With so many disturbing statistics – like one in four teachers quitting the profession within their first five years of teaching – and with politicians constantly referring to the high number of failing and coasting schools, you might be forgiven for questioning your decision to become a teacher.
Yet, according to a Gallup survey in 2013, teaching is still voted the number two best career, beaten only by physicians. As jobs go though, teaching is not easy and, for some, the first few years can be tricky as you find your feet, particularly going from the relatively supportive environment of your first year into the second year. So here is our guide to surviving and thriving as an NQT.
You are not alone
The Teacher Support Network receives around 29,000 calls to our 24/7 helpline each year and about a quarter of these calls each year come from teachers in their first five years of teaching. More often than not they are struggling, because they are not sure who to talk to.
They are afraid of saying they are unable to cope or, after working so hard to find a position, do not want to jeopardise anything by saying they need more support. So they say nothing and struggle on alone.
If and when they do reach out to us, we help normalise those feelings by explaining that so many new teachers are going through the same thing or have been through it. This does not mean to belittle their feelings, but more encourages them to talk.
Who in your school can you talk to? Your mentor? A colleague? You need to find someone you can trust who you can turn to for advice and support or to just let out those worries and concerns.
Plan your work/life balance
You will be used to planning your lessons by now, but how many of you plan your work/life balance too?
Work/life balance is notoriously difficult. According to findings from the Office of National Statistics, almost one in two (48.4 per cent) of adults aged 16 and over in Great Britain report a relatively low satisfaction with their work/life balance.
This can be particularly the case for people in education. Teachers do 20 per cent of their work (10 hours or more) before school, after 6pm or on weekends. This can have a dramatic impact on a teacher’s life.
One teacher told us: “I had completely lost my boundaries, I didn’t know where my job ended and myself started. It had all become this glutinous, amorphous thing.”
Unlike most other professions, teachers feel a responsibility to their colleagues, pupils, students and schools, even when they are not working – 59 per cent of teachers who responded to a Teacher Support Network survey in 2011 confirmed that they had adapted their behaviour outside of school because they thought it would have an impact on their role within school.
One of the difficulties though in finding a balance is that the different parts of your lives will require different things from you as your life and your career progress.
There will be times, for example, when your personal life will demand more of your time and other times when your work life will need to be the priority.
There will also be times when both your work and your personal life will demand your attention. The key is to have strategies and techniques already in place, so that you can maintain a balanced lifestyle.
Before you can make changes to your work/life balance, you need to be clear on how you currently work. It may be that by making small changes to the way you work or by finding ways to become more efficient, you can free up time for other activities.
Try writing a diary over the next week of your activities at school and at home, listing everything you do and how much time you spend on each thing. This may seem like more work initially, but in the long run it should help you to find ways to save time.
Make sure you include every activity, even those that you may not think of as big tasks: phone calls, photocopying, impromptu meetings with colleagues etc. You may find it useful to break your work down by structured and unstructured work time.
Structured or school-directed time includes teaching time and scheduled non-teaching activities, such as planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time, meetings, parent consultations, training, leadership and management time. These hours are often stipulated in the employment contract.
Once complete, look back at the diary you made of how you work. Ask yourself what patterns you might be able to change and set yourself specific goals. Make sure to write your goals in a positive way. Goals become easier to accomplish when you focus on the benefit and not the problem. For example:
- Set a time to finish each term night: I will finish no later than 6pm on weekdays, so that I can exercise and eat properly.
- Set free time on weekends and/or on some weeknights: I will take two nights off during the week and have one completely free day during the weekend, so that I can spend time with my family.
- Set personal goals you want to achieve: “I want to learn to play the piano.” “I want to go to the gym twice a week.”
While you are planning, make sure you make time to sleep. According to the Great British Sleep Survey, long-term poor sleepers are seven times more likely to feel helpless than good sleepers, five times more likely to feel alone, and twice as likely to have relationship problems, suffer day-time fatigue and lack of concentration.
We have all heard stories of the teachers who get up early to do a couple of hours’ work before school, work all day, then go home and work all evening, going to bed late, before starting again the next day. This may work in the short term, but just how sustainable is it really?
According to the Great British Sleep Survey, poor sleepers are three times more likely to struggle to concentrate. So what can you do to improve your sleep?
First of all, do not work in your bedroom. Use a separate room for schoolwork, or if space is an issue, make sure you hide it out of sight during the night. Ideally, do your school work at school and leave it there.
Also, try writing a list – 82 per cent of respondents to the Great British Sleep Survey in 2012 said the top persistent thought that kept them awake was “what happened today and what have I got on tomorrow”.
One of the key issues we hear from NQTs is that they tend to say yes to everything that is asked of them and often volunteer for extra duties. This is natural as you try to impress and share your enthusiasm for the new job, but the additional workload on an already packed schedule can cause problems. To help you to say no, try the following:
- Be clear on what you are required to do and what is expected of you.
- Check the staff handbooks and talk to your union.
- As strange as it sounds, practise holding messages, stock phrases – “can we talk about this later” – and rejections, so that when you are put on the spot, you are comfortable saying no.
Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).
This advice was adapted from Teacher Support Network’s new online self-help tool BeWellTeachWell. Visit www.bewellteachwell.org.uk
NQT Special Edition
This article was published as part of SecEd's NQT Special Edition – an eight-page special published on June 25, 2015, offering guidance, advice and support to all NQTs and trainee teachers. To download the full eight-page section, which was produced in association with the NASUWT, click the Supplements button above