NQT Special Edition: Five essentials for the NQT

Written by: Giselle Hobbs | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

With so many experienced teachers around you, the one thing that every NQT should do is ask for advice whenever they get the chance. Senior leader Giselle Hobbs offers five essential pieces of advice to new teachers everywhere

Rows of chairs are tilted forward, their occupants gazing adoringly up at you with scintillated smiles and rounded, curious eyes, as you wax lyrical about your favourite topic.

Rapt, the students hang on every word, making frantic notes in their orderly, well-presented books. Sighing as the bell rings, they calmly pack up and leave, thanking you for the fantastic lesson as they trot out to break.

This is what I imagined teaching would be like. I learnt rather quickly this was a fantasy.

My own experience as a student attending an independent girls’ school (where there was no such thing as detention!) did not prepare me for the reality of teaching in a mixed comprehensive in modern Britain.

Students who disrupt, truant, bully, don’t own pens, have tantrums and draw rather accurate drawings of the human anatomy onto any available surface, were a shock. It was enough to have me wondering if I’d made a terrible career mistake.

Did I really want to spend the rest of my life red-faced and yelling? Of course not, but I was committed to helping children and knew I had to find a better way of doing it. So I looked at what others around me were doing, asked colleagues, read books, and most usefully, went into a lot of lessons.

1 Develop a teacher persona

When you’re a teacher, you have to find a balance between being yourself and playing a role. Students will see through you if you act. I found I needed to “dial up” and exaggerate my tone – think of it as the difference between acting for film (camera up close) and acting for theatre (you’ve got to reach the back row!).

You might say: “Excuse me Fred, I’d really appreciate it if you wouldn’t mind taking your seat please. It’s just that the lesson has begun.”

Putting on your teacher persona you need to be direct and firm but without being rude: “Fred, sit down. We need to start the lesson.” Followed by a “thank you”.

Students like and respect you if you are firm, fair, and get on with the lesson. I do not believe that old adage “don’t smile until Christmas”, but you need to show that you are assertive and in control. Seeing you lose control is fun for some students. Don’t. Remain calm and set the sanction.

2 Challenge the behaviour; forgive the individual

I have been on the receiving end of my fair share of insults – about my appearance, ability to teach, personality, etc – and it is sometimes very difficult to cope with emotionally.

However, if you shut down and effectively decide never to forgive that student, they will be a thorn in your side for the rest of the year. Sanction the behaviour of course, but then give the child a fresh start next lesson.

When I started teaching a class who had been taught by a supply teacher for almost a year, I wasn’t surprised to find the students were completely disengaged. One boy was particularly unresponsive, and expected me to politely ignore him while he played computer games in lesson.

One day, I got fed up and lost my temper with him. The boy responded in kind by swearing and storming out of the class, which resulted in him receiving in a lengthy sanction.

I was really annoyed, but tried to put myself in his shoes. I visited him in our internal seclusion room and spoke to him without the rest of the students as an audience.

I was really honest, letting him know that I understood why he felt let down but that I saw capability and potential in him, and that I wasn’t prepared to let him give up on himself.

In a moment of honesty rare for most teenaged boys, he explained that he felt like he would fail no matter how much effort he put in, so what was the point?

I asked him if we could give things another try and although he was reluctant, we worked together on a piece of writing and it turned out really well. I praised his efforts and called his home too; mum was thrilled to hear that he had done so well – especially after his blow-up!

Next lesson, I used a section of his work as an exemplar for the rest of the class, and he beamed with pride. That was the start of year 11; he went on to achieve five levels of progress at GCSE, and continued very successfully on to A level study in my subject. He now believes in himself, which makes the job worth it for me.

Students are not just learning maths at school; they are learning how to behave, and how to relate to other people, and sometimes this means giving them a second, third and even a fourth chance.

If you give a student a clean slate, often they will surprise you for the better. Sometimes they will even say sorry – and mean it.

3 Pitch work at the right level

In my very first half-term of teaching, I taught an awfully tough year 11 class who left me in tears. No matter how many different ways

I tried to engage the students, they would just laugh, joke and roll their eyes at me – or worse still just sit there doing nothing.

My very wise head of department told me something sensible: students who misbehave in your classroom aren’t trying to create a problem, they’re trying to solve one. This is probably the most helpful thing I have ever been taught as a teacher.

If a student would rather jump out the window than stay in your English lesson, perhaps they’re terrified that you will ask them to read aloud, and classmates will mock their lack of fluency. Issues such as this can be solved over time, but they take some unpicking. If you only take an authoritative approach, all you will achieve is reluctant compliance.

In my year 11 class, some investigation found that I was pitching the work way too high, and the students had no idea how to approach the tasks I was setting.

I was unwittingly giving off the signal that “everyone knows this” and therefore they felt embarrassed to let me know that they were struggling. Once I had “repitched” the work to their level and broke the tasks down, the students became more engaged and their behaviour in lessons improved.

To ensure your class understands the task at hand, ask one of them to explain it back to you, and you will find out if anyone wasn’t listening or needs further guidance. Signs of low-level disruption are signs that you might need to intervene, remodel, or break a task down more clearly.

4 Break down barriers with your toughest students

To ensure every child has a bright future, you need to accept that some of those who need us most will fight tooth and nail against taking the help, because you can’t fail if you don’t try.

One of the most important struggles a teacher has to overcome is to reach those students who see no value in school. It is our job to help these students believe in themselves so they can realise their aspirations (which they mistakenly believe are embarrassing or ridiculous) and have faith in their own abilities.

If you want to crack your toughest nuts, you need to provide your students with consistent and positive messages about aspirations, opportunities outside the local community, and success. Using role models of all types can really inspire students.

Rewarding students with points if they answer questions in a class quiz correctly is a good way to encourage reluctant students to engage. These points give them an excuse to try, which keeps their reputation with their peers intact, but builds a habit of positive behaviour during lessons. Reward points are free; use them freely!

5 And finally...

Remember the moral purpose. Teaching isn’t always going to be easy and you won’t necessarily be thanked for your efforts but all teachers want their students to have the tools they need to achieve their goals.

There is no one magical solution – you are going to need to try a lot of different strategies until you find the ones which work best for you. The key is – keep trying!

  • Giselle Hobbs is the assistant principal at the Stockwood Park Academy in Luton, where she teaches English and media. She was a member of the Future Leaders leadership development programme in 2015.

Ambition School Leadership

The Future Leaders programme is one of the many programmes for leaders at all levels offered by Ambition School Leadership, a new charity following the merger of the Future Leaders Trust and Teaching Leaders. The two have joined together to offer a clear pathway for leaders at all levels, from middle leadership to multi-academy trust CEO. Find out more at www.ambitionschoolleadership.org.uk/programmes

NQT Special Edition: Free download

This article was published in SecEd as part of our November 2016 eight-page NQT Special Edition. The Special Edition, which was published with support from the NASUWT, offers best practice advice and guidance ranging from classroom practice and wellbeing to workload and your rights and entitlements as an NQT. You can download the entire NQT Special Edition as a free 8-page pdf via http://bit.ly/2fAp3q0


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