Tales from the frontline

13th October 2017 at 00:00
Last year’s NQTs share their advice and give you a heads-up on what to expect from the coming year

‘Every day is completely different from the last’

Near the end of my PGCE year, I was repeatedly told “your NQT year is so much harder than your training year”. You have probably heard this plenty of times, so I am not going to say it again. But while, yes, my NQT year has been challenging, it has also been the most wonderful and rewarding adventure.

I still remember my first morning at school, feeling nervous at the thought of 30 children coming back after the summer holidays to find that their teacher was me: someone who had no clue about what they were doing. But as you already know, time flies in school, so you don’t have time to dwell on this once the first child walks through the door.

Finishing your first day of being a “real teacher” is surreal but by the end of your first week, you feel like you’ve been doing the job for years.

Yes, you will probably make hundreds of mistakes and forget various things along the way, but that’s all part of the process. One of the most important things that I have learnt during my NQT year is that not everything can be taught during training and you actually learn a whole lot more once you have independent responsibility for a class.

Every day is completely different from the last and unexpected events will frequently happen, so whether or not you’ve been teaching for 20 years or 20 minutes, new experiences will always be around the corner.

Emily Hainsworth is a teacher at Danemill Primary School in Leicester


‘Don’t be afraid to show your personality’

I embarked on my NQT year with a mixture of emotions: mainly excitement combined with the occasional bout of nausea.

Nothing can fully prepare you for what this year will bring. There is so much that experienced teachers won't explain and that you will just have to figure out for yourself. I remember, for example, that nobody told me how important it was to get to know the students you’re teaching. When you are first given your class lists, do your research. If possible, talk to your students’ teachers from last year to find out if there is anything you need to be aware of.

One thing that I found really helpful was getting the students to complete a little personal profile on the first day to find out what they enjoy. You’d be surprised how happy it makes a Year 10 boy when you remember that he has pet chickens.

To cope with the increased demands of the NQT year, it is vital that you are organised. I would advise keeping lists to make sure that nothing gets forgotten. As soon as an email comes through with a deadline, write this in your planner, as emails can get buried very quickly. It also pays to really get to know the behaviour policy of the school that you will be working in. Sometimes reading it will not be enough, so try to arrange a quick meeting with the school’s behaviour lead, who will be able to explain the expectations more clearly.

Above all, have a blast. Schools are wacky, fun places to be – don’t be afraid to shine and show your personality.

Bryony Phelps is an English teacher at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol


‘Preparation is key to enjoying teaching’

During your training, it’s hard not to feel like a surrogate teacher. You work with classes knowing that eventually you will have to give them back to their rightful owners. This all changes in your NQT year. Having my own classroom and classes has been great, as has having the chance to harness my teaching style and feel more independent.

That doesn’t mean that the year has been without challenges, though. Getting used to the dynamic of a new school while juggling marking and monitoring progress was initially a huge concern for me. It took some time to adjust.

The year, as a whole, has been a huge learning journey and I don’t think it will be until the next academic year that I start to feel comfortable enough to start experimenting a bit more with different teaching methods and schemes of work.

The best advice I can give is to get yourself together ahead of time. Take the extra time to prepare for the school year before it starts. Draw up a marking timetable and prepare resources that you can use for multiple lessons. It will be tiring but it will stop you from feeling too run down later on. I know it sounds obvious but preparation is the key to enjoying teaching – otherwise, you’ll end up playing catch-up all year and risk becoming too easily stressed.

One of the biggest surprises for me this year has been that teaching at a girls’ school has been more enjoyable than I expected. I trained in a boys’ school, and when I got my NQT job, I was warned that teaching girls would be tough. I have found this to be untrue. My teaching experience has been fantastic and a huge part of that is because of the pupils I teach.

Charles Haydn-Slater is an RE teacher at Levenshulme High School, Manchester


‘Making mistakes is an acceptable part of learning’

A week before term started, I was most definitely over-excited. Luckily, my mentor was quick to channel my eagerness and ensure that I was fully prepared for a busy first term.

Make sure you spend time getting to know your mentor. Having a good professional relationship with mine from the start really stood me in good stead for the upcoming year.

He has been there for me every step of the way, through the good times and the bad. Listen to what your mentor has to say. They have your best interests at heart and sometimes can seem to know you better than you know yourself.

During my NQT year, the first couple of weeks seemed to fly by; they went almost too well. I believed that the way I was doing things was right and that I already knew virtually everything.

However, I soon came to realise that making mistakes is an acceptable part of learning. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so this was a hard lesson.

I learnt that you shouldn’t be afraid to say sorry to the children when you get something wrong. And when you ask colleagues for advice or apologise to them for an oversight, they won’t take it as a sign that you are weak or incapable: it shows them that you want to learn and are willing to listen to their ideas and experiences.

Start your NQT year with the mindset that you will get things wrong more than once. It’s inevitable and perfectly normal.

At the same time, don’t forget that you have worked incredibly hard to get to where you are now. And at the end of this year, you will be able to happily say that you made it. The feeling of being a fully qualified teacher is amazing.

Luke Beaton is a primary teacher at Rose Hill School in Kent


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