First step - Back then forth

24th July 2009 at 01:00
Starting your NQT year soon? The first in our summer series looks at how to cope with the transition to full-time teacher

When children move from primary to secondary school there's often a regression in their learning and achievement. We've known about this for a long time, but what we don't often talk about is the regression that NQTs have when they move from trainee to teacher.

The training year has high stress, high workloads and high demands. Teachers will tell you that the same is true of the day-to-day job. But there are things you can do to make your transition easier.

Initially, accept that you will feel as if you're moving backwards, being deskilled and overwhelmed. Just concentrate on getting back on top of things. There are new people to work with and get used to, new pupils to build relationships with, new policies, procedures and working practices to learn. Regression is normal.

Concentrate on three main areas when tackling your transition: teaching, time management and teamwork.

As a trainee you did very detailed lesson plans. You also evaluated them all. Your teaching practice files will become your best friends during induction. As a qualified teacher you can't plan to the same degree. More classes, less time, means you need to plan more efficiently. So, concentrate on the essentials: what do pupils have to know, understand or be able to do and how will your teaching activities enable this to happen?

Create a template for a lesson plan that covers the essentials but omits the fine detail, that way you can reuse the template to make planning faster. Over the summer, go back over your successful lessons and make a list of the activities that worked well (for example, truefalse quizzes, traffic light activities). Make a list of the different Assessment for Learning techniques that worked well and think about how these can be adapted. That way you can pick and mix activities to suit the lessons and objectives. Good planning is crucial, but slim it down to make it manageable.

The key things to remember in your teaching are: to concentrate on pupil learning; make sure the lesson activities will achieve the objectives; ensure that at the end of each lesson pupils either know, understand or can do something that they couldn't at the start of the lesson; and make lessons interesting by varying the structure.

The next battle is time management. Douglas Adams said: "Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so." And true to this, many teachers end up chasing their tails when trying to cope with the workload. The key to good time management is good organisation. You need to know what you are doing, when and where. This doesn't just apply to teaching but also outside the school. There will never be enough hours in the day for the job so prioritisation is the key.

Prioritise your tasks into what must be done, should be done and could be done. Get a copy of your teaching timetable and the homework schedule as soon as possible - when you get them, work out a marking schedule for classwork and homework. Ask for class lists (if possible in a spreadsheet format to save you typing names). Finally, ask if the school provides a planner or diary for you to use, or buy one.

On top of all of this, being the new team member can be daunting. Teachers develop a shorthand language and code among each other that can baffle a new person. What you knew as "isolation" in one school - removing a difficult pupil from a lesson - may be called something else such as "parking" or "time out" in your new one. Don't be afraid to ask if an acronym stumps you - getting to know the local school language will make life a lot easier.

Fitting into a team takes time and there are various stages to go through. First you need to get to know one another, professionally and socially. Then comes a stage that can be stormy, where you are accepted into the team but people forget you are new and need help and guidance, so they can sometimes be brash or unforgiving. Weather this storm and the next stage will be much smoother, where you will feel like you've been part of the team for a long time. There will come a point where you will all be performing well and excelling at what you do.

James Williams is a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex.

If you have any questions for James, he's avaiable in our NQT forum

Become part of the team

  • Be a good listener.
  • If you raise problems, try to offer solutions.
  • Avoid harking back to previous experience, schools or jobs unless it's really relevant.
  • Don't volunteer for everything, but do volunteer for things that you know you can manage and do well.
  • Don't be openly critical of others, remember that different people can be successful in different ways.
  • Join in with social activities outside school or in school.


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