Diary of an NQT: Teaching the ‘unteachable’

Written by: NQT diarist | Published:
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Teaching a small group of challenging students is proving a stretching, yet rewarding, experience for our NQT diarist

Prior to beginning my training, I worked as assistant inclusion manager in a mainstream secondary school.

A central part of my role was facilitating conflict resolution between students using restorative practice, giving me experience of dealing with children who present challenging behaviour. This proved to be invaluable during my ITT as I already had knowledge of behaviour management techniques.

Managing the behaviour of up to 30 students at once brought new challenges and I still had much to learn during my training. However, due to my background in educational inclusion, I have now been given a number of very small classes designed specifically for those with academic or behavioural difficulties.

Teaching these classes has been eye-opening; it is rewarding yet more demanding than any other professional experience that I have encountered so far.

One year 9 English class that I teach consists of seven boys – five are on the SEN register, three are Pupil Premium students and the majority frequently display challenging behaviour. These young men are aware of their own reputation; one class member told me that they were “the worst kids in the school” and “unteachable”.

I have approached these students without preconceptions. They are young men who want to learn, yet struggle to engage in larger classes for myriad reasons. Teaching them in small numbers is a gift to both the students and me. I am able to personalise the lessons to suit their needs and focus closely on each member of the group.

The English department in my new school is successful, with more than 80 per cent of this year’s GCSE cohort achieving a pass grade. The head of English has instructed me to constantly push and challenge my students, reflecting the high expectations that we have of them. By showing these students that I believe in their ability to improve their academic performance, we have got off to a strong start.

We are studying Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. but I like to begin our lessons with a quick round of Scrabble, asking the boys to come up with words based around a theme, usually relating to what was studied in the previous lesson. This activity allows me to recap prior learning while also being enjoyable and gently competitive for the students. If I feel that engagement is slipping mid-lesson, I sometimes throw in a quick round of Scrabble to regain attention

The boys are enjoying Of Mice and Men, engaging particularly with the relationship between the lead characters George and Lennie. Originally, I was reading the book to them, but the boys have slowly begun to volunteer to read out loud. This I hope reflects the growing respect between me and the students.

I hope that they feel that my classroom is a comfortable, non-judgemental space for them to experiment academically without feeling self-conscious.

So far, we have had only one lesson that I was unhappy with. I lost the engagement of one student – perhaps the strongest personality in the group – and his apathy spread to the other members of the class. I take responsibility for this, as my lesson plan had not been fast-paced enough to retain their attention.

Despite being disappointed with their behaviour and my own mistake, I reflected on what had gone wrong and resolved to try a different approach in the next lesson. By showing the boys that I was willing to move on from the previous lesson and adapt my teaching methods, I was able to re-establish their engagement, and continue to teach them in an atmosphere of mutual respect and high expectation.

  • Our NQT diarist this year is a teacher of history at a comprehensive school in the North of England.


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