NQTs: The hamster wheel won't stop – so you should

New teacher Lucie Emmett looks back on her NQT year, and offers advice to her former self

Cute hamster on wheel

Autumn is always going to feel frenetic, no matter how long you’ve been in teaching. The first few weeks of term can feel overwhelming

This is especially true if you’ve started the new term as an NQT or early-career teacher

As someone who joined secondary-school teaching quite late in life, following a career in academia and several years out of the workforce raising three children, I’m a different – yet increasingly common – breed of new teacher. I’m still an early-career teacher, but am considerably older than many of the other new teachers. 

If I could give some advice to my earlier self during my first half-term in teaching, drawing on my career experience elsewhere, it would be the following.

The hamster wheel won't stop

The feeling that the hamster wheel is spinning too fast and you’re going to fly off will pass. The wheel won’t stop turning, but your pace will adapt and it will become manageable. These first few weeks of term are not representative of how the whole year feels.

You have no idea how much you are going to love this. How much you’re going to care about and look forward to seeing these students, enjoy teaching them (OK, not every lesson), love your colleagues and adore what you’re doing. Stick with it. It’s worth it.

Whatever route into teacher training you chose, there will never have been enough time on your course for you to absorb everything you will now feel like you needed to know before you started your NQT year. 

You won’t have learned much about how to handle parental complaints when you give their child a behaviour point they feel is undeserved. You are unlikely to have been taught anything at all about SIMs or CPoms or Edulink and how to use them, but will be using them (or a variation of them) on a daily basis from now on. 

Never enough time

You might not have realised during your training that there will never be an end to the data, assessments, marking, reports and planning, and that CPD is a lifelong journey. But you will feel like there will never be enough hours in the week for you to learn about or specialise in every area of your professional development that interests you.

This is all normal. We all feel this way.

There will also never be enough time to do all the things you could potentially be doing and there is always more. There is no end to the tweaking we could do of every tiny detail of every lesson, the research we could be undertaking into different ways of teaching our subject, the changes we could make to classroom displays. 

Precisely because teaching is never ending, it is vital to take time off as and when you can. If you find that you’ve done the most urgent things on your to-do list, stop working for the evening. Or the weekend. There will be hundreds of other times when you might feel swamped with marking, planning, reports, data drops and so on. If you catch a moment when it feels like you’re relatively on top of things, celebrate that by doing no more work.

The school year is a marathon. Pace yourself. If you set out too quickly in the first few miles, you won’t make it much beyond halfway without hitting the wall. Don’t burn all your energy in the first half-term.

When things do feel overwhelming, take a moment to remember why you went into teaching in the first place. Remember that this really can be the best job in the world. 

A fabulous bunch of humans

Young people are, on the whole, truly wonderful. Some will write you beautiful thank-you cards, even if they’re the ones who focused mainly on disrupting your lessons every time they stepped into your room. Others will, in the middle of a lesson, bring the class to a standstill by raising their hand to tell you, “Miss, can I just say I LOVE your dress?”

Teachers are also, mostly, a fabulous bunch of humans. The conversations you’ll have with colleagues will stay with you for years: why do Year 8 boys feel the need to draw male genitalia on a mini-whiteboard the moment you give them a pen? And the endless support of colleagues through both challenging and brilliant times can be phenomenal. If you haven’t found this yet, change schools and keep looking, because it’s out there, I promise. 

Most importantly, if your first month in teaching has felt totally nuts, speak to someone about how you’re feeling. In the words of a former colleague from my first teaching post: “In this job, you are never alone. It is never just you. You have a team around you. Use us.”

Dr Lucie Emmett teaches at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary, Devon. She tweets as @lucieemmett

For World Teachers' Day 2019, Tes is having a new teacher takeover – every piece published on our website on 5 October will be by a new or early career teacher. Find the rest of the articles at our World Teachers' Day hub

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