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Dear Ted

I start as an NQT in September and would like to be at least a deputy head in a few years. How can I gain the necessary experience for such a role? Ted says The best advice to anyone entering teaching is to concentrate on doing the whole job as well as you possibly can. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, or having a possible career pathway in mind, but newcomers who focus too much on future promotion may be seen as picking and choosing what they do to further their own ends, rather than trying to serve the needs of the children and the school.

What you are talking about is usually referred to as a middle management role. People who do this job well have to be good classroom teachers first of all, so they are credible with their colleagues and the children. They also need considerable personal qualities, such as the ability to work hard, collaborate with other colleagues, be a good organiser and deal with problems in a calm way. Middle managers will occasionally have to meet people from outside the school, such as parents, members of the community, perhaps health workers, social services, or even the police and probation service, so good relationships with a wide range of professional and lay people will be a distinct plus.

Taking a tutor group can be useful preparation for a middle management post, as can showing a sustained interest in the work of key people in the school such as the special needs co-ordinator and support staff. It would also be helpful to find out what goes on in other schools, so your grasp of central issues in education is not narrow and parochial. But in any management job, the support and respect of your colleagues is vital, so make sure you put all your effort into earning that, as it doesn't come free.

You say Keep to your career plan

Have a clear plan and stay confident. After only five years in teaching, I start as head of maths in September. I've achieved this through a good, strong network of support and encouragement from friends and family, while having a clear career plan and maintaining confidence in my ability. Keep your goal in sight at all times. If an opportunity arises to get involved in something new, take it. If none seems to come up, make one happen. Become interested in someone else's role, shadow the person and offer your help.

Research your subject and keep up to date. Try to be one step ahead, and listen to everything. Some people will think you are over-confident, but take no notice. Accept criticism and adjust your practice accordingly. Don't blow your own trumpet, just listen to the praise. Be hard-working and diligent in the classroom, too. Let the children speak about your success, as this speaks louder than anything you can say. Gain a portfolio of experiences with which you can sell yourself to your next school.

Louize Harding, email

Create your own projects

Choose an improving school with lots of promotion opportunities. These might often be inner-city schools that promote talented teachers after their NQT year and offer them responsibility points. Get your school to fund an accredited professional development course.

I am doing a master of teaching degree at the Institute of Education, London University. It has developed my practice and motivated me to become more effective. Get involved in school projects that interest you. Or create them by bidding for money from Excellence in Cities or Gifted and Talented budgets and organising your own. It gives you bags of experience and contacts which can help you progress in your career.

I am now coming to the end of my NQT year and I've just got my first responsibility point. It worked for me.

Laura Seabright, Hackney, London.

Children come first While some will admire your desire to be ambitious, I believe you have come into teaching for the wrong reasons. Approach your work with the attitude that children come first, and make them - rather than your ambitions - paramount. Your aim should be to do the best job you can as a teacher. To achieve this:l Demonstrate care and concern; have a genuine love and regard for the children. Inspire and motivate them.l Plan and deliver your lessons so there is an excitement for learning. Match your teaching style to their learning styles. l Ensure that pupils make at least satisfactory (if not good) progress in the subjects you teach.

* See what can be improved at the school, within the school improvement plan framework, and offer to take responsibility for initiatives in which you have talent or interest. l Ensure that you are constantly developing and expanding your knowledge, understanding and skills to become a better professional.

* Manage time well. A day is like a suitcase and the work you do similar to the clothes that are packed in it. If your activities are properly managed, as clothes are neatly packed, it is amazing how much you can fit into this "suitcase" day.

Opportunities will open up for you - even when you are not looking - providing the children come first. Be ambitious - but ambitious for the children in your charge. The satisfaction you will derive will be matchless.

Ted Wragg, professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own - by writing to: Dear Ted, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Or email: dear.ted@tes.co.uk

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