'Don't worry, NQTs – we all have disastrous lessons'

What if your lessons are awful? Stop worrying, says Michael Tidd: your NQT year is about making mistakes

Michael Tidd

Behaviour in schools: How a teacher can regain control of a class

For those of us in between academic years, this week has likely brought the undeniable pleasure of a monthly salary payment when we’ve barely had to go into our places of work for a month. And what a delight that is! 

But, if this if your final summer before entering the profession, then it’s just as likely to have been a month when your final scratchings of student finance or hard-earned holiday-job money felt like they were fast running out, just at a time when you were tempted to buy hundreds of resources for your new classroom.

It’s also a time both of excitement and of some quite real trepidation for any teacher starting in their first post. For NQTs, this is a time you have long looked forward to, and quite probably worked exceptionally hard to reach. For some, it will be the fruition of years of dreaming, planning and effort, and the thought of finally having a register and a classroom door with your own name on it is what it’s all been about.

NQTs feeling the fear

That’s probably why the fear seems oh-so-real. I remember it myself: yes, I’d passed the course and the teaching practices, but I also knew I’d taught some awful lessons. I can’t be the only one who sat through a mentor meeting holding back tears at the thought of the disaster that had befallen my observed lesson. The fear then is what if your NQT year is like that? What if you’re not cut out for it after all?

Rest assured, we all have those thoughts. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first year in the job, or your 30th: there is an endless list of worries that can manifest themselves each August. Barely a year has gone by when I haven’t had a dream in which my whole class refuses to follow any of my instructions, and a near-riot breaks out. Of course, in reality, nothing like it has ever happened, or come close, but it doesn’t stop the dreams about the potential of the occurrence.

The great joy of qualifying, though, is that classroom door. Yes, you’ll aim to plan excellent lessons, build strong relationships and achieve brilliant outcomes in your first year. But the truth is that you’ll equally likely have the odd disaster. The difference is that there’s every possibility you’ll be the only one there to see it. And, even if you’re not, you’ll be working with a team who’ve all been there. We’ve all had lessons go awry, and not only in our first years of teaching. It happens all the time.

Over the years you’ll build up a repertoire of tools that will help you to rescue situations more rapidly, adapt things on the hoof and gradually reduce the number of things that go wrong, because you’ll have done it all before. 

Induction year is a learning process

Your induction year should absolutely be about making those mistakes – but don’t hide them. Talk to colleagues. Tell them about what went wrong (don’t panic: they don’t need to know every last detail) and get their advice about how they avoid such problems. You never know, they may even share a few horror stories of their own: we’ve all got them

Remember, too, that these horror stories are relatively rare. Yes, Tuesday’s science lesson might be a disaster, but that’s barely 5 per cent of your week. If the other 95 per cent was a success, then that’s a picture anyone can be proud of. Celebrate the success.

And, what’s more, you’re never more than eight weeks from a holiday. And, this time next year, you’ll be picking up the easiest pay cheque of the year.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at Medmerry Primary School in West Sussex. He tweets as @MichaelT1979

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