So you’ve started your NQT year, you are feeling positive and ready for the challenge, you are sure that this is a career for life, but then you find yourself in a school where nothing seems to be going right.
You hope it is going to get better but, if anything, it gets worse. And by Easter, you have decided you can’t stay.
How many NQTs will, at this point, decide that it is the profession that is the issue rather than the school?
The statistics would suggest that more do so than you might think. Instead of seeking out a second school to see if the issues in the first school are the exception rather than the rule, many quit after an initial bad experience.
According to the latest figures from the School Workforce Census, in 2015 around 3,315 qualified teachers left the profession after just 12 months, up 5 per cent from 3,146 the previous year. This was the highest number of NQTs leaving teaching since 2006.
Obviously, among that number will be teachers who genuinely decide going into teaching was a mistake. But many will have had their view of teaching skewed by the experience in a single school alone.
“That first year made me think it was just not for me,” explains one teacher who decided to quit the profession after 9 months in the job. “But looking back, I do wonder whether my experience in another school would have meant a different outcome. I talk to friends still teaching and I hear about their experiences, and I now think trying a second school may have been a good option.”
Things can go wrong in a school for multiple reasons.
For some teachers, they simply end up in a school where their values don’t match that of the leadership team, or where the pedagogy goes against what they believe is right.
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In other schools, a sequence of events has meant the school is not in as good a place as it could be, with a detrimental impact on staff and learning.
And some schools are just less equipped to offset some of the fundamental issues in the profession at the moment: workload, accountability and depleting budgets.
So, what sort of things should NQTs be looking out for if they do want to give the profession a second chance? These four areas are a good start.
Expectations of SLT
According to Samantha Twiselton, director of Sheffield Institute of Education, part of the problem NQTs face is the weight of expectation from senior leadership.
“The expectations on NQTs are really high, and most feel they can’t meet them,” Twiselton says. “Teacher training is simply not long enough to meet those expectations. That tends to be the make or break thing.”
Searching for a school where the senior leadership team understands that NQTs are not the finished product is a must.
“At the end of the day, teaching is a really hard job,” explains David Weston, chief executive of Teacher Development Trust. “I think a lot of NQTs find it tough and can’t see how they are going to get better at it.
“Some schools think the quality of teaching and marking will be the same. [However,] it takes longer for NQTs to plan and mark.”
A good support structure
Find a school where there is a really strong support structure for new teachers. In the first instance, this is about having excellent mentors in place.
“Do new teachers have someone they really trust, someone they turn to when they’re in trouble?” says Weston.
It also means there being continuing professional development on offer to ensure that the skills and knowledge NQTs are missing can be addressed.
Simon Knight, national special educational needs and disability leader at Whole School SEND, explains how it took him a few years before he became a good teacher, but having the support of colleagues played a big part.
“I remember thinking in my third or fourth year, I could do my job reasonably well, but then no one ever made me feel like I couldn’t do it,” Knight says.
Up-to-date policies on workload and marking
Ofsted and the Department for Education have done much in the past year to clarify what is expected of teachers in terms of marking and how workload might be addressed in schools. Finding a school that has listened to the advice and implemented it will go along way to ensuring some of the pressures of the job are alleviated.
A school where you simply feel welcome
You cannot underestimate a welcoming atmosphere.
New teachers can feel intimidated when starting their first job, so schools need to make them “feel welcome in the profession”, says Sarah Wright, senior lecturer in primary education at Edge Hill University.
A friendly environment can go along way to making a bad day better.
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