NQT Special: Some advice from year 2

Written by: SecEd | Published:
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Last year’s NQT diarist for SecEd is now well into her second year at the chalkface. As part of SecEd's autumn 2019 NQT special edition, we asked her to offer some words of experience to this year’s NQT cohort...

So far this term, NQTs will have experienced a range of emotions, both negative and positive. However, you must remember that you have so much to celebrate having come so far already. Below I offer some advice to consider as you prepare for the rest of your NQT year.

Honesty is the best policy

This is something I really struggled with throughout my training and NQT year. Looking back, I wish I could have admitted when things were not quite going to plan earlier than I did.

It is easy to shrug off certain situations, thinking to yourself that negative pupil behaviour or unrealistic workload is “the norm”. It is not.

If you are working in a new school, one that you did not train in, this anxiety may be exacerbated while you find your way with a new set of standards and rules. It takes time to get yourself into a routine, but if there is an on-going struggle then these things need to be discussed as a matter of urgency with your mentor, manager or head of department.

Parents

Get in with parents and get them on board sooner rather than later. We should be aligned with them in the fact that we want the best for their child, and the more you emphasise this, the more likely it is that they will want to work with you. It then becomes a much more positive line of communication.

Establish the students who you need to monitor and address any issues with parents via email or phone calls. Also make sure you contact parents to report positive outcomes, too. I am always blown away at how little students actually voluntarily discuss school with their parents – good or bad!

Regular communication with parents will show your students that you mean business. Without this, it gets significantly harder to intervene later on.

Reflect and change

Consider three targets going forward. These targets may be something trivial such as introducing a stricter routine on entry to your classroom with a tricky class; it could be experimenting with a different form of feedback, such as marking codes; or it could just be a simple change in lesson-planning, such as allocating one lesson per fortnight to recapping key terms previously learned.

By this point, we know our classes fairly well and the dynamics should be established. If there are unfavourable elements, get some new routines in early to minimise your own stress levels. And do not forget to reflect on the positives too – these are to be celebrated!

Plan smart and simplify feedback

I use the term “feedback” rather than “marking” quite deliberately. More and more school leaders seem to be keen that their teachers explore a range of solutions to maximising progress through different forms of feedback. But this should not involve reinventing the wheel.

There is a wealth of feedback tips that are freely tried, tested and often shared by generous teachers on social media and in magazines such as SecEd (for example, see SecEd’s feedback series from 2018). Marking codes, whole class feedback and verbal feedback are just the tip of the iceberg.

I remember at first feeling slightly uncomfortable not having a perfectly documented record of marking, but having the confidence to think outside of the box and knowing that this, actually, is a better use of my time overruled the need for me to write long-winded comments in hundreds of books every couple of weeks.

Now, when planning, I ask myself three key questions. What impact is this going to have? Am I working harder than my students? Is this something that can be reused, recycled and implemented into other schemes/plans?

In terms of resources and lesson-planning, I try my best not to start from scratch. We are so lucky to have a range of resources at our fingertips. Stress and tension lead to tunnel vision, which does not lead to particularly effective resource-creation processes. Now, I actually spend more time reading and researching the pedagogy of my subject than I do planning lessons. The underpinning of these different approaches has a much wider impact on my teaching than spending hours on a particular idea for just one lesson.

Wellbeing

It is tempting to use weekends and half-term holidays to “get ahead” on planning. However, I have learned that no matter how far in advance you plan, something always comes along to ruin my perfectly organised routine, meaning you end up revisiting your plans and doubling your workload.

Try not to plan too far ahead, be adaptable and expect an element of change. And, at times, do not be afraid to make it up on the spot (or just before!) to suit the climate of your class in each lesson.

The world of teaching is draining and it is far too easy to let it take over your free time. When you do get breaks, it is more important to unwind and return to work fresh and more productive, otherwise it becomes a constant cycle of battling tiredness and an endless to-do list. You may cope with that this year and even next, but you will not be able to cope in the long-run. So set out your good habits now and protect your wellbeing.

If you do not take time to recharge or focus your energies on something that is not teaching-related, you will end up resenting the job.

So assert a couple of week nights as a “work-free zone” and do not be afraid to say no. It can be tempting to take on new things, but this should not be to the detriment of you or your teaching. Take the time to hone your craft and get comfortable before anything else.

And finally...

The best advice I was given is to remember to maintain a sense of yourself over the next year. Keep revisiting the reasons why you entered teaching and never forget the daily impact that you have on the young people you work with.SecEd

  • The author was SecEd’s NQT diarist last year and is now in her second year of teaching English at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.

Further information & resources

Effective feedback: a SecEd series focused on what works and how we can protect teacher workload (June 2018): http://bit.ly/2VRP09d

NQT Special Edition: Free download

This article was featured as part of SecEd’s 10-page NQT Special Edition, published as part of our June edition. To download a free pdf of all 10 pages, which offer advice for new teachers across a range of topics including behaviour, classroom practice, wellbeing and more, go to the SecEd Knowledge Bank: www.sec-ed.co.uk/knowledge-bank/nqt-and-trainee-teachers-advice-and-best-practice/


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