NQT special: Getting ready for year 2

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SecEd’s NQT diary is a popular column which is penned every year by a new recruit to the teaching profession. We asked last year’s diarist, Tomas Duckling, to offer his advice on how this year’s NQTs should approach their second year.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the summer (if it ever arrives). You are done – you’re a teacher. Best case scenario: you have a job lined up, you have passed your NQT year and you are starting to feel that after a long, gruelling year, you know what you are doing.

Some of you may feel that you are the finished article. Well, I am afraid to be the one to break it to you. You are not. I was quite cocky when I finished my NQT year, I assumed I had gone through my training and now it was just about adding some new strings to my bow. Little did I know that year two would be infinitely tougher than year one. I feel a trend coming on. My advice may not apply to all of you, but here are 10 things to watch out for in your first “proper” year...

Mistakes

As an NQT you are given a lot of room for error when it comes to filling in the wrong documents, misreading exam specifications, following the wrong procedure. However, you are will soon be a qualified professional and expected to act as such. The important change is that if this year you made a kid sit in the corner and wear a dunce’s hat, it would have been treated as a rookie error – next year it will get a more serious response.

Workload

This is what I have found to be the hardest part of being a teacher. My friends in other professions have deadlines, but they also get given time to go away and make sure that the project they are working on ends up perfect, regardless of how long it takes. 

Next year you will be tempted to get involved in sports clubs, schools productions, extra-curricular activities and the like. In many ways the most important word you learn may be “no”. Taking on too much doesn’t mean you get more time in which to do it – the opposite in fact. The extra stuff I do makes my week more fun, but it also means I do a lot of things to half of my best ability. Be careful what you sign up for. 

The perils of promotion

Some of you will have no interest in your next step, some of you will have your career charted out down to last detail. 

You have spent the last year perfecting your teaching and getting to grips with school life, but it is very possible that in the next year a job may come up and you may be interested, or encouraged, to go for it. 

I personally find the most depressing irony of teaching is that the better you are at it, eventually, the less you do of it. Every rung up the career ladder will reduce the time you spend doing what you got into this job for. Be careful what you wish for. 

Exam classes

Pressure is a powerful driving force, and the demands of a class who need you to help them produce the result that will get them into university, and therein open the gateway to the next part of their life, can rest heavy on your shoulders. Nobody expects an NQT to hammer out amazing results but you can’t use naivety as an excuse any more. If you take an exam class, or several, you will be expected to produce the goods. Consequently, you will need to work harder.

Don’t forget the little guys

The biggest mistake I would say I made during my early teaching career, as is shown by the point above, is that I have invested a huge amount of my time in my exam classes, and sadly this has often been to the detriment of my lower years.

Theirs is the first marking pile to be pushed back, theirs is the lesson that, if I have five to plan for one day, will get the least time. Bizarrely, however, the better you teach them when they are young, the easier it becomes when they get older!

Proper relationships

One of the key Teachers’ Standards refers to “building relationships with students” and you are supposed to be able to show this in one hour of your teaching. 

This is, of course, complete rubbish. In your training years you are creating superficial relationships, you are showing off, pretending. After the end of the next year you will find that you start to really connect with students and consequently you will develop meaningful and genuine relationships – essentially you start to really care.

Colleagues become friends

Simple one this, next September you will start a job properly. It is highly likely, as you will be spending the majority of your time with those people, the faces in the staffroom may end up being best man, best friend or even wife/husband. It happens, so be nice. 

Don’t stop learning

Life-long learner is one of those horrible teaching buzzwords but annoyingly it does make sense. If you think you are perfect now you haven’t got a hope. Every day in this job makes you a better teacher. 

Organise

My boss will tell you that, when I first turned up, I planned my lessons on the back of a fag packet, didn’t keep a diary and thought that every lesson could be controlled with a funny story and a bad French impression. Now, remarkably, my lessons are detailed and thoughtful, my termly planning sheets are colour-coded and I try and make lessons less about me and more about them. I am getting better. 

Have a life

After two full years in the classroom, I feel like I am a half-decent teacher. I could be a lot better, I could easily be a lot worse. I feel very fortunate to do a job I love, especially when I talk to friends who dread crawling into work on a Monday morning. Regardless of the hours I put in, the late nights, piles of marking and constant battles teaching is a great job.

However, make sure you have a life outside of the school. I genuinely think this is important as kids want teachers who understand the outside world. It also stops you from becoming bitter.

More than anything, enjoy it. The last year for me has been amazing, I feel confident in what I do and I can tell the students come in and, mostly, enjoy my lessons. If I didn’t enjoy it, I doubt they would.

  • Tomas Duckling is a second year history teacher at Queens’ School in Hertfordshire and was SecEd’s NQT diarist in the 2011/12 school year.

NQT Special Edition
This article was published as part of SecEd's June 2013 NQT Special edition, produced in association with the NASUWT. The edition features eight pages of best practice and advisory articles aimed at supporting NQTs and trainee teachers across the UK. Download the free PDF of all eight pages here.


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