It’s no secret that the first year as an NQT is challenging. And there’s no escaping the stories about how demanding a teacher’s life can be. But beginning your teaching career shouldn’t feel like you’re about to go into a long and bloody battle. This should be an exciting time when you finally get to put everything you’ve learnt into practice and begin the career you’ve longed to join.
And it’s not just NQTs that can feel nervous about the year ahead. Perhaps you’re a teacher returning to the profession after a career break and are equally as apprehensive.
So, rather than viewing your NQT year as going into battle; a better approach is to treat it like a marathon. Yes, you’ll be nervous as you approach the starting line but confident that your training has prepared you for what’s ahead. And by looking after your mind and body, planning ahead and taking advice from those who’ve successfully completed the course; you’ll not only reach the finish line in one piece but will finish with a huge amount of pride and accomplishment.
The NQT Year…
Just like a marathon; the NQT year can be split into stages; each offering its own challenges and rewards. The three priorities for new teachers to address as they progress through the year are:
- Behaviour Management – This is usually the first concern for NQTs as they begin their new role.
- Work-Life Balance – As you settle into the role, you’ll soon get a feel for the balance (or lack of balance) in your life.
- Seeking Help – As you near the end of your first year, it’s time to look to the future and seek advice for your ongoing career progression.
Let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail:
One of the biggest concerns for most NQTs, and teachers returning to the profession, is how to manage pupil behaviour.
Here are our strategies for managing pupil behaviour:
- Set clear rules and boundaries from day one and stick to them. Write your classroom rules where pupils can see them.
- Be consistent and always follow up on consequences.
- Understand your school’s behaviour and discipline policies. You don’t want your pupils to know them better than you do.
- Use a seating plan to help you remember names. You could also tell pupils where to sit rather than letting them choose.
- Own the classroom. Don’t just sit or stand behind your desk. Walk around the room with confidence (fake it if you have to). Welcome pupils at the door to signal that they are entering your space.
- Have strategies for getting pupils to be quiet that don’t involve shouting. When you shout, tensions rise resulting in further bad behaviour.
- Be organised. It only takes a moment’s distraction for bad behaviour to emerge so keep all the equipment and materials you might need to hand.
- Make your lessons engaging. It sounds obvious but if your pupils are interested they won’t get chance to misbehave.
- Talk to the teacher who had your class last year so that you can learn about the different personalities in the group before teaching them for the first time.
- Predict bad behaviour before it happens. Are there particular times of day when pupils are more likely to misbehave? Anticipating problems means you can head off bad behaviour before it arises.
In 2015, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers found that almost 80 per cent of trainee, student or newly qualified teachers considered leaving the profession because of their workload. So, getting a good work-life balance is vital if you are to enjoy a long and happy career in teaching.
As you settle into the new term, you’ll soon have a good understanding of what your normal day-to-day workload is likely to be.
Here are our strategies for creating work-life balance:
- Set personal boundaries and stick to them. This will be different for every teacher but could include never working on a Saturday or setting aside a limited number of hours for marking.
- Be ruthless about non-essentials. Naturally, you’ll want to appear keen during your first year but the priority should be having the energy to teach, not volunteering for extra-curricular activities.
- Don’t respond to emails in your own time. Unless there’s a real emergency, most emails can wait. Replying instantly sets expectations that you’re always contactable.
- Eat well, exercise and make time for friends and family. Staying healthy will give you the energy you need to make it through the year.
- Take a look online for efficient marking strategies. Remember, Ofsted has clarified that it doesn’t expect to see books full of written feedback so you have the freedom to mark in the way that suits you and your pupils best.
Create an efficient filing system for lesson plans and resources before the start of the year. Collect resources on a continuous basis so you have a ready supply when you need them.
It’s important to seek help from your mentor and more experienced teachers throughout your first year. And as the year draws to a close, you’ll naturally start thinking about the future. There are many diverse career opportunities in teaching and by talking to those with more experience, you’ll be able to think about your own career progression.
Here are our tips on finding support:
- Hopefully you have been appointed a good mentor. If so, draw on their knowledge and expertise as much as possible. If your mentor is not so forthcoming, look to other experienced teachers for help.
- Mentors are busy so don’t be afraid to chase them to schedule regular catch ups.
- Don’t let one bad day dent your confidence. Wait until the end of the year to assess the highs and lows. Remember to talk to other NQTs (either at your school or online) to share tips and strategies.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling. Every teacher has experienced the stresses of the first year and you shouldn’t be judged for asking for help.
- Don’t worry about making mistakes. This is how you learn. And every mistake gives you the chance to become a better teacher in the future.
- Find out what resources and training is available for your continuing professional development. If your school isn’t proactive in suggesting opportunities, do your own research and ask if you can go on courses.
- Continue to build on your skills – both as a teacher and in your subject. Be a life-long learner.
Looking to the Future
Hopefully you’ll reach the end of your NQT year with a real sense of achievement. But if you’ve had the year from hell; don’t despair. Remember there are other schools. No two are the same and a bad experience in one school doesn’t mean you are a bad teacher. Simply changing to a different school could give you a whole new outlook on teaching.
Many marathon runners end their first race saying “never again” but soon crave the excitement of the next challenge. And once you’ve had chance to rest and recuperate from your NQT year, you too will be ready to face the future with renewed energy.