NQTs: Are you down and out in December?


After working flat-out all term, NQTs could well be feeling down and out this December. CPD expert Margaret Adams discusses why this is normal and how you should cope with it.

What are your plans for December? Have you anticipated getting as much work done each week during the remainder of term as you have managed to get through each week during October and November? Are you planning to catch up with all the things you have not had time to do this term, once the holiday begins?

If you are nodding your head in agreement, pause for a moment. You are probably in for a shock. Lots of things you almost certainly have not thought about are set to influence your life and the way you work over the coming weeks. 

You may not have realised it, but you are going to be down and out in December. Do not worry, you won’t be destitute, and being down and out won’t be a disaster. It might even be rather pleasant!

You are inevitably going down

You are learning a lot about being a teacher. One of the things you are finding out right now is that all school terms have a natural rhythm. 

People behave differently at different points in the term. A lot gets done at the beginning of term, when there is plenty of enthusiasm for new things and an interest in getting on with tasks. As the end of term approaches the situation changes. 

People are still working hard to meet deadlines and to get tasks finished and out of the way, but as soon as December arrives you will note a growing reluctance to start anything new before Christmas. 

You will probably also note that your colleagues’ energy levels are going down. Maybe your energy levels are going down, too. 

This happens. You have worked hard and the autumn term is a long and tiring term. Your more experienced colleagues are pacing themselves in order to make sure they function effectively through to the end of term. You may decide to follow their lead and pace yourself, too.

You are in the depths of winter

The shortest day of the year will soon be here. Look around you and you will see that the natural world has already made its preparations for winter. The trees have shed their leaves. Many animals are hibernating. Some birds have migrated to warmer places. 

Nature has adjusted to the changing seasons. Have you? Have you adjusted to travelling to or from school in the dark? There is less daylight in which to get things done just now, so have you modified your working patterns accordingly? Sometimes you may also have to adjust your teaching plans – for example, when classrooms are cold. Are you ready for this?

Also, with students spending more of their breaks indoors because of the bad weather, you may find you need to use different approaches to control behaviour. Have you got some different behaviour management strategies up your sleeve?

It makes sense to accept that winter places limitations on some of your activities and that it sometimes forces you to change the way you do things. Be pragmatic and adjust. The deep midwinter cannot be ignored. 

Time to close down

Your school is going to close down at some point after the middle of December and it won’t re-open until January. Of course, you know this, but will you close down for the holiday, too?

Most teachers are ready to go on holiday as soon as the autumn term ends. The laptop is closed. The books are put away. There are few people in school once this particular holiday begins.

Are you going to follow your colleagues’ example? They already know it is not a crime to forget about school for a while. Do not feel guilty, if you give yourself permission to close down for Christmas along with every one else. You will be in good company, if you do.

You are out!

Here is a question that you have not had to think about before. How are you going to enjoy being away from school?

Once you leave school behind at the end of term, you will be interacting with different people. You will have a different daily routine. The holiday will give you a chance to check out how well you can adapt to life away from school.

When the time comes, will you feel like a fish out of water? Will you miss the early starts and the marking?

How easy will you find it to talk about subjects other than education, exam scandals, assessment practice and set texts? 

How readily will you get involved with other people’s activities, especially if those people are not particularly interested in schools, teaching or in education?

Will you enjoy being outside the educational environment and in situations where others may decide what gets done and what gets eaten, when? Are you looking forward to being locked out of school? Be honest when you answer. 

You will be coming up soon

The worst of winter and those very short days will soon be over. 

What comes after the autumn term is always the spring term. You will be coming up again into lighter, brighter and warmer days as the spring term progresses. As soon as the spring term begins you will note that people in school are full of new ideas and planning new projects, too.

When 2013 arrives, will you be ready for the quickening pace of activity? Will you be ready to meet the changed circumstances? If you are prepared for the situation you will encounter in January, you will be coming up and out of the depths almost before you know it. 

Down but not out 

Take stock now and become aware of the range of influences that affect your life at this time of year. Accept that it is natural to feel like slowing down in December.

Slowing down and letting go, taking a rest and doing something different at the end of December are all acceptable ways of managing your life, so give yourself a chance to relax well away from teaching this Christmas.

Modify your plans to fit in with the prevailing mood. Stop being a teacher. Become a down and out this December – just for a while.

  • Margaret Adams is a former teacher. She is the author of Work-Life Balance: A practical guide for teachers and The 30-Day Work-Life Balance Challenge

Free best practice download for NQTs

This article has been published as part of SecEd's autumn 2012 NQT special focus, which comprises a range of best practice and advisory articles aimed at new teachers as they approach the end of their first term at the chalkface. The special focus has been supported by the NASUWT and you can download a free PDF containing all the articles from the Supplements section of this website by clicking here.


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