NQT Special Edition: Reflecting on your NQT year

Written by: Dr Bernard Trafford | Published:
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Your NQT year is almost over. It is time to reflect on what went well and areas for improvement and – after taking a well-earned break – plan for September. Dr Bernard Trafford advises

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of your first year, completing your year’s induction. Not for you the two-year probation proposed by government for the future. It is all over – all bar the shouting, at any rate. Indeed, you may want to shout a bit at the end of term, in celebration of your achievement.

That first year of teaching is a tough one, no matter how much support you’ve received. Everything hits you for the first time and, however well-prepared you have been (and you will have been), there will have been moments when you’ve been living on your wits, making snap decisions and praying that your judgement doesn’t let you down.

Evaluating your first year

Given the quality of training and support that you received, you probably have got most things right. Nonetheless, if you can find a moment before the end of term, it would be advisable to sit down, first with your mentor and subsequently on your own, and make a list...

What went well? Cause for celebration

The first column on your list should be “things that went well”. This will be a long one! It’s not the time for false modesty or excessive self-criticism. Yes, there will be things you want to do better next time, because real professionals are always seeking to improve their practice. But give yourself credit for doing them well the first time, even though they might be better next year, and write them down in this column, not as a reproach to yourself as things to work on – even though you will. Being satisfied isn’t being complacent: make sure you spot the difference.

What caught you out? Avoiding the elephant traps

The second column is not the things that went badly! They can wait. This one, vital while they are still fresh in your mind, comprises the surprises you encountered, things that you weren’t expecting to have to do, or that took you longer than expected.

An obvious example would be your first set of reports or grades. Were you ready? Or did you get yourself in the classic beginner’s pickle, feeling you must set tests, which you then had to mark, in order to make a judgement about your pupils’ progress in that short period of time?

Unless you were fantastically well-advised by your mentor and/or head of department, you may have been surprised by how long it took to make decisions on grades or other measures of attainment, effort or prediction for public exams: next year you’ll ensure your data is complete well in advance so that the work of marking, assessing and writing up doesn’t overwhelm you.

Thinking about your teaching and preparation, were there particular times where, again, you felt inundated by a tsunami of work? You will never again face quite such a burden of preparation, having been through the annual cycle once. Nonetheless, are there alternative ways of anticipating or spreading the load, perhaps so that Sunday evening is not such a burdensome prospect every weekend?

Are there some resolutions you can make in order to avoid those elephant traps in future years?

Can you organise things with your home circumstances so that, even if some of the weekend has to be spent on work, that precious Sunday evening can be devoted to watching Poldark and enjoying a glass of wine?

If you remember, during the year, saying to yourself, “I’m damned if I’m going to do that again”, write that down here, too: whatever it was, ensure that you don’t find yourself going round the same loop next year.

The shortest list! What you could have done better

I guess we can’t put it off any longer, so must finally embark on this third column. But don’t lose heart! No excessive self-criticism, please: and remind yourself that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. You won’t be caught out next time: so whatever it is that you find difficult or hate doing, if you can’t modify or avoid it, at least you will be better prepared for coping with it.

Planning the future: building a career

Now it is time for a fourth, and vital, column. This one is about planning your future, developing your professional skills and building a career. Take a look at the government’s response to its consultation on Strengthening Qualified Teacher Status and improving career progression for teachers. Overall, although any measures ultimately introduced will arrive too late for your own induction, the proposals might give you some useful hints for looking after your own professional development.

You will note that government proposes a two-year induction period. You’ve completed the single one required of you: but what about next year? Who will support you? There may not be a formal structure: but we all need a friend to turn to, a supportive colleague who understands what it’s like and can give that word of sage advice or simple encouragement when we’re struggling.

It is not necessarily about big problems or even specific issues: very often a beer and a chat are all that’s required to keep sane, and remind yourself that any problems you face are not unique to you or your school.

In terms of building your professional skills, how about putting something back? If you’ve been well mentored, why not offer in turn to mentor an NQT who joins your school in September. Don’t think that you lack the experience to help: on the contrary, you’ve just been through it, and those lists you’ve been making at my behest will furnish fantastic material not only for guiding yourself to the next year, but for helping others. You will be of immense value to anyone you mentor, and it will be beneficial to you as well: remember that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and that goes for mentoring your colleagues, too!

Be aware that you won’t be allowed that extra 10 per cent of NQT non-contact time in September: so the teaching week will be that much more intense and gruelling. On the other hand, everything will be a little more familiar, less remorselessly challenging, and you will have gained confidence from having survived that first year.

Don’t forget your own professional development. The coming year is the one in which firmly to establish a personal habit of deliberate, purposeful practice, of evaluating your work, thinking through each lesson, planning better resources – in other words, just growing as a professional.

Join in (or initiate) critical discourse in your department. “How do you tackle topic X?” “I find this way works.” “I like your approach: how do you get round that tricky bit?” It’s a great habit to form such conversations.

Think where your interests lie: where would you like to hone or broaden your skills? Make sure that the courses you go on about becoming a better pastoral leader, a more effective teacher, even a better mentor, are worthwhile. Whatever you do, don’t only go to those tedious but necessary exam board briefings. They may be necessary, but they don’t improve your skills, nor make you more of the excellent professional teacher that you want to be, and will be.

And take a break

Don’t try to get all of next year planned before this term finishes! Life’s too short, and your energy levels are low now. When the holidays come, stop. Book a proper holiday: go away, relax, catch some sun and laze about. And have fun. After that, yes, you can start that planning for next term. But enjoy that holiday first. You deserve it!

  • Dr Bernard Trafford is a writer and educationist, a former head and past chair of HMC. He is currently interim head at The Purcell School in Hertfordshire. Follow him on Twitter at @bernardtrafford

Reference

Strengthening Qualified Teacher Status and improving career progression for teachers, Consultation response, Department for Education, May 2018:
http://bit.ly/2lhZcrk

NQT Special Edition

This article was published as part of SecEd’s NQT Special Edition. The publication offered eight pages of specialist best practice advice for NQTs and trainee teachers across the UK. Supported by the NASUWT the special edition published on June 28, 2018, and the eight pages are available to download as a free pdf from SecEd’s Supplements page: www.sec-ed.co.uk/supplements


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