Learning how to say 'no'!

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The age old problem for young teachers is feeling confident enough to say no. Our NQT diarist has made a resolution to say no more often and this week had her first opportunity...

Last week I spoke of my New Term Resolution to get to grips with “that class”. Today I am going to share another resolution with you – to learn how to say “no”.

Let’s face it, every NQT has been advised at some point during our training to learn to say no. This piece of age-old wisdom was probably bestowed upon you by the wonderful colleague who somehow manages to breeze in at 8:30am fresh as a daisy and look perpetually chilled throughout the day while you are rushing around pulling your hair out and trying to cope with just the two cups of coffee before 9am to quell the shakes.

The silly thing is that it is clearly an excellent piece of advice; as NQTs we are enthusiastic and passionate and fresh and therefore susceptible to agreeing to anything and everything with little regard for the fact that it will likely mean only four hours’ sleep several nights of the week due to having to take all our planning and marking home.

So why is it so hard to say? Well, so far I have shied away from the “say no” approach entirely, and I believe this is for two main reasons.

For a start it just sounds so negative. I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking and just “getting on with it”. To me, saying “no” seems to be admitting defeat. 

Less personal, but equally as important, saying “no” sounds suspiciously like committing career suicide. 

So when I received an email this week from a superior asking me to do something I felt in no way competent or confident to do, I was left in a bit of a muddle. The problem was I had already half agreed to the activity last term. I tried to wrack my brains for a time I would have been feeling confident enough to accept such a terrifying proposition and a blurry memory emerged of being cornered in the kitchen trying to juggle a pile of books and a cup of tea while making my way to a meeting on the other side of the building; we have all been there.

I am not going to disclose what the request involved; to many of you it would probably not be a big deal at all, perhaps you would even relish the opportunity – but suffice to say it is the sort of thing that sends chills down my spine.

After a period of staring at my computer trying to make the email go away, I felt the blood return to my face and the thought occurred to me that I actually had to respond in some way; sneaking out the fire exit and never returning was not a sensible option.

But how do you say no to your superiors without sounding like you aren’t a committed, motivated person with a desperate inner desire to pursue CPD activities? 

One thing I knew was that this was something I had to say in person, if only to gauge her reaction.

So I got legs in action and rose to my feet to scout out said superior. I do not know if other NQTs have this problem, but the minute I want to go and find another teacher in the school that is always the one time they are impossible to find.

This being the case, after what seemed like an age (but was realistically only about six minutes) scouring corridors high and low, I had to resort to an email. Three minutes later, a reply. I clicked “open” with apprehension and trembling fingers – was this my P45? Of course not; it was all fine. New Year’s Resolution successfully deployed!

  • Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.


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