The veteran teachers are gathered in the staffroom discussing the latest impossible changes to the GCSE specifications. The debate is just starting to heat up, when the department’s lone NQT appears. It’s not that the NQT doesn’t want to join in the discussion, it’s simply that everything about the job is new to them anyway and so it is hard to muster the same level of outrage that the more experienced members of staff seem to feel.
Being the new kid on the block is hard at any time, but this is arguably a particularly difficult moment to be entering the teaching profession. Reforms to the curriculum, to assessment and to exam specifications have been near-constant features of the profession in recent years and it’s safe to say that not everyone has been on board with the changes.
Given the circumstances, the level of negativity that exists in many staffrooms is perhaps understandable, but it can place an NQT in a tricky position. How do you respond to the changes to the system when you never had a chance to experience what it was like before? Should you embrace them with a sunny disposition? Or should you join in with the cynicism of your new colleagues as a mark of solidarity?
First, do try to put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes. Education is constantly changing and it is to be expected that some members of your department will view elements such as the new GCSEs as an imposition and a chore. They have been asked to do make such changes several times in their careers and will be expecting things to alter again before they retire.
Of course, not everybody will face the changes with dread and revulsion. There will be some who see them as a chance to try something new. However, even these people will find that they suddenly have more work on their hands as a result of the reforms. Shouldering some of the workload is where an NQT can be an asset. Everybody has their role to play and everybody has their areas of expertise. The changes will have brought some of that expertise to the forefront — including, potentially, yours. New specifications include new topics and aspects of subjects that, in some cases, have never been taught before. As an NQT, you may have had a whole unit at university devoted to a topic that nobody else in your department knows anything about.
Ultimately, NQTs should embrace the changes while still acknowledging the feelings of those who are unhappy about them. You have nothing to compare the new system with, so you might as well accept things as they are – the job has to be done regardless. People always like to express their displeasure and there’s no sense in joining in for the sake of it. But there is sense in listening to those around you, and there’s even more to be gained by offering a helping hand wherever you can.
Chris Curtis is head of English at a school in Derbyshire