In the early stages of my training placement, while my head was spinning with all the various pedagogies that had been presented to us, and from staying up late perfecting lesson plans, we received a visit from two local schools, who said that they were “touting for our NQT business”.
At barely six weeks into our teaching-training programme, we were being asked to consider or even commit to our future as NQTs. At this stage in October, the priority for most of us was to make it to Christmas alive and sane, let alone gaining qualified teacher status the following June.
And thus it started: the (not always subtle) pressure to secure that first plum teaching position – or, in fact, any NQT job going, without even really knowing whether we were capable of gaining QTS.
How did they find time?
As we all staggered into second placements, while coping with the increase in teaching hours and academic work, other trainees started applying for jobs. How did they find the time? I was far too busy making sure that I never forgot my timetable and wasn't on the receiving end of any potentially career-ending judgements for trainee misdemeanours.
Heads of department regaled us with tales of how the best trainees were snapped up early on in their training year, as if to further increase our already stratospheric anxiety levels.
I can see the advantages and security of having a position lined up early on, but what if you don’t make QTS? One trainee on my course had secured a position by Christmas, but by June was struggling to be graded "satisfactory". What happens then?
So I shut out the whole business of my teaching future until my final – yes, my final – teaching observation in May. With a predicted final grading of "good" and credits towards an MA, I felt armed to look for that first permanent teaching post.
Except I wasn’t.
Faced with continual pressure from both my teaching and university colleagues, I took the first teaching position that was offered to me. Trying to push into the back of my mind the dreadful behaviour that I had witnessed around the school on my interview day, the nausea-inducing buildings and Fort Knox security, I accepted the job at a school close to my placement school.
Over the summer holidays, these reservations and concerns surfaced, and they were quickly borne out when my induction year started. During the Inset days, my mentor was unfriendly and offhand, castigating me for arriving in school too early, and for not having yet been given a swipe card to access parts of the school. I had difficult classes with high-profile misbehaving students and little support from the senior leadership team, the head of department or my mentor.
I was doing my first teaching post as a qualified teacher in an archetypal toxic school.
After one term of being bullied, belittled and blamed for things beyond my control, I quit and became a supply teacher. And you know what? I absolutely thrived.
Working in different environments, with the freedom that supply brings, started restoring my confidence in the world of teaching. For instance, I realised that it was possible to be respected by your colleagues, and that it wasn’t a failing on your part if you had to get SLT involved to help with a behaviour issue.
It also taught me to listen to my instincts in teaching: if you pick up bad vibes during a school visit, interview or induction, then do not accept the job no matter what pressure you are under from fellow trainees, mentors or parents.
Take your time. Be discerning. Listen to your instincts. Attend several interviews. Try supply. The right NQT position is out there for you somewhere.
The author is an NQT in the South of England
How to save a teacher
In the 20 September issue of Tes magazine, there is an in-depth look at the international research around why teachers leave in the first five years of the profession. Written by teacher Jamie Thom, it identifies three areas schools have to get right if we are to stop huge numbers of new recruits leaving. You can subscribe to Tes magazine here.