How to balance work and life when you’re an NQT
It is possible to have a good work-life balance, says teacher-author Jo Facer. She shares her top tips for finding a happy middle ground in your NQT year.
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Mo sits with his teacher planner, sketching out his term-three plans with the scheme of learning next to him, highlighting each activity he needs to resource. His colleagues left hours ago, but he needs to finish these last three jobs before he goes home. This is Mo’s NQT year, so almost everything has to be made from scratch or adapted from a resource someone else made.
No training can fully prepare you for what it is like to teach a full timetable, with topics, subjects and qualifications you’re new to, and in a school you’re only just getting to know.
However, it’s important not to burn out in the first term, and there are ways to make it easier.
Jo Facer is a teacher who knows the importance of managing workload and maintaining a semblance of a social life. She told us her ideas for saving time and maintaining a work-life balance in your NQT year.
Understand what the end goal is
The job of an NQT is made harder because you’re in a new school and, therefore, you will often have to begin teaching topics you have never come across before. Jo Facer says she found looking to the very end of the course saved time in figuring out where to begin.
“If you have an exam class, look at at least two examples of each exam paper and mark scheme, and ask the exam board for model answers,” she advises. “The more you can visualise the standard, the more likely you can get your students to reach it.” Another useful activity can be attempting the exam paper yourself.
Find a guide
All NQTs will be assigned mentors to help them in that difficult first year. Your mentor will set up regular meetings and will also be observing you. Ideally, that mentor will be the person you can ask for help with understanding exactly what it is you need to know to deliver your lessons successfully.
However, timetabling and unforeseen circumstances can mean you may have to look elsewhere for guidance.
Facer advises looking online if you find yourself stuck in a quagmire of assessment objectives.
“If there is no one in your current school that can help, use Twitter to connect with other teachers and ask questions,” she says. “There is a wealth of people out there willing to give their time to help out a fellow teacher.”
The problem with PowerPoints
One of the first things that can be dispensed with is fancy PowerPoints, Facer continues.
“My blog explains why I think PowerPoint is a waste of time, so if you read it and agree, you can cross that off your list straightaway!” she says.
In her blog, she explains that her presentations soon “exploded into 20- even 30-slide affairs for a single 50-minute lesson, packed with animations, images and coloured backgrounds as standard”.
And not only were they time-consuming to make, they weren’t actually helping. “PowerPoint actively impedes my preparation. I’m thinking about slides instead of thinking about content. I might put 20 questions on a PowerPoint but, actually, I need to be thinking about a hundred questions to ask pupils.”
Be reasonable in your expectations
NQTs usually work very hard, and very long hours but, sadly, this time isn’t always well spent. There are ways you can work more efficiently if you ensure your expectations of each lesson are reasonable.
“A lot of new teachers I encounter seem determined to make each lesson ‘special’ or ‘different.’ I’d like them to instead settle on a formula that is ‘fine,’ and replicate it hundreds of times,” advises Facer.
“Ultimately, if you set out to interest and excite students every single lesson, you’re asking for a world of lesson-planning pain. Instead, set out to ensure all students clearly understand the topic and can independently articulate their understanding of it. That’s all you need to start with.”
Timetable your fun
Striking a work-life balance is necessary. This should be as much a non-negotiable as doing your register and tucking your shirt in. And that balance is vital if you’re going to go the distance in teaching.
For many teachers, it is easy to make excuses not to go to things. Facer says she found it useful to commit herself to a weekly class.
“In my first year of teaching, I signed up for a dance class,” she says. “I was working until 9pm or 10pm every evening during my first term but, on Wednesdays, I zoomed out at 5pm to make it on time. When I walked home from it, I’d feel so refreshed.”
Work is work and home is home
One of the biggest complaints of most NQTs is that their working life regularly overspills into their home life.
Consequently, many NQTs then find it incredibly difficult to switch off, and then sleep becomes a problem, and once that happens, concentration can become an issue. Which means that taking work home can be counterproductive.
One step towards a solution can be switching off work emails when term finishes.
“When I worked at schools with a heavy workload, I’d keep my phone in flight mode on foreign holidays,” Facer recalls. “Let’s face it – we work in schools; nothing in the holiday will be life or death. Everyone can wait a week for a response over the long breaks without the world imploding.”
Jo Facer is vice-principal at The Ebbsfleet Academy in Kent, and her book Simplicity Rules is published by Routledge