NQTs: a jewel in the teaching profession's crown

But unless schools give NQTs the support and mentoring that they need, we risk dulling their sparkle, says Emma Turner

NQTs need proper support and mentoring to ensure that they don't lose their sparkle, says Emma Turner

Having specialised in writing and delivering CPD for hundreds of NQTs over the past two decades, I’ve seen and heard pretty much every story of success and every disastrous beginning there is to hear. 

From the ones who are left to flounder with the hot potato of a class full of children who no one else in the school wanted in their group, to the brilliantly supported and championed NQTs who receive opportunities and mentoring tailored to their exact requirements, I have seen it all. 

I adore working with early-career teachers. Their excitement, dedication and energy are contagious. Their as-yet-untainted optimism is linctus for the all-too-often-pessimistic narrative that some who are longer in the professional tooth often present. 

They are a reminder, too, that our profession is ever-changing and evolving, and that new ideas and new perspectives are an essential part of our professional dialogue. 

Mentoring NQTs is a rare honour

Mentoring students and NQTs is also a privilege. To be the among the first to shape a fellow professional’s ideas, approaches, pedagogical skills and knowledge is not only a rare honour, but also makes our own practice more robust, as we seek to articulate the thinking behind exactly why we do everything – from how we assign tasks to managing behaviour and planning a sequence of lessons. 

NQTs bring with them a diverse and wide-ranging perspective, too: from the career changers who can transfer highly honed and expert skills in particular areas, to the NQTs who are straight out of our education system and therefore much more in touch with the receiving-end aspect of our delivery, to those who have experienced different education systems around the world, or had previous life experiences which they can share with staff and students. 

Each is a unique new entrant to the profession, and each is one poised to make a real difference with their knowledge, background, experience and skills. 

How we then support and integrate these new colleagues is crucial in ensuring that they are allowed and encouraged to flourish. Enthusiasm and energy do not necessarily equate to being given more responsibilities immediately. 

I have witnessed time and time again the gradual erosion of energy, alongside a realisation of just how long that autumn term really is. This has resulted in many tears before Christmas, followed by the February energy slump. 

Every day is a first day

It is so hard for us to cast our memory back to our own NQT year and to remember just how much information we were trying to assimilate, while at the same time practising new skills and bearing the weight of full class responsibility. We become experts very quickly in teaching, and the memory of what it is like to be an NQT fades very quickly. 

I tell my NQT cohorts each year that every day in your first year is a first day, as you’ve never had that class, on that day, in that academic year. Although some NQTs appear born to teach and are unbelievably skilled from day one, many will still not be used to the ebb and flow of the school year, and won’t have the experience to know when the pinch points are and when things are a little less hectic. 

It’s a little like Mario Kart, in that there is the potential to spin off from one crash to the next, not knowing what is around the next bend. The role of the mentor, therefore, is crucial in ensuring that our NQTs have not just the pedagogical and subject knowledge to deliver effective lessons, but that they have a co-pilot to help navigate that first year. 

And that is why I love working with early-career teachers. Being there to help them navigate that first year and to see them fly – but help ensure that they don’t end up crash-landing – is truly wonderful. 

Helping NQTs to keep their sparkle

It is my passion for developing access to excellent CPD for early-career teachers that led me to found NewEd – Joyful CPD for early-career teachers, which is designed solely for ITT students and teachers in the first five years of their career. 

The aim of NewEd is to provide early-career teachers with opportunities to attend free or not-for-profit events, where they can gain access to some of the most diverse and excellent voices in education. 

I also wanted to provide a networking opportunity for early-career teachers to meet and develop links with other colleagues across the sector and to widen their educational support networks. 

The first NewEd will be held on 2 November in Leicestershire, and features Dame Alison Peacock, Professor Sam Twiselton, Dr Emma Kell, Adrian Bethune, Rae Snape, Pran Patel, Ros Wilson, Sarah Mullins and Laura Knight. It will be co-hosted by me and the Carpool4School team. 

NQTs are a jewel in our teams’ crowns, and the future of our profession. But, unless we recognise that they require the very best of us in terms of mentoring, support and provision, then we have the potential to dull their sparkle. 

I am reminded each year when I meet my NQT cohorts just how lucky our schools are to have such committed and dedicated early-career professionals. How we nurture, develop and encourage them to stay in what is quite simply the best job in the world is up to us. 

NewEd is currently sold out, but is operating a waiting list for tickets. There will also be further NewEd events being held across the country. Follow @Emma_Turner75  on Twitter, for details of forthcoming dates and events. 

Emma Turner is the research and CPD lead for Discovery Schools Academy Trust in Leicestershire. She tweets as @Emma_Turner75 

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