NQT reflections

23rd January 2009 at 00:00
Tear up the L-plates and take control of your class, says Kimberly Wilkins, English NQT at Penyrheol Comprehensive, Swansea

Step 1: I have mastered the art of detailed lesson planning (theoretically, of course); I have survived both of my training placements; I have endured gruelling observations by curriculum mentors, professional study mentors, departmental mentors, internal assessors, external assessors and several other "appropriate bodies". I have taken heed of all constructive criticism and any friendly advice that has been offered. I have burned more than a little midnight oil to get my essays in on time. But I have my PGCE. Hooray.

Step 2: I have trawled websites relentlessly in search of jobs; polished my CV and letter of application; braved the interview process and bagged my dream job.

Step 3: I have spent the summer dreaming about my classroom: my colourful displays of pupils' work and "fine examples", the humorous, yet educational, posters that will line my walls and subliminally reinforce the perfectly co-ordinated lessons that I will deliver. I have coloured and laminated name tags for each of the children I will teach. My scheme of work is detailed and varied. I have comprehensive and differentiated lesson plans to see me through until Christmas.

I am prepared. I am more than prepared. I am still dreaming. I am what is commonly known as an NQT. A Newly Qualified Teacher. Not Quite There is perhaps a more adequate definition of how I feel at the end of what has been an exhausting first half-term.

Far be it from me to underplay the importance of the PGCE year in providing budding teachers with the necessary foundations upon which a successful and rewarding career will, I am certain, flourish. However, it is now that I am learning how to teach. I can best liken the process to that of learning to drive. You take your lessons. You pass your test. Then ... you learn how to drive.

There's no patient instructor at your side any more to grab the wheel should you lose control, or advise you when you ought to be checking your mirrors. There is one set of control pedals in this vehicle - yours.

It's a daunting prospect but one that didn't become real for me until the first day of school when teachers and children were present. That morning it suddenly dawned on me I was going to be a teacher that day. For the first time. A real teacher.

Of course you're taught the theory of being a teacher at college, and you get a flavour of the responsibility when you're on placement. But nothing really prepares you for the reality that these pupils are yours now. If they have a question, it's you they turn to. If the work's not covered, you're accountable. If they don't understand, you have to explain. If their marks aren't recorded, it's your fault.

On top of this terrifying order of responsibility comes the added burden of remembering all the other things that must be in place to ensure the successful running of the school (for which we are all accountable). Department meetings, pastoral meetings, break-time duties, after-school duties, extra-curricula activities, etc.

Then there's marking. There ought to be some sort of warning for prospective teachers (especially English ones) that a little known pre-requisite of the job is that you must be completely fluent in the written word of 11 to 16-year-olds. This is no small challenge. The content of a piece of work may be nothing short of outstanding. However, you must develop the almost impossible skill of translating the unsteady scrawls of pupils' pressured pens.

I generalise here - and I shouldn't. In fact, there are times when marking is a pleasure. It's the concrete proof that you are doing your job. Quite often it gives you a little insight into the character of the pupil in question. That, for me, is the most rewarding aspect of teaching - getting to know each pupil as an individual. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses; their hopes and fears; what makes them happy and what upsets them.

Using this knowledge to inform my practise as an NQT and, perhaps more importantly, my ability to make the whole school experience a positive and memorable chapter in each child's life, is by far the most enjoyable part of my job.

It's an extremely challenging profession. Physically, mentally and emotionally. But no two days are exactly the same.

One day you find yourself drowning in all the work you know you need to get through. The next you're overjoyed with the sure knowledge that you actually got through to that impossible class of Year 9s. Or even just one pupil. The buzz is magic, it makes it all worthwhile.

On reflection, I think being "not quite there" isn't perhaps such a bad thing after all. Of course I have so much more to learn. But hasn't every one? Isn't that the point?

Teaching is, after all, a journey and not a destination (I apologise here for the cliche - but surely there is some element of truth in a phrase that has been over used to the point that it has achieved that God-forbidden stigma).

It's a gut-busting, physically-draining, heart-warming, spirit-lifting, totally inspiring profession. I am glad to be a part of it and, in all honesty, I hope that I am "never quite there" (if you see what I mean)?

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