During your PGCE year, you're constantly encouraged to ask questions about your own and others' teaching - to be critically reflective. Once you begin teaching in a school during your NQT year, all this changes. The priority now is to establish yourself within your school. In order to do this you have to observe the rules and structures and are held strictly accountable for your results. At first, this climate can feel very different from the sense of community you enjoyed on your PGCE course.
It is for this reason that new teachers often look for networks that are situated outside the school. "This could be to swap lesson plans and teaching ideas, to exchange stories about your successes, your difficult classes and your never-before-reached levels of tiredness," says Gill Anderson, a PGCE lecturer at the Institute of Education, University of London. "More importantly, it is often to support you in continuing to consider your experiences critically and reflectively."
Whether formal or informal, meeting up with a network of other new teachers will allow you to discuss certain teaching approaches that have not worked or pupils you feel you haven't connected with. It will also help you to go back to school with a fresh perspective.
"It is really helpful, as you cover a lot of issues that you wouldn't have time to deal with in everyday teaching," says Hardeep Virdee, who recently completed his NQT year at Langdon School in east London. "However much it pains you to spend an extra hour after school in another meeting, it is really reassuring to know that there are others in the same scenario as yourself."
An external support network can give new teachers the chance to gain some new perspectives on the curriculum by talking with subject colleagues. It can also significantly ease the transition into full-time teaching.
"The sessions (I attend) are similar to meetings that you have during the training year, so it makes the transition a little easier," says Mr Virdee.
"It is reassuring to know that you are not expected to attain the attributes of an experienced teacher overnight."
External networks may include informal online communities of friends and peers from other schools, former colleagues from the PGCE course, professional websites set up by groups or subject associations such as the National Association for the Teaching of English, says Ms Anderson.
"Professional associations have a long history of enabling teachers to meet at weekend and holiday conferences, to be actively involved in debates around the teaching and policy framework of their subject at every level," she says.
"These associations blur the boundaries between social and professional networks and have sustained many teachers as the source of their most stimulating professional development."
Local authorities can also provide an excellent source of support for NQTs. According to Kevin Ronan, school workforce adviser at Lambeth Council, NQT responsibilities are taken very seriously - new teachers are supported by a range of induction programmes and central teams within the authority. "Primary teachers have the option to attend central induction training, which is run by NQT expert Sara Bubb," he says.
"The programme consists of 12 sessions designed to support the achievement of the QTS standards and meet the core standards for induction.
"Secondary NQTs have access to a virtual network, where they can arrange for experts from the local authority to come into schools and deliver school based induction specific to their needs - this also provides great networking and peer observation opportunities," he adds.
"Lambeth also has a network of schools advisers, teaching and learning consultants, advanced skills teachers and a dedicated induction team, all of whom work centrally and go out to schools on a needs basis."
According to Mr Ronan, it is vital that this support is in place for new teachers, as you need to meet the core standards for induction in your first year.
"The support helps to build confidence in you as teachers, which in turn ensures better outcomes for children and higher standards in the classroom," he says.
Build your network
- Contact your local authority - it should offer induction programmes, training and expert advice.
- Visit online communities of friends and peers from other schools.
- Get in touch with former course mates from your PGCE year.
- Join a professional or subject association such as the National Association for the Teaching of English.
- Consider a part-time masters degree, with modules designed specifically to support NQTs.