NQT Special: Advice from the second year


Last year, Sarah Viccars, wrote a weekly diary for SecEd, chronicling her year as an NQT. Now in her second year of teaching, we asked her to offer some words of advice to this year’s NQTs as they approach Christmas.

“We have so much time and so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it.” Willy Wonka!

As I heard a child in my tutor group dictate this wonderful quote from the works of Roald Dahl, I couldn’t help but smile as I considered how incredibly quickly my NQT year flew past, how much I have had to do, and how quickly things within a school setting can change.

I began this job an ambitious but uncertain NQT and now here I sit, merely a year on, as second in charge of faculty – no longer the mentee but a mentor for my own student teacher who is embarking on her own teacher training qualification.

As you reflect on your first term, I offer to you the same advice that I offered to her, but through the words of some literary greats.

“Lost time is never found again.” Benjamin Franklin

We are regularly told by our headteacher that our time should be spent planning, teaching and marking. If what you are spending excessive time doing doesn’t have an impact on the child’s progress in these ways, it can wait.

“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” Albert Einstein

Every child is unique and will require different levels of attention and differentiation. It is a big challenge, but get to know every pupil and push them to their potential – do not write anyone off no matter how challenging they may be. We all have those students who never seem to grasp what we are teaching, but when they have that eureka moment because of you (and they will), it is an amazing feeling.

“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Steve Jobs

Your passion for your subject will quickly infect your students, so don’t allow what’s wearing you down outside the classroom to affect the spark in your eye inside. Your students will only produce great work when you are on your A game – never forget why you began teaching in the first place, to share what you love.

"And though she be but little, she is fierce.” William Shakespeare

Make your mark! You may be an NQT but it doesn’t make you any less important – don’t be afraid to suggest change or organise innovative enrichment activities. All schools need fresh ideas and they will come from you.

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you aren’t saying ‘no’ to yourself.” David Coelhuo

I was told in week one by the associate headteacher to learn to say no. I wished I’d listened to his advice when I sat overwhelmed in a primary classroom, or when I was organising events for external departments, or completing paperwork for others. It is rapidly become my favourite word! Focus on our own tasks and targets – you can’t do it all (trust me, I tried).

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” Dale Carnegie 

You will see the people in your office more than you will see your own family. Make them a temporary family of your own, no matter what frustrations they may bring! Don’t be afraid of having a laugh and dropping your guard behind closed doors, students love a friendly faculty and will recognise that you are a force to be reckoned with. We are currently in the middle of a Bake Off between our 12 faculty members – even some poorly made cookies can brighten the day.

“Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.” Dolly Parton

This quote gained her listing as a literary great – wise words from Dolly! Protect your hobbies and maintain your work/life balance. My golden rules are that I will always attend dance class on a Wednesday evening and that on a Friday I will be out of school by 4pm. What are yours?

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Aristotle

It may feel as though it’s all about knowledge for exams and statistics, but don’t be afraid to take the odd lesson off to inspire in some of the other areas that your subject has to offer. Run clubs for those who want to learn more – once their heart is invested in your subject, there’s no end to their commitment.

“Children do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Teddy Roosevelt

Enjoy your pastoral roles as well as being a teacher. At first I saw being a form tutor as an add-on task. However, I’ve come to discover that students value having that one familiar face every day far more than we think. I must admit, I’ve come to appreciate the familiarity of seeing them each morning also. Show you care by listening, asking and smiling – you will soon see how much those students rely on you.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

You are fortunate enough to be in one of the most rewarding careers available. Use this powerful weapon wisely – as you will rarely know whose life you are affecting and when.

  • Sarah Viccars is in her second year as a teacher of the performing arts at Burnt Mill Academy, a performing arts specialist school in Essex. She was SecEd’s NQT diarist last year.


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