What keeps me awake at night - How many NQTs suffer in silence?

5th October 2012 at 01:00

Even now, I can't sleep when I think about an English class I took as a newly qualified teacher, the notorious 9B. You know they are going to be bad if even laid-back colleagues warn you in advance. Apparently, every single pupil in this class was naughty and I was to be outnumbered 30 to 1.

I felt apprehensive on the way to my first lesson; the sight of the pupils, who were already in the classroom, confirmed that my fears were justified. Three were jumping from desk to desk, the rest content to race around them. Throwing pens, shouting and swearing were commonplace among this lot.

Dealing with disruptive pupils is tough for all teachers, but for new teachers it can be a nightmare. And all too often, NQTs are palmed off with the most challenging classes. In this case, after complaints from me and my colleagues, the senior management team arranged a special lunchtime meeting for all 9B's teachers. I wasn't surprised to see that many of their other teachers were also NQTs.

At the helm of the meeting were the two assistant heads, who tackled the problem head-on. The meeting was quick and effective. They listed every pupil in the class, giving the naughtier ones one star and the naughtiest two stars. They produced a list of their typical offences: "one stars" were those who would go along with troublemaking if "two stars" had instigated it. They would moan and whine, but were squashable. The two-star pupils were harder to control: they were driven by whatever mood they were in and were unable to control any tantrums or outbursts. They swore, were often late and refused to do any work.

The assistant heads then moved on to the answer: a rewards system that would culminate in a special assembly at the end of term, in which the pupils with the most rewards gained prizes. It was not the most original idea, and it was slightly controversial, but it worked. The pupils were notified and, remarkably, changed their ways for the most part. More importantly, the school's senior managers had listened to the teachers and done something about the problem.

In the end, the situation was resolved - at least with that class. But with the new school year now under way, I am worried about the thousands of other NQTs suffering as I suffered. Many will be left to struggle in similar situations and expected not to complain.

Senior management teams must recognise what is happening and provide more support to help their new teachers make it through that daunting first year. The practice of giving the most difficult classes to the teachers least able to deal with them has to end or we will continue to drive great young teachers away from the profession.

The writer is an English teacher in Merseyside. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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