Dear NQTs: This will be your most exciting adventure

The job may break your heart, says Susan Ward, but you will also experience soaring highs – so get into that school and gie it laldy!

Susan Ward

‘Get into that school and gie it utter laldie’

Dear NQTs,

Now is an exciting time for you. What you have been working for so long to achieve is nearly here – you will be in a classroom in a few short weeks teaching for real. Every man and his dog will be dishing out advice to you over the coming weeks and months, so let me get in first with mine.

Pace yourself. This job is vast and it is never-ending. It will swallow you whole if you let it, so you must learn, right from your very first day, that you cannot do it all at once. Work hard. Work really hard and show them what you can do, but not ever at the expense of your own wellbeing.

Remember we need you in our profession for the long run, so don’t burn yourself out before you even reach your first half term. Burn steady like a candle. Let the showy fireworks do their thing, safe in the knowledge you’ll still be steadily lighting the way long after they are spent and gone.

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Try new things as often as you can. It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how easy it is to follow the tried and tested paths and thus ensure your classroom becomes an innovation-free zone. You are learning your craft and to do that you have to experiment. Find out what works best for you and your learners.

Remember, though, that not all established practice is wrong – often it is an "aye been" because it works really well. But that’s not to say you can’t experiment with the how, even if the what is already laid out.   

Don’t make friends. Be polite and show you are eager to learn from literally everyone, from the janitor to the headteacher. Build positive and professional relationships with as many people as you can. Keep your eyes and ears open and treat everyone the same.

Be wary of the "come and sit with us" brigade. It can be easy to be sucked into a social group in the staffroom before you’ve even learned where the coffee is kept. Joining a clique, however unwittingly, shuts down your options for learning. Plough your own furrow. You don’t need to be taken under anyone’s wing, so politely step out from under each and every one that is proffered, no matter how well intentioned it might be.

Stay the course. Maybe you will end up somewhere great that will nurture and inspire you. But maybe you won’t. I want to apologise in advance if it is the latter. Know that not all schools are like that. Find a way to get through it. Learn what you can and then move on. Don’t let one toxic school ruin teaching for you. Build yourself a network that will support you. Twitter is a great place to start if your in-school options are limited. Find a way to keep dreaming big, even if you are surrounded by people who seem only to think small.

You are new to teaching and everyone will imply that means you are on the bottom rung. You might be green, but remember that you are also the one person in the school who has most recently strived and sacrificed to be a teacher.

You are equipped with the most recent best thinking, the very latest pedagogy. You might not have the experience yet to back up all this knowledge, but you know what you have given up to get to where you are now. Others will want to step into your slipstream and remember what it was like to be starting out, brimming with potential and passion. So perhaps the bottom rung is an OK place to be after all.

I want to welcome you to teaching. I want you to know you have chosen a career that will become a part of who you are. It is a cliché but it is also true: teaching is a vocation. Everyone thinks they could be a teacher but teaching is not for everyone. This job will break your heart. You will have sleepless nights and you will weep for all the times you did your best and it wasn’t enough.

But you will also experience soaring highs and be humbled to stand witness to incredible moments of tiny triumph and success that litter every day in the classroom, amazed that you played a part in making them happen.

We need people like you in this infuriating and exhilarating profession and we are lucky you have chosen to teach. This is the start of the most exciting adventure. So get into that school and gie it utter laldy.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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