We were all young once. Here are 10 things I'd tell my NQT self – if only I could
1. Be nice to the caretakers – they are the gatekeepers and know everything
Apart from the headteacher, the caretaker might be the most important person in the school. Apart from knowing everything, they also control the opening and closing times of your classroom. They can delay the cleaners and provide the keys to the resource cupboard that you lost last week.
2. Teaching isn’t a race – so slow down; you might still be doing it in nine years – or 29 years
Trying to do everything perfectly at 100 miles per hour isn’t good for your health. The world won’t end if you don’t plan that lesson how you want to plan that lesson. Teaching is a never-ending job: there is always something to do. That “out of breath” feeling you sometimes get? It’s going to get worse if you don’t chill out a little.
3. Using abbreviations for everything is not cool
PPA, SEN, AFL, KPI, SDP, SER and so on. Please, you don’t work for the FBI or Nasa – you teach in rural North Wales.
4. That teacher over there who has taught for 30 years is better than you – end of
Stop thinking that because you can plan some brilliant standalone lessons and the kids think you’re great that you can look down on another teacher who has taught for a lot longer than you who might not be as energetic or flamboyant. Actually, many of your lessons are tosh. The children aren’t learning as much as you think they are, despite your best efforts. In that staff meeting that you are about to go to, don’t ask the teacher who has 30 years’ experience who is concerned about a particular class if they want to come and observe you. They will have seen it all before. Young teachers like you think they are about to hit the top of a mountain but haven’t yet seen the false summit. Your classroom pedagogy might not be as superior as you think it is right now. You’ve been brought up on discovery learning; their chalk and talk consistency shouldn’t be scoffed at. You don’t understand how impressive longevity for a classroom teacher is – but you will soon.
5. Stop for lunch
Please, please stop scoffing a sandwich in corridors, and never go without. You don’t need to set up your classroom like it’s an art exhibition for every lesson. Leave things. You haven’t realised it yet, but having some adult conversations littered through the day will help to clear your mind. Spending eight hours straight in your classroom isn't healthy.
6. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know what’s going on." Chances are, there’s someone else feeling exactly the same way. Equally, no question is silly. Approach your leaders; you might be surprised by their response.
7. Turning up for a lesson is half the battle won
Lessons are never as bad as you think they are going to be. They are gone in a flash. Always ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Equally, the class that you think hates you with a passion probably care a lot less than you think.
8. Observation grades don’t mean as much as you think they do
Don’t build your teaching life around one-off, graded lesson observations. Whatever the grades are, don’t believe the hype or the misery. What matters is how much the students are learning over time, over a long sequence of your lessons. Look at the books yourself to self-evaluate. Trust your own professional judgement.
9. Every other teacher in the school has been where you are right now and has come out the other side
That night when you drove home sobbing because you had such a bad day; it wasn’t as bad as you thought. In fact, it was nothing in the grand scheme of things. I know it’s hard to get that perspective and context right now, but trust me, in a few years you will look back and laugh. Just stick with it and don’t give up.
10. Make more time for others
You keep telling people you are too busy. I mean, yes, you are very busy. But a two-minute chat really isn’t going to change things for you. I know it’s hard, but you could have helped so many colleagues already if you had just thought outside your bubble and helped them to find that resource or deal with that problem. They would have really appreciated it and no doubt returned the favour at some point.
For more columns by Tom, view his back catalogue