A note for your NQT briefcase


SecEd's CPD expert Margaret Adams offers her advice on how you can prepare for year number two.

You are ready for the summer and you are ready for a holiday. There may be only six weeks between the end of the summer term and the start of the new school year, but you will be amazed at how much you will forget about your first year in teaching during that time.

That is a pity because the NQT perspective you have brought to your work during the past year is valuable. It is also a perspective that has helped you to achieve a lot. Now, as the end of the year approaches, you may be keen to leave your NQT status behind, but it would make a lot of sense to try to hold on to the NQT mindset.

To help you to do this, write yourself a note from your current NQT standpoint. Use the following prompts to help you. Put your note in your briefcase and look at it again when you come to prepare for the autumn.

Remain flexible

This time last year you probably weren’t too sure what you were going to achieve in your first year in teaching. You knew what you thought you were good at and what you believed you would enjoy. Experience has modified your views.

You have achieved some of the things you set out to do, but you have achieved other things, too. You may have found that you are good at tasks you had not even considered you could do well a year ago.

Take this learning into the future. By all means plan for next year. Identify the areas where you are hoping to achieve but, as you plan, remain flexible.

Next year, just like this year, you will find that things will crop up unexpectedly and oblige you to change your plans. Be ready for that to happen. 

Remind yourself in your note that you achieved a lot as a result of your pragmatism and flexibility. The same is likely to be true next year.

Some things are always with you

With a year in teaching behind you, you know that workload management is one of the issues that every teacher has to deal with every year. The workload issue is a challenge because there is always more you could do.

This means that workload management will always be on your personal and professional agenda whatever role you take on.

Look back at how you managed your workload this year. How did you cope? Which workload management strategies worked best for you? How are you going to keep on top of things next year? What should you write down in your note for your briefcase to help you next year?

Workload is not the only issue you will always need to take into account when you are doing your planning. Which other issues that do not go away should you also deal with in your note? 

Mistakes help you learn

Every one in school makes mistakes. As an NQT, you have developed a very particular attitude towards your mistakes. In order to survive in teaching you had to find ways to deal with mistakes quickly. 

Where you could not work out solutions speedily, you either asked someone for help, or you watched a colleague at work and learned by observation how to do what was needed.

This approach helped you as an NQT. It will help you for the future. Remind yourself in the note you are writing to accept that you are going to make mistakes, but that what is really important is finding solutions when things go wrong.

Having worked so hard and learned such a lot, you will not want to forget your hard-won expertise during the summer break. Make a point of recording details of the solutions you found to the problems you have overcome somewhere safe. 

Write down, too, where you found help, and the names of people you know you can approach to help you solve your problems when you get into difficulties.

Carry forward your NQT approach to dealing with mistakes into the rest of your teaching career. It is an approach that will help you to do more than survive your NQT year.

Remember your dreams 

When you came into teaching you had aspirations and dreams. During the year your focus has necessarily been on the essential elements of being a teacher. You have devoted time and energy to coping with your new job and to building up your classroom skills and abilities. 

Now that you are at the end of your NQT year, it is important to remember your dreams.

Remind yourself of the aspirations you had back in September. They were probably a little vague. Maybe you set out to become a good teacher, without really knowing what being a good teacher meant. Now, as you think about your dreams for your second year, you can be more specific.

You know where your interests lie and what you want to do more of. Those are good things to know, because your dreams will now become more focused. Build on your NQT aspirations. Write down your refined and updated dreams in the note you are preparing.

Retain the NQT mindset 

This year, when you have been faced with challenges, you have tried different ways of working until you have got things right. 

You have also identified some of the challenges that will crop up again and again during your teaching career. Your flexibility and willingness to learn and adapt have stood you in good stead.

In short, your NQT mindset has helped you to succeed. Hold on to that mindset as you become more experienced, and you will avoid becoming hidebound and set in your ways. You will remain curious and responsive to the situations you are faced with.

That is the way really successful teachers work. Great teachers build on their learning and their experience. They are always ready to try new ways of working and always looking for ways to do things better.

The note in your briefcase will help you to work like that, too. Don’t lose it and don’t ignore it when September comes. It is a valuable document. 

  • Margaret Adams is a former teacher and the author of Work-Life Balance: A practical guide for teachers (David Fulton publishers).


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