Handling the challenges of being an NQT


Julian Stanley shares a story of an NQT who had a challenging first two years in teaching and offers some survival advice to new teachers.

I’m sure many of you have been tuning into Educating the East End. Shows like this can inspire people to think about a career in teaching, but more importantly it opens up the profession and allows people to understand the reality of the job.

Young English teacher Mr Bispham, an idealistic Teach First graduate, has emerged as one of the stars. Describing his style as “50 per cent stand-up and 50 per cent motivational speeches”, he obviously has a passion to teach, but the show reveals how even confident new teachers can be overwhelmed.

He uses jokes and banter to relate to his year 9 class, but he often looks weary and at times dumbfounded by the emotional and social interactions with these adolescents. He wants to deliver lessons which are unique and engaging, but when a role-play task to bring Shakespeare to life quickly descends into chaos, it shows how the idealism of teaching can be crushed by the reality of controlling a mob of hormonal teens.

Making your presence felt at the front of a classroom is one of the most daunting and challenging hurdles for NQTs. How you start and how you interact with a class from the beginning of term is critical. It’s important to build relationships with your pupils that foster positive learning, but knowing when to show your fun, personal side can be tricky to judge.

Very little training is provided on the psychology of being a good teacher, the verbal and physical behaviour of teachers and understanding that of pupils is a complex area. Other problems faced by NQTs are demands from headteachers and the reality of heavy workloads. 

We heard from a teacher this summer who called our Support Line after what he described as a “traumatic” first two years in teaching. His NQT year in London was dominated by a “headteacher from hell who was a real bully and really unsupportive”. With the support of his girlfriend and parents, he had the courage to leave this school and try his luck in North Yorkshire. His next post as a supply teacher in a deprived area of Leeds posed different but equally challenging problems. Despite having a supportive and sympathetic head, he struggled with unruly, sometimes violent pupils. He said: “It was a rocky start to my teaching career. I thought, ‘is it really like this all the time?’.”

He was referred to a counsellor through his local authority and signed off sick for three weeks. At this point he called us to get some advice. The first thing we tell all our callers is you are not alone. Most teachers find their first few years challenging so don’t be afraid to voice your concerns with trusted colleagues or friends, as they may be able to give useful advice and a sympathetic ear. Here are a few tips for NQTs: 

  • This is your first teaching job, others do not expect you to know everything or have all the answers so don’t expect this of yourself.

  • Give yourself time to plan and prepare for each lesson – all teachers in England and Wales are entitled to a minimum of 10 per cent of their timetabled teaching time for this.

  • It isn’t always easy to take criticism but it is necessary if you want to develop into a good teacher.

  • Implement tips to manage classroom behaviour from the beginning of term so you and your pupils can get off on the right foot.

Our struggling NQT is now in an “outstanding” school and he says things “couldn’t be more different”. 

Our case study sums it up nicely: Young teachers need to be nurtured; you can’t expect them to do everything. We need them to maintain their passion to teach and to ensure they have a good quality of life and good mental health.

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).

Further information
For a practical guide for NQTs, visit www.teachersupport.info/starting-out-guide-new-teachers


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