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Primary Education News
News Life as an NQT: 10 survival tips from those who've lived to tell the tale
From learning to say no to making time for Friday drinks, our teaching community share their tips on how to make it through your first year in the classroom
The PGCE is one thing, but heading into school as an NQT and surviving your first year as a fully-fledged teacher is a whole new ballgame.
There's no shortage of horror stories – teary episodes in the staffroom, breakdowns and behaviour management nightmares (I'll never forget the time an NQT friend told me: "I don't think I have been told to fuck off so many times in all my life"). In the jungle of school life, it's survival of the fittest.
So we asked a group of recent NQTs, mentors and course leaders to share their top tips on thriving as an NQT. If you have any more pearls of wisdom to share, please do so in the comments section below.
James Cutler, originally from Hereford, completed his NQT year in July
• Learn to say no
Don't be afraid to say no to colleagues who will see you as a keen NQT and will (often unintentionally) add to your work or commitments. This can be difficult as you don't want to seem unwilling, but emphasise that you don't want to spread yourself too thinly and would rather carry out a smaller number of things to the best of your ability. It's also not a sign of weakness to admit that what you're already doing is taking longer than you anticipated and that adding to your workload would eat even further into your limited personal time.
• Marking tips
When marking, ensure written feedback is as succinct and meaningful as possible. For each piece of in-depth marking – perhaps two pieces of work every six to eight lessons – write two 'WWWs' (what went well) and one 'EBI' (even better if). Give your students a short task so that they have to address their EBI.
Consider ordering stamps and stickers to save you repeatedly writing the same comments. You may even wish to devise a coding system where you write short symbols on work, produce a key and then make students copy down the comments that correspond with the specific codes and symbols that you've written. This is not only a more economical use of your time but it forces students to engage with written feedback.
Jennifer Ludgate, English and drama teacher, The Mountbatten School:
• Time management tricks
Someone once told me that women are good at multitasking but men get things done more efficiently because they complete each task before moving on. I now try to work through things one at a time to avoid drifting between tasks. I always do the worst task first, giving myself a strict time limit, just as you would with your students. For example, if I have reports due in on a Friday and still have to plan a lesson for Thursday, I will spend a few hours writing reports first. I only need a small amount of time to plan lessons and, because it's easier and more interesting, I know that if I started with that task I would spend too much time on it.
• Pedagogy practice
Approach new theories with an open mind and always test them with a class before bragging about it. New techniques are only useful if they don't add extra stress to your workload, are simple for students to understand and improve the atmosphere and rate of learning in your classroom. When considering new techniques, I try to find the original source to work out what the inventor intended it to do. It's even more useful if they have tried and tested it. I look out for evidence-based research – studies which have been completed through educational institutions often stand out.
• Work-life balance is important
The first term is insane but brilliant. Expect to spend a lot of time working outside of school hours, but you must learn when to stop. Prioritise your life over anything else.
• Get to know the school community
Get involved with students' events outside your subject and get to know your colleagues well. Ask colleagues about their plans and if there is a staff football team, gym or routine visits to the pub then ask if you can pop along. Another way to get to know colleagues is to ask them for a favour. For example, ask art for colouring pens or PE for stop clocks. Although these contacts might start as emails, you get your name known and can say hello and thank you in the corridor.
Peter Lee, assistant vice principal at Q3 Academy, Birmingham
• Plan, plan and plan
Ensure you prepare exciting, engaging and challenging lessons. Forget formal observations, you're being observed by up to 30 pupils every lesson. It's your chance to put into practice all that you've learnt.
But it's also the time to experiment and take risk with a strategy or technique. Be your own teacher. Try to make your subject relevant to your pupils. Think back to your own school days and how the teachers who inspired you made you love your subject. That said, be guided by whoever has curriculum responsibility for the subjects you teach.
• Don't be afraid to ask for help
If you need help then ask. Your mentor and professional mentor are there for support. Ask to go and observe other colleagues. Be enthusiastic, professional and keen to learn. You won't be the finished article – no teacher ever is. Speak to colleagues and tap into their wisdom; we have a wealth of skills and knowledge in our own schools and you don't always need to go out to external courses. Don't get caught in the staff room moaning about a particular class or pupil. Instead, ask others about their behaviour and ask if you can sit at the back of the class to watch how that teacher manages them.
Paul Dickinson, head of teacher education, Sheffield Hallam University
• Share your passion for the subject Pupils are much more likely to respond positively if they sense your enthusiasm for what you teach. Positive relationships are the key to successful teaching – make sure that you show that you care about your pupils by learning their names within the first week and something about each of them.
• We all make mistakes
Accept that you are at the early stages of a journey of learning and that you will sometimes make mistakes. The important thing to do is reflect on how you can improve and allocate some time each week to your own development. Revisit notes from your teacher education programme on learning theories, talk with and observe colleagues that are known for making excellent use of behaviour for learning strategies, and evaluate your own practice.