NQT Special: Challenges of the chalkface

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There are a range of challenges that NQTs can face in their first year at the chalkface. Julian Stanley offers some coping strategies.

It is nearing the end of the first term, a term  during which you will more than likely have felt under pressure – the hard reality of not just controlling, but actually inspiring a class of fresh, young faces; getting on with the tidal wave of paperwork; and handling the one-too-many extra-curricular or additional tasks that you have probably said yes to. Every year, the Teacher Support Network helpline is inundated with calls from NQTs struggling to cope. Below, I share some practical advice from our counsellors who help these teachers to make the transition from trainee to fully fledged educator successfully.

Be organised

First thing’s first – be organised. As a trainee or NQT you will bring some great, fresh and innovative ideas to the classroom. This is welcome in schools, but planning takes time. Remember that you are not expected to reinvent the wheel for every lesson. There are plenty of existing schemes of work, school and online resources which can be adapted to suit the needs of your students. 

Marking

Assessment or marking is a real bugbear for many teachers. Giving quality feedback to students is very important, but it doesn’t always have to be time-consuming. Talk to your mentor or induction tutor about different types of assessment, such as peer-marking, students marking their own work, or verbal feedback. Using a variety of approaches will keep students on their toes and help ease marking workloads.

As part of the National Agreement, all teachers in England and Wales are entitled to a minimum 10 per cent of their timetabled teaching time guaranteed for planning, preparation and assessment (PPA). NQTs should receive both the 10 per cent PPA time and their 10 per cent NQT induction time. Make sure you get this within your timetabled school day.

Dealing with stress

It is vital to remember that you are not alone – most new teachers find their first years challenging. Try the following:

  • Manage your workload: marking, planning, writing reports, preparing for Ofsted – it can all mount up quickly. It is vital to keep a healthy work/life balance. Instead of leaving work earlier and continuing into the early hours at home, stay at school to complete work tasks but make sure you leave at a set time. Having distinct spaces for work and personal life will allow you to switch off more easily at home so you can relax and come back to work feeling refreshed.

  • Focus on what you can control: write a list of all the things that are causing you stress. Divide the list into things you can and cannot control. Focus on the things you can control and put them in priority order. What needs to be done now? What can be put back until later?

  • Don’t have all the answers: others will not expect you to know everything or have all the answers, so don’t expect this of yourself. Ask questions. After all, you are still learning and developing your skills and experience. 

  • Know what is expected of you: make sure you are clear of what is expected of you in your new role. Check your contract, terms and conditions and talk to your union. This will help you to manage your time and others’ expectations. 

  • Talk to someone: don’t be afraid to voice your concerns, whether that’s with trusted colleagues, friends or by speaking to a counsellor on our support line.

Saying no at work

Many NQTs we speak to say they feel uncomfortable saying no because they don’t want to disappoint others, have had a negative experience turning down additional tasks in the past, or don’t want to be viewed as lazy or uncooperative. It is important to first understand what your job duties entail; don’t agree to do something that you know will cause you undue stress or physical effort. Also think about how you can negotiate what you are being asked to do and try to offer alternative options to the person asking you. For example, would you feel more able to do the task if you were not doing it alone? You can always politely decline without saying no: “Thank you for considering me for this. Let me check my diary before I commit.”

Take care of yourself

As a teacher, school will often occupy your thoughts even when you are away from work. Achieving a good work/life balance will help minimise stress levels and will benefit your overall professional effectiveness as a teacher. It is important to leave time for interests and hobbies outside of school. Make time for friends and family – these will all help to boost your personal wellbeing. Headteacher Allison Collis advises new teachers: “Ensure at least one day a week is totally work free – many new teachers work too long hours and too hard, get run down and are then poorly. A day a week is an absolute minimum rest requirement – no emails, no marking, no planning – completely switch off!”

CPD

You must take a lead in finding and selecting your own CPD opportunities. This may be included in your school network or through private providers. Look into taking on formal additional qualifications such as the Excellent Teacher Scheme or Advanced Skills Teachers. The Teacher Learning Academy can also offer practice-based learning, supported by peers. Improving your skills will only make you feel more confident in the classroom and help you to improve areas of weakness, which can relieve stress.

Finally...

You’ve made it this far – congratulations! Remember your health and wellbeing is paramount. If you feel like you are overwhelmed by your workload, make sure you seek help and put in place some of these practical tips to help reduce stress. It will give you much more confidence in your ability and allow you to enjoy the job you love.

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).


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