As I write, I have now completed my first 25 school days of being an NQT and I can honestly say it has been completely different to how I imagined it would be. In some ways this month has been far harder than my entire PGCE year, but then being a “real teacher” is a totally different experience to being a trainee.
My school year started almost a week before that of everybody else I trained with. This meant that I was the first to face the new-school nerves. It also meant that during those few days I was bombarded with questions about “how it really is” from my anxious PGCE colleagues.
I answered honestly – there were ups and downs, but the positives outweighed the negatives. A month in and I am happy to report that this is still the same, the good experiences are far overshadowing the difficult moments.
It’s good to talk
The most difficult aspect for me so far has been facing new classes that include students who are using negative behaviour to try to test the new teacher. They see a new face and want to see how far they can push you, to discover where your boundaries are.
Although this is tough, everybody at school is extremely supportive, particularly my department. They are helping me to deal with the more demanding students and providing support and well-timed pep-talks to help get me through difficult afternoons.
I have found that other members of staff are always willing to pass on advice. I spent a free period in the staffroom one day and came out with loads of helpful hints and tips, as well as stories of how they all went through the exact same thing when they started in teaching. It is always good to know that you are not alone when it comes to the more challenging situations and it is reassuring to hear that everybody goes through similar experiences.
Talking to other members of staff, both experienced and new, helps so much. When things get difficult it is good to be reminded that other people are facing the same sort of things and it is not necessarily anything you are doing wrong.
I have been assured by everyone I have spoken to – from members of the senior leadership team to my PGCE mentor – that it will get easier. The students will settle and will stop trying to test me eventually, and it is in no way a reflection of my ability to teach (although at times it has felt like that).
The seating plan
The power of a seating plan should never be underestimated. This is a piece of staffroom advice that has been invaluable. As well as helping you learn the names of the new students you are faced with, seating plans also help you to stamp your authority and shows that the classroom is your space and that you are in charge.
I am sure we were told this during the PGCE year, but it is good to be reminded! I learnt this lesson with my GCSE classes. When I first met the older classes I allowed them to sit where they chose and for the first few lessons they were a nightmare: unfocused, chatty and not wanting to do anything.
Eventually I got fed up with fighting to try to get them to work and I put them in a seating plan. The first lesson in the plan was amazing – they were co-operating, taking part, actively listening to each other and debating the topic of the lesson. It is one of the highlights of my time teaching so far.
I put all of my key stage 3 classes in seating plans at the beginning of term, some of these change every other week and they will keep on changing until I can find one that works for that class.
I have found this month exhausting. I have fallen asleep as soon as I have got home on more than one occasion and I am not usually a person who needs to nap!
During my second week I was told that sleeping is a productive use of time, you cannot do the job properly if you are exhausted – your body just won’t be able to cope. No matter how much I have to do, even when there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day, I have to make sure I sleep or everything seems worse. I would advise everyone else to do them same.
Time for me
Down-time is also important – another piece of advice I have been given is to never work on a Saturday. If I have to do work over the weekend, which let’s face it, is inevitable, I make sure that I have one day off to recover and do things I enjoy so that school does not take over my life. This is working for me so far, Saturdays and Sunday mornings are my weekends and then I spend Sunday afternoon preparing for the week ahead.
I feel like I am finally getting used to being at a new school (and in a new county having relocated for this job). I feel settled into my department and feel like I am getting used to the routine and ways of the school.
I feel like a real teacher, especially as my form group are now coming to me for advice and entrusting me with their problems.
I suddenly feel very responsible and loyal to my form and like a part of the school. It was one of the first times I realised that these are actually my classes and not just ones I am looking after and going to have to give back to their real teacher at the end of the term when placement has finished.
My favourite classes to teach are my year 7s, although I do really enjoy teaching my year 10 geography classes – now they have got over the disappointment of having to have the new teacher! Year 7 seem to be just starting to settle into the school properly but are still in their eager-to-please phase and are so much chirpier than the rest of the school.
If I hear a “Hi Miss!” as I’m walking around school, I can almost guarantee it will be from a year 7 student.
So to recap, key lessons I have learnt so far: don’t take things personally, sleep is vital, and don’t disregard the importance of a good seating plan!
However, I am yet to work out how to stop my resources from dwindling. It only took a few days for me to realise that glue, pens and rulers, were disappearing without a trace.
At the end of every lesson I now have to count the rulers and glue sticks back in, the same way I count the iPads in and out, to make sure they don’t vanish. However, I have given up trying to keep track of my pens...
Jenny Turner is an NQT at a secondary school in the East Midlands.