Welcome the new faces

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Advice for seasoned practitioners

Do you have any new teachers in your school this year? Are they shrinking violets? Probably not, but I'd be surprised if any of them matched the glorious chutzpah I saw from a young newcomer to a Birmingham comprehensive some years ago. An amateur opera performer, he introduced himself by standing up in what was usually a rather formal morning assembly and belting out "My Way" to the entire staff and student body. After that he really could do no wrong.

Every new arrival is potentially someone who can punch a hole through the protective layer surrounding the inward looking world of the average staffroom. The trick - and the longer in the tooth you get the more difficult it becomes - is to see it like that, and not feel like a middle-lane driver overtaken on the inside. There are staffrooms where NQTs are met by thoughtless remarks. "Straight out of training - you should know how to do that!" is just one I heard. The assumption often seems to be that where we, as probationary teachers, were polite individuals who spoke when we were spoken to, today's NQTs are, by contrast, too confident and lippy.

The truth, of course, is rather different. Look at the NQT forum on The TES website and you'll find a neurotic bunch, worried about such things as what to wear on a training day, and whether or not to write the children's names on their exercise books for them. Saddest of all are the NQTs who report staffrooms where friendship groups are so strong they feel coldly excluded.

The lesson for experienced teachers is clear. We were newcomers once. We didn't know what to do about coffee, or how to get our classes in and out of the room peacefully. It follows that we all - not just the NQT mentor - have to watch for opportunities where we can help without being pushy, but also without necessarily being asked.

It goes deeper than that. The way that experienced teachers talk to newcomers about the job and the school is important. As one mentor put it to me: "A teacher who makes cynical and unhelpful remarks to an NQT lets down the profession. The aim is that the NQT will be reassured that they've chosen the right job and that they're making progress."

Get that right, and everything else is detail, I would say.

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