This morning I got a Facebook message request from someone working at my former school. In it, they asked if I thought leaving the school would change their motivation towards teaching.
The message made me reminisce about my NQT year and while I obviously replied to her, I also felt compelled to also write to the NQTs across the country.
Your NQT year is very similar to passing your driving test. You have a little certificate to say you've passed a competency assessment, but ultimately, you haven't got a clue. That first year is the same as that drive home from the garage after picking up your new car. Am I doing this right? Where's the person in the passenger seat giving me hints, support and advice? Oh my god, I am responsible for everything around me.
The sudden realisation is terrifying. But what's essential is a strong support network. Family and friends are obviously crucial for an NQT but in-school support is integral to your mental health and motivation.
I didn't have that. I had a mentor, who unfortunately went off ill through no fault of her own. But I was adrift. My teaching assistant was lovely and a hard worker but relatively inexperienced and rather shy. In our second PPA session, my year group partner rolled her eyes when I asked a question and I jokingly asked how long I could play the NQT card and she, with no humour in her voice, replied "half-term". And she meant it.
I made myself an island. I withdrew. I am a rather loud, confident, opinionated (for this, read gobby) person, sure of my own ability but not unaware that there's always a lot to learn.
But I decided that I would struggle through myself. In my class, there was a young man, who on my second day of teaching slapped me across the face (he was a Year 1 pupil...). He would trash my room, assault children, assault me and would think nothing of running straight out of my room and make a bolt for the door.
After a particularly bad lesson observation, I was told that the local authority were coming in to observe me and their feedback would feed into whether I passed or failed my first term as an NQT. The observation rolled around (the day before we finished for Christmas but we will gloss over that fact) and I was told that the young man would be taken out for the day for some 'SEN work'. It was a bit like the old story about taking the naughty kids out on a trip when Ofsted comes to town.
The lesson went well, my feedback was good: I was happy and he was happy. The inspector said he didn't understand why he'd been asked to come in. He left. Moments later the door opened again and I was told by the leadership team that despite that, I had failed. Merry Christmas.
It was the lowest I've ever felt. I spent Christmas questioning if teaching was for me. But something in the pit of my stomach said, "Oi! Yes, you have a lot to learn but you're new to this. Your class are happy and they're making progress. Fight this."
I was, and still am, not one to give up. So I didn't. I called a meeting with the person responsible for NQTs across the council and I asked for a full dissection of what I was missing and what was going wrong. And we worked on it. I mentioned about the young man being removed in a subtle way (that went down well and I was asked to leave for ten minutes while he spoke to the member of SLT for the school. Awkward).
Anyway, I worked. Worked harder than I have ever worked before and probably still up to this point.
I left at the end of the year. Two and a half years later, I am so happy in my life and career. I am maths lead for my school (and our deputy head is literacy lead so I took the appointment as a massive compliment), I'm on our "more-able" working party as part of our School Development Plan. I tweet (a lot). I share my ideas and opinions as well as the work of my class. I feel trusted in knowing what is best for my class. And I do it all without any micro-managing from SLT – an SLT who drive progress forward by developing the way we deal with workload, assessment, and the way we interact with our parents as well as the way we teach and the way our children learn.
Your first year is a massive undertaking. The responsibility for the safety, wellbeing and progress of 29 small, human beings is a massive, massive thing to take on your shoulders.
With the right support, your NQT year can be the best experience. You can experiment with ideas, things you've picked up from Twitter or Pinterest, try moving your tables around because someone on a teaching Facebook group said it worked. It's the beginning of your career where you are learning your trade and trying to spin the 48 plates you need to constantly keep checking in on.
If it isn't that way, if you aren't being supported, if your mentor and year group partner roll their eyes when you ask questions, please realise that it's a bit like people judging you in the supermarket when your child cries.
Everyone has been in that position once, and it's important that you don't take it to heart. If your SLT isn't driving forward the issue of workload, teaching and learning, and curriculum development, please realise that this one school is one of many.
There are those for whom teaching genuinely isn't meant to be. But NQTs, you owe it to yourself and the children that you teach, to move somewhere else if you aren't happy. Before leaving the classroom for good, make sure you check: is the issue within you? Or, actually, is it within your school?
Gavin Goulds is Year 1/2 class teacher and maths leader at Kennington Primary School in Preston, Lancashire. He tweets @goulds_mr