At just three weeks into my induction year, I realised that the obstacles that I faced – the usual range of problems typically faced by NQTs – were pretty much insurmountable in my particular school: dreadful behaviour compounded by ineffective behaviour systems, a divide and rule policy by senior leadership, which engendered a culture of blame, difficult classes that had been "taught" by cover supervisors during the past academic year, no team ethos in my department and overly prescriptive teaching practices.
And, with no union representative to turn to (the executive headteacher was doing his best to prevent teaching unions from having any access to the school), I felt completely alone.
Moreover, a tricky mentor, whose raison d’etre was to get promoted, was making my teaching life unbearable: this had begun during my first mentoring session that autumn term, when my mentor and the department second-in-command had sat me down and informed me that a previous NQT had made an accusation of bullying against them – and they wanted to ensure that I wasn’t going to do the same.
Needless to say, the conversation – and later memory of it – sent a shiver down my spine.
How could this happen?
Reflecting on this incident a year later, I wonder that if this allegation of bullying was true, and after my later experiences with my mentor, I am guessing that it probably was, then why had my local authority agreed for me to be mentored by a teacher who had had a serious allegation made against her?
Furthermore, should my school have been allowed to have NQTs in my department on the basis of such an allegation? Or should it have been stipulated that NQTs can only be hired by a school if suitable mentors are available – and specify that any teachers with recent allegations made against them cannot be allowed to mentor NQTs (or trainees)?
After being undermined by my mentor in front of the head during a feedback session following an observation, and criticised for not sufficiently differentiating for every student in a huge mixed-ability class, despite only teaching the class for three weeks, my feelings of loneliness and deep mistrust intensified.
Got to get out
Surprisingly though, in spite of this negative and unpleasant start to my new career, I hadn’t given up on teaching. I still recall the glimmers of hope and confidence on the faces of my Year 11 students, as they realised that they were developing some of the skills necessary to get them into the higher echelons of the English language GCSE grades. It was those moments that kept me hanging onto my self-belief in my abilities – and sanity.
But I knew that I had to get out of this school.
So, I started considering how I could leave, with the minimum damage to my future teaching career. I told my professional mentor that I wanted to "freeze" my induction year and leave, or transfer to another school to complete my NQT, and her response was that she would speak to HR to see what could be done. The negative reply that I received via my professional mentor was that I wouldn’t get another teaching job anywhere if I left either during or at the end of term.
Surely, NQTs ought to be better protected from this type of blackmail by ensuring that HR departments are sympathetic to the struggles that many new teachers face, and that they offer these teachers options and openings instead of threats?
Or give NQTs the option of signing shorter contracts, so that if it is clear early on in a term that a school and a particular NQT aren’t suited to each other, then the NQT can leave quickly to start afresh somewhere else without a slur on their teaching record?
Or in the case of multi-academy trusts, offer transfer options to other schools in their trust, that are overseen by the local authority? It could simply be that a new mentor and department in a sister school is all that is needed to reinstall faith and belief in a shaken and belittled NQT.
At the time of writing, practices at this particular school are under investigation (I wasn’t the only teacher to suffer there). However, it’s a case of too little too late: if there had been sufficiently robust procedures put in place by the local authority, then just maybe I might not have started my induction year there, and I could have had a more positive start as a new teacher elsewhere.
The author is an NQT in the South of England