'Be yourself in the classroom - not a pale imitation of another teacher'
You are a professional. You are intelligent, articulate and committed. If you weren’t, you would not have got a job for your NQT year. So why would you think that you had to submit to a pedagogical straitjacket imposed by someone else?
Your NQT year is about discovery. You have a window of opportunity to fully explore every teaching avenue on offer and carve out a few of your own. This is the beginning of an incredible career and you will change children’s futures.
Yes, it’s going to be tough at times but only by refining your individual craft will you be able to be the very best you can be. Don’t ever settle to be a pale imitation of another teacher.
And do not think you have to be one kind of teacher and you are stuck with it for life. The teaching style you have today is not going to be the one you have at the end of the year, or in five years from now. You’re going to find all sorts of styles for all sorts of children and all sorts of lessons. You have to discover these different approaches, and work out when to employ them, yourself. Following a narrow, uniform structure imposed by others will only lead to trouble.
You may find yourself at a school that encourages and celebrates this. One that nurtures your professional creativity, provides opportunities to experiment, make mistakes, take the odd calculated risk, and continues to be your safety net. Ideally you will have a strong champion rooting for you, seeking opportunities for you to learn from your peers and shaping conversations that enable you to reflect on your practice, because you will make mistakes, and that’s OK.
However, you may find yourself in a school where there is a dictatorial culture – all lessons the same; a pedagogical sausage-factory. It is worth considering why the school is like that. Children’s futures are fragile and precious, and some leaders are hesitant to risk any potential learning. They would rather homogenise all practice, sacrifice the benefits to eradicate the dangers.
All sorts of schools and leaders can adopt these behaviours – schools in special measures that are committed to getting out; “requires improvement” schools that are determined to be uniformly good; headteachers terrified of losing an “outstanding” or “good” rating; high-attaining schools not wanting to slip down the league tables, or those languishing at the bottom desperate to improve.
It is easily done. There are a lot of scared leaders out there – never become one.
Ultimately, the best defence against anyone wanting you to do things their way is to show how much the children are learning and developing by doing it your way. No one wants worse outcomes for children simply to prove a point. If someone visits your room and finds the children highly engaged and learning well, I’d hope you wouldn’t get criticised for not using a seven-stage lesson plan (yes, I’ve seen them and know of a school where they are compulsory for every lesson). If someone visits your room and it’s not quite working – and as a headteacher who has taught for 22 years, this sometimes happens to me – acknowledge this; direct your visitor to books full of amazing learning, encourage conversations with the children where they articulate what they are learning. And provide the research that backs up what you are doing.
You are a rare commodity – it is true that we have a recruitment and retention problem in teaching and this makes you very valuable. If your leadership team tries to impose a teaching style on you, you may simply have to move on. Be picky and find somewhere you can be yourself. Children learn best from happy, confident, valued and highly competent teachers. Be that person.
Keziah Featherstone is headteacher at Bridge Learning Campus, Bristol. She tweets @BLC_Head34
The New Teachers supplement is free with this week's issue of TES. It includes 52 pages of tips, advice, information and analysis for NQTs and their mentors, as well as teachers in general. You can read the supplement by downloding the TES Reader app for Android and iOS. Or pick up a copy of TES, available in all good newsagents.