First Step - New life support

13th February 2009 at 00:00
Your relationship with your induction tutor is vital. Find solutions to problems sooner rather than later and this year will become much easier

Induction tutors can make or break the first year for newly qualified teachers. At their best, they are organised, friendly, supportive and open. At worst, they can put NQTs off for life.

Heather Scott, 22, a new teacher at Canon Burrows Primary School in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, is happy with her experience so far. Her phase leader takes responsibility for Ms Scott's progress in the classroom, while her tutor tracks her health and wellbeing.

"They've been great," says Ms Scott. "They are always checking up to see if I'm OK and have formal and informal, open-door policies. They also ask other NQTs if I'm all right, as it can sometimes be a bit embarrassing to talk about issues directly."

Ms Scott's tutor held a mock parents' evening to help her deal with the real thing, and gave her targets to reduce her workload. As a result, Ms Scott now goes to the staffroom more often and has vowed not to work two evenings a week, or on Saturdays.

It has had a positive effect on her health. Despite colds and personal problems, Ms Scott has not missed a single day since she started. "It's going really well," she says. "My parents say that I look tired, but healthy and glowing."

This is how it should be, says Chris Wheeler, a mentor at Ashton on Mersey School in Sale, Cheshire, where 60 per cent of staff are trained as subject mentors. Mr Wheeler always lets NQTs know that they can approach him at any time. "I like to think that if I appear helpful and non- judgmental then I will be made aware of problems as soon as they arise," he says. "This means I can implement strategies to help the NQT overcome new challenges early on."

So, if the teacher is struggling with a disruptive class, Mr Wheeler can casually pass by and help. As well as observations, reviews and formal meetings, which all provide a forum for discussion, new teachers should alert senior staff to problems before they escalate.

For those who think they may be failing their NQT year, now is the time to act, before their next assessment.

In one comprehensive, a new teacher failed the year, partly because problems were ignored by all parties - the NQT and their induction tutor, who was not sufficiently open and honest about areas of weakness.

"It is essential that early steps are taken to identify any difficulties," the induction co-ordinator said afterwards. "It'll ensure the support programme is revised and adapted to take account of their needs."

If you report concerns, this should lead to immediate action from senior staff. This may include shorter-term, more specific objectives and closer monitoring and recording of progress.

These will hopefully be viewed as a good thing, says Mr Wheeler. "NQTs should feel that you are observing in order to offer advice and help them improve their practice, not to catch them out."

This is certainly how Tom Hancock, 22, feels about observations by his mentor and head of department at Cardiff High School. "There's always been constructive feedback that I can use to improve in the wake of my observed lessons," says the PE teacher. "The support is always there. It has been a continuation of the learning curve that I began on my PGCE course."

Less robust relationships between mentor and mentee can be hard to address. In such situations, it is important to remain professional, advises Kate Aspin, a senior lecturer in education at Huddersfield University.

"Try to find another member of staff to tap into for their support and encouragement," she says. "If you are worried or feel you have been treated unfairly, talk to your headteacher or, if it is the head whom you are struggling with, contact the local authority officer assigned to NQTs."

At this point of the induction year, observations, feedback and assessments should be well underway, giving new teachers a clear idea of their strengths and areas for development.

Next week: Dealing with health issues

WHAT TO EXPECT DURING INDUCTION

- Six progress reviews.

- Three formal assessment meetings with the induction tutor, including input from colleagues.

- Six lesson observations, written feedback.

- Clear signposting about how to raise concerns about progress andor induction.

- Prompt and appropriate action in response to stated difficulties.

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