for teachers in general. The examination debacle, the challenge of returning to school itself and so on. There are a group of people though who should be very much looking forward to September – those NQT’s who start their job.  In 2004 I started my first ever teaching post as Teacher of History at a Catholic school in Royton. I can vividly remember feeling so very nervous, and wondering how I would be able to command a classroom of teenagers. It may be 16 years later, but I remember exactly how it feels. I hope some of the suggestions here help you as you start your own NQT year.

Trainee to Professional

It’s vital that when you start the job proper you think of yourself as a “professional teacher”. Once fully in post you will be expected to deliver the best possible standard of lessons to your pupils each and every day. I always look for my NQTs (or any new member of staff if I’m being honest) to adopt a professional and focussed demeanour. The very best NQT’s maximise their time in school to make sure they are ready to teach well. Remember – this is a serious job (that doesn’t mean you need to always be serious), make sure you act that way. Getting the mindset right is essential. I lead the first NQT training session of the academic year and I realty stress the need to be professional in everything. People notice the new teacher who takes developing their craft seriously.  I stress to my NQT’s that this isn’t Dead Poets Society, or Love Island! Remember that children and parents will view you as a teacher first, and then the person you are second.

Plan, Plan, Plan!

As an NQT it took me some time to adjust to the planning cycle for a full day teaching. As a PGCE student I never taught a full timetable, and I always tried to make lessons a bit showy. You know what I mean; group task to decide upon who should be the King of England in 1066, but taught like an episode of “Who wants to be a millionaire” or a lesson on chronology using an information chase with toys from history and so on. These types of lessons have a place, but only when you have established a clear set of expectations with your pupils or classes that you teach.

On first meeting a class, be clear on your expectations of the pupils, in terms of their learning, but also their conduct. Plan for where they will sit, and plan each phase of the lesson precisely. I would recommend a first lesson with a class should be simple and focussed on learning, but learning well. Make that lesson a solid introduction to your expectations, and what this will be like for the whole academic year.

Organisational stationary

Be clear with yourself that lessons will not always go the way you planned. Some days you think you have planned an amazing activity, but its lesson time execution just doesn’t work. That’s ok – as long as you learn from it. These things can very much be class or context dependent. As you learn more about your pupils you will learn what types of activities will work. Only when you are sure something will work with a class should you try it. One of my Deputies often said to younger staff “you’re not Coco the Clown” when they planned a lesson that looked like it had the “wow factor” but had zero actual learning in it.

Life/Work Balance

I remember sometimes getting home from school during my first half term as teacher. I’d come in and sit down, and before I knew it I had dozed off. The job was (and still is now!) tiring . It isn’t always fashionable to expect people to put work above life, and I can see that not everyone will agree with me on this. It is not going to be a 9 to 3 job I’m afraid, and not if you want to excel and ensure your teaching days are smooth. Some simple things can certainly help though. Organising your life around your job in those early few weeks of teaching is vital.  I always spent each Saturday morning going through my planning for the following week. Often times I’d plan lessons for the week as much as I could, as it meant during the school week I was assessing and marking as well as I could. It is important that you find a routine that works for, and this is worth planning before the term starts.

Tell the truth and ask for help

At some point in your first term you will have a lesson that goes wrong, reach a point where something isn’t going as you would wish, or worry about a class, a pupil etc. There is no point in pretending this won’t happen. It happens to every NQT, and if someone tells you it didn’t happen to them, they are not being honest. I found one particular class really difficult all those years ago, and I didn’t know what to do. I asked for help from our Deputy Headteacher, and she was amazing. She sat me down, and talked me through how best to approach planning for this class, and came to observe me as I taught them. Every single person in your school, be it your Phase Coordinator, Head of Department all the way up to Headteacher will have been in this position, and it is so important that you ask for help when needed. Equally so, make sure you listen and try to apply any guidance that is given to you.

Remember YOU were given the job

At some point in your first term you will have a lesson that goes wrong, reach a point where something isn’t going as you would wish, or worry about a class, a pupil etc. There is no point in pretending this won’t happen. It happens to every NQT, and if someone tells you it didn’t happen to them, they are not being honest. I found one particular class really difficult all those years ago, and I didn’t know what to do. I asked for help from our Deputy Headteacher, and she was amazing. She sat me down, and talked me through how best to approach planning for this class, and came to observe me as I taught them. Every single person in your school, be it your Phase Coordinator, Head of Department all the way up to Headteacher will have been in this position, and it is so important that you ask for help when needed. Equally so, make sure you listen and try to apply any guidance that is given to you.

As with almost anything, the more effort you put into something, the higher likelihood of success. As a Headteacher I want to see NQT’s who are committed to becoming the very best teacher they can be. Good luck for September – now is the time for you to make a difference to the pupils you are going to teach.

Author Chirs Foley

Author

Chris Foley

Chris is currently Headteacher of St Monica’s RC High School , within the Salford Diocese. He led the school out of Special Measures in December 2019.  He has spent over a decade in Senior Leadership positions, and was previously Headteacher of Holy Family RC and CE College in Heywood, Rochdale.

He was designated as  Local Leader in Education in July 2018.

He blogs on leadership and other school-related matters at On The Bus Education.

Follow Chris on Twitter – @HT_StMonicas