NQT Special: The two biggest NQT challenges

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
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Workload and behaviour are the two common challenges for an NQT. Julian Stanley offers some advice and support

Being an NQT is undeniably tough. No doubt you will have experienced an incredibly steep learning curve since September. As the end of your first term nears, you are likely to be feeling increasingly exhausted.

The first thing to remember is that you are certainly not alone. But remind yourself of how far you’ve come in such a short space of time. You will have already learnt, through trial and error, many of the basic dos and don’ts and started to put some foundations in place. If you’re wondering how you’ll manage to get to the end of this term, let alone the year, do not fear. This is the year for further learning and consolidation.

If you’re struggling and haven’t managed to put a framework in place, lay down some basic rules and boundaries for yourself, in and out of the classroom, to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy and robust.

Two of the most common challenges we hear about from NQTs are coping with the workload and also learning to deal with difficult behaviour.

Behaviour

Feeling under-prepared and ill-equipped to manage disruptive behaviour is a major frustration for new teachers, but it is something that everyone will come up against in their career. It is a barrier to learning and can easily threaten the health and wellbeing of teachers.

In our 2017 YouGov health survey, 32 per cent of teachers who had experienced physical and mental health problems told us that their symptoms were related to problems with student behaviour.

What’s important to know is that there is much advice available to you, through your mentor and other colleagues who have had similar experiences. There are also plenty of guides and helpful videos online, many of them free.

Te@cherToolkit is one great source of tangible, solution-focused advice (see further information). Its excellent “five-minute behaviour fix” offers top tips for getting behaviour right:

  • Practise your policy and keep it simple.
  • Always be consistent.
  • Make rules visible. Consider displaying them in the classroom.
  • Explain the reasons for your decisions and make a fuss.
  • Do not escalate too quickly.

Elsewhere, remind your classes of relevant rules before a potentially disruptive activity, or if you are aware of something brewing. This can drastically reduce inappropriate behaviour.

Use your body language and your most essential tool – your voice – to clearly assert your dominance. Non-verbal looks or gestures (moving over to where you can see something may be brewing) can be very powerful, too.

Get one thing right before moving onto something else. If you think you need a different strategy, think about what you do currently. Managing behaviour is not just about responding to inappropriate behaviour, it’s about creating the conditions that will encourage positive behaviour.

Our popular downloadable guide Managing Pupil Behaviour is highly practical and full of tips and suggestions to address disruptive behaviour. Just remember that any strategy you choose needs to work for you: be robust and be clear.

Workload

Most NQTs are very likely to find the workload overwhelming by this stage. As we move into winter this can be exacerbated by ill-health, and while the festive season can bring much cheer, it can also add pressure when you feel overloaded.

Friends and loved ones may find it hard to understand why you are giving so much time to the job. One NQT who contacted us, Helen, was facing these problems, but is now being more realistic to avoid burn-out. A key step for her was making sure that she now has a night to herself each week.

Breaks are an important aspect of both time management and wellbeing. Taking breaks can ensure we are able to work at our maximum capacity. Staying at school longer to mark papers or working through a lunch break are not the best use of your time if you are extremely tired.

One of the best routes to preventing burn-out is setting boundaries, just like Helen. Try to leave work in the workplace, if not every day then on a number of designated days during the week.

If you’ve had a stressful day and are anxious about something, set a boundary by allowing some time to talk about your concerns but once you reach a pre-decided time boundary, then stop. Don’t continue to talk or worry about the situation for the rest of the evening.

Crucially, set a self-care plan. Spend some time thinking about what you could find restorative. This could include the following ideas:

  • Exercise and tracking how much you’ve done.
  • Keeping track of your eating and ensure you are eating well.
  • Spending time with family and friends and people whose company you enjoy. Again, set a boundary of time to talk about work with others and then move on to other topics.
  • Tech detox! Have nights where you don’t check email and leave your phone away from your bedroom.
  • Making art, music, gardening cooking – any creative hobby is an important aspect of self-care.

Use your mentor effectively

Throughout all of this, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your mentor is there to support and guide you and establishing a good relationship and contact time with them is pivotal to a successful year. You should expect scheduled time together and the more you prepare for these meetings, the more control you’ll have to get what you need.

Discuss your needs and concerns so that your mentor clearly understands what they are and be open to advice and constructive feedback. If you aren’t getting the support you need, think about a different approach to get this or talk to your head of department or school head if needs-be.

Words of experience

We recently spoke to a group of retired secondary school teachers who offered the following two key pieces of advice in terms of self-care: first, accept that you’re never going to finish that to-do list, and second, make sure you have a life outside school.

Above all else, don’t be too hard on yourself. You can’t possibly get it all right from the start. Get one thing right before moving onto something else and, as you prepare for your first end of term break, take stock and congratulate yourself on getting here!

Our free helpline is available 24/7 to discuss any worries or concerns you may have. Our expert counsellors support thousands of teachers at every stage of their career every year.

  • Julian Stanley is the CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

  • For help or advice on any issue, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit the website (where you can also find a range of free, downloadable guides, information and support): www.edsupport.org.uk
  • Managing Pupil Behaviour, Education Support Partnership downloadable guide: http://bit.ly/2ommPQi
  • Te@cherToolkit: www.teachertoolkit.co.uk

NQT Special Edition

This article has been published as part of SecEd’s autumn 2017 NQT Special Edition – eight pages of guidance, advice and practical tips for new teachers. Topics range from wellbeing, workload an work/life balance, to classroom advice, feedback tips, behaviour management and advice about your own rights and entitlements. You can download the entire eight-page section as a free pdf via http://bit.ly/2Bv5dIc


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