Five first-term tips for NQTs

You’re starting school all over again but, this time, you’re on the other side of the desk. Here are some tips to get you off on the right foot

Grainne Hallahan

An NQT on her first day

Starting school as an NQT feels a little bit like your first day as a pupil.

You’re nervous, sure, but your stationary collection has never looked better.

But you need more than a snazzy pencil case and words of encouragement from your mum this time around.

We spoke to experienced educators to get their top tips, from picking the right reading material to maintaining mentor relationships.

Here are their insider insights to give you a leg-up in your first year:

Make the most of your observations

In your NQT year, you need to get out there and observe different schools.

Jo Facer, headteacher of Ark School in Soane, says: “I only had experience of the school I went to, and the school I taught in, and it was only when I went to these [other] schools that I realised what I was missing.” 

The opportunity to get out of your school and look at other systems and approaches should be grasped by all NQTs.

But this does come with a caveat: don’t assume everything you do can then be replicated in your main school. Not every idea you hear someone praising will work for you, and if you can’t get it to work for you, that’s also OK.

Tes Resources bannerDon’t trust your own judgement...yet

There is a cognitive bias that affects everyone but feels particularly relevant to teachers at the start of their career: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Put simply, the Dunning-Kruger effect describes the phenomenon of people overestimating their own ability when they are still novices, and underestimating their own ability as they become more experienced in a skill. It’s something all teachers should be aware of, for themselves and their students.

The problem is, essentially, that we just don’t realise how much there is to know at the start of acquiring any new skill. It’s only over time we realise how much there is to learn, and then we begin to doubt our own ability.

Douglas Wise, assistant principal at the Duston School in Northampton, recognises the Dunning-Kruger effect from the beginning of his teaching career. 

“Before I trained, I had a very superficial understanding of what teaching involves,” he says. “I found out very swiftly that I was wrong.”

Listen to Doug Wise and Jo Facer discuss the highs and lows of their own NQT years on the Tes Podcast: 

Maximise your mentoring    

As part of your NQT year, your school will assign you a mentor or induction tutor. They have some formal responsibilities in terms of reviewing and assessing your teaching but, in terms of regular support and guidance, it may come down to you to dictate the terms.

Former teacher and Tes writer Gemma Corby says regular meetings with your mentor are essential.

“Schedule a slot and stick to it religiously, even when things get busy,” she says.

“If you don’t schedule a time, the weeks will slip by without you realising. Aim to meet weekly in the first term and you can reduce it afterwards, if you feel you can.

Ben Newmark, vice-principal at Nuneaton Academy, part of the Midland Academies Trust, says that having relationships with teachers other than your mentor can be really useful, and sometimes more valuable than the teacher you officially report in to.

“The problem is that mentors often have the de facto power to pass or fail you. It’s very hard to mentor properly with that power balance going on. It’s difficult for you say ‘I had a bloody nightmare with 9B and shouted when I shouldn’t’ if you know this could be mentally filed ‘evidence of not following school procedures’.”

Corby agrees, and suggests getting to know as many of your fellow teachers as possible.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues lots of questions, even if they’re not your mentor or even in your department,” she says.  

“If you see a teacher whose style you admire, ask politely if you can observe them. Do this even when you’re no longer a NQT – it’s good practice. I know lots of brilliant, experienced teachers who are proactive in observing colleagues. 

Tap into your TAs

A school’s teaching assistants offer an incredible resource for new teachers, often including a better knowledge of systems and procedures than other teachers.

They may have children attending the school and may have links to the community, so outside of the classroom they can give you lots of useful advice if you’re new to the area.

“Teaching assistants are worth their weight in gold,” says Corby.

“If you’re lucky to have one in your class, speak to them before, during and after lessons. It can feel weird if you’re young and they are older and have been at the school for years. However, they’re used to taking direction and actually welcome it.

“Work together as a team; your TA is your second set of eyes and ears in the classroom, and will see and hear things you will inevitably miss when you’re in the thick of delivering a lesson.”

Be selective in your reading

There are so many education books out there that even if you wanted to read them all, you’d never be able to. And, indeed, a great number of them aren’t really much use when you’re at the start of your teaching career.

However, there are a few that many teachers come to late and wish they’d discovered them earlier.

“The most important book that I have ever read in teaching, and that I have on my desk is and I refer to almost daily, is Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion,” Facer says. 

For Wise, he would like to press a slightly different book into the hands of NQTs. His ultimate must-read is Adapt by Tim Harford. This is actually a non-teaching book, and is written by an economist but, despite that, Wise feels that NQTs would find it helpful.

“He talks about the importance of owning those mistakes and reflecting on them,” explains Wise.

“So much can be so new as an NQT...and there will be things that you will want to do differently after reflecting on them, and it’s about understanding that that is normal.”

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Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan

Grainne Hallahan is Tes recruitment editor and senior content writer at Tes

Find me on Twitter @heymrshallahan

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