Having on of those days

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
You're not alone. If you're a trainee or NQT, there is always someone to help you with problems, from lesson ideas to difficult behaviour - or for you to share a moan with. Sara Bubb reports

All the teachers at the school were very cliquey and I didn't enjoy it one little bit. I had no friends at school and it was a very lonely and unhappy time," said a teacher when she quit her post after two years in the profession.

It is not an uncommon complaint. Considering teachers are surrounded by people all day, it can be a lonely job, and nobody suffers more from this isolation than new arrivals. Some schools do not have a good ethos. The staffroom should be a great place for a chat and support, but some can be depressing, with people moaning about kids, their marital breakdown, or the shortcomings of the senior management team. It is not always what you need to hear. In some places, people do not have the time or inclination to have professional learning conversations or share fantastic resources.

These kinds of experiences are why England's General Teaching Council set up Engage, a network for newly qualified teachers, early career teachers and all those who support them. People are automatically enrolled when they get qualified teacher status - and that was 38,055 in 2005.

It has 11,473 active participants and it helps NQTs to participate in teacher-to-teacher learning and share good practice by building networks.

The e-newsletter has case studies of good practice, information about project groups and people can meet at national Engage events.

It is ideal for all the newly qualified teachers in a school, network or local authority to get together. Some schools, such as Sneyd in Walsall, have a programme of training sessions for new teachers about common concerns that can be addressed en masse but, even more importantly, they benefit from the opportunity to chat.

Many local authorities run courses for new teachers. Primary NQTs in Lambeth, south London, meet up for 12 half-days over the year. These popular sessions not only give people practical ideas that they can try out immediately, but they're an essential support network for teachers working in one of the most difficult areas in the country.

Newly qualified teachers are their own best support network: they realise that they are not the only ones who can't get their class to assembly, or who are not enjoying the job. As one said: "It's lovely when you speak to other reception teachers and they say the same things. You think, that's super, because I know it's not just my children, and it's not just me."

Northamptonshire is having a conference for people finishing their induction year so that they get their second year of teaching off to a good start - a great idea because people can feel alone after the intensity of the training and induction.

Many people have turned to The TES's online new teacher forum for help and support. Want some ideas for tomorrow's lesson or advice on how to tackle a tricky situation with your induction tutor? You'll get responses in no time. It's hugely popular and growing all the time. In the first three weeks of May, 19,480 different people visited the NQT forum, an increase of a third over the same time last year. In any one month about 250 people post questions or comments under a pseudonym. Some of the site's success must be down to the freedom that comes with this anonymity. People can ask the questions that they would be too embarrassed to raise elsewhere. And there is always plenty of discussion, with an average of 112 postings a day.

Kate Fairhurst teaches in Oldham and trained last year at Manchester metropolitan university. She is a big fan of The TES staffroom (www.tes.co.ukstaffroom) but also loves her university's virtual learning environment called WebCT (httpodl.mmu.ac.uk). This is primarily a way for trainees and tutors to keep in touch with each other during placements, but as an NQT, she's found it a fabulous resource: "It has made the transition from trainee to NQT gentler than it might've been. We've been able to retain connections with the university and our tutors, asking questions in a safe environment and comparing notes."

As the year has progressed, NQT usage has declined, but Ms Fairhurst still posts on the website, though in a different kind of role: "I now find myself offering ideas and advice to trainees rather than needing it myself.

This has boosted my confidence because I've been able to recognise how far I've come".

Perfect, huh?

Sara Bubb is The TES induction expert

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