'The NQT mistakes that didn't destroy my career'

As an NQT, he threw out useful textbooks and almost crushed his TA. But these mistakes didn't ruin Michael Tidd's career

New teachers: NQTs all make mistakes - it won't ruin your career, says Michael Tidd

The temptation for an NQT-special column is to offer words of wisdom for surviving the induction year. I certainly don’t have the answers about how to make it all plain sailing. 

But perhaps, instead, I can offer some examples of my own trials and tribulations from my probationary year, by way of evidence that it’s possible to come out the other side pretty much unscathed.

I’d like to say it first went wrong several weeks in, but in truth my first errors were before I’d even begun. 

NQT errors

Being keen and enthusiastic about finally having my own classroom, I couldn’t wait to get in over the summer holidays. The previous teacher had left mid-year, and so a supply teacher had been using the room: surely anything that had been left could just be thrown away? So, any books that looked tatty and past their best were soon in the bin. 

It was only in the spring term that I realised that one of those books I’d so happily discarded had been key to the unit of work I’d later be teaching. Naturally, I never confessed: much easier to blame the person who had long since left.

More errors on day one in the job, too. I wanted to take a photograph of my class all together. [Tip: do this outside if at all possible; I didn’t think of this]. To fit everyone in, I just needed to stand a bit further back, but several tables were in the way. I could have laboriously moved each one, putting chairs to one side in an orderly fashion. But I was new, and young and cool, so I just casually pushed back against the nearest tables, confident that they’d all slide gracefully aside under my manly guidance. 

The first two tables knocked a third off its balance, toppling several chairs, and very nearly landing on the toe of my slightly shaken teaching assistant. Great start to our team.

Teachers make mistakes

Thankfully, over time, that same teaching assistant came to keep many of my secrets. Like the master plan to recreate the solar system. It fitted with our topic; I had a large blank wall at the back of the room; what better idea than to combine science, maths and art and gets groups to recreate each planet to scale? 

I was up late the night before, perfecting the calculations, yet somehow in the event it all turned to disaster. Paint was everywhere (with, inevitably, each planet looking increasing brown) and the sizes were all out. 

No amount of chiding the children could resolve the issue, though: it turns out that perhaps I’d been up rather too late. My calculations were a disaster, and so was the finished product. Two hours of chaos for nothing.

Rather like the time spent planning an observed lesson. I’d had a few of my induction observations and all had gone well, so maybe I was getting cocky. 

Rather than follow the dreary standard unit plan for citizenship, I had a better idea. I knew a great picture book that would work perfectly for highlighting the objective and provoking in-depth debate about the issue. 

If only I had thought to show it to the children the day before, so that the call of “we did this lesson last year” could have come when the deputy in charge of my successful induction wasn’t sitting at the back of the room.

You’ll have worked out that none of these was enough to end my career. Time has, of course, washed away many of my other mistakes, and I like to think that I now make fewer of them, but I’m not so sure. Thankfully none has been terminal… yet.

Michael Tidd is headteacher at East Preston Junior School, in West Sussex. He tweets as @MichaelT1979

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