NQT Special: Lessons from year 2

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Last year’s SecEd NQT diarist is now in his second year at the chalkface. We asked him to offer his advice to this year’s NQT cohort as the end of term one approaches

  1. This time last year, I was in the middle of my first assessment cycle and preparing for my second formal observation, having been given negative feedback during the first due to the quality of my marking. It was a stressful few weeks.

During the past fortnight, I have been preparing my students for their end-of-term assessments, while also undergoing a marking scrutiny and learning walk by senior leaders focused on the use of assessment for learning techniques within the classroom.

Just as death and taxes are the only certainty in life, it sometimes feels like assessments and marking are the only certainties in teaching.

The difference between this year and the last is that this now all feels second nature to me. My assessment dates have been in the diary for weeks, my marking schedule is clearly mapped out and I no longer worry about being observed. Indeed, I get a small thrill when another member of staff enters my classroom, as I am proud of the atmosphere in my lessons and the work being produced.

Your NQT year is likely to be the most discombobulating of your professional life. New teachers are expected to keep up with their workload, absorb huge amounts of information and consistently deliver high-quality lessons.

However, it is also a year full of excitement and new experiences. Based on my experiences last year, here are my five tips for not just surviving but actively enjoying your NQT year.

Don’t panic!

There will be times when the mountain of jobs that need completing seems insurmountable, but panicking will be detrimental to all areas of your practice – and simply won’t help to get the jobs done.

My organisational skills have improved immeasurably in the past year. At the start of each term, I dedicate time to getting my head around all approaching deadlines. This helps to put things into perspective and allows me to prioritise the most time-sensitive tasks. The work will get done as long as you stay calm and keep chipping away at your to-do list – never expecting it to be finished, rather a work in progress.

Build relationships

I have been at my school for over a year and have made some fantastic friends. After a tough day, it is the support of my colleagues that makes me realise how lucky I am to work in a school full of kind and funny practitioners. Teachers need to support each other in the most difficult circumstances, and building friendships with colleagues is the best way to ensure this.

Teachers must also work hard to build positive relationships with their students. Until mutual respect has been established, no meaningful learning can take place. To build this respect, set and maintain firm expectations of your pupils.

Take an interest in each individual. Students don’t care if you’ve been teaching for one year or three decades – if they respect you, they will work hard in your lessons.

Although it can be daunting communicating with parents (especially if the reason for doing so is negative), there must be consistent dialogue between home and school. I have found that even the most difficult parents can be won over once they realise that you have their child’s best interests at heart.

Ask for help

Some professionals worry that “asking for help” shows weakness. The opposite is true. When struggling, it is easy to suffer in silence, hoping that things will miraculously get better. Put simply, they won’t – unless you ask for help.

NQTs must actively seek support from colleagues. Most will be very busy with their own workload and may be oblivious to your difficulties through no fault of their own. It is only by asking for support that you will be given it.

Get involved

During your NQT year, it is easy to focus solely on meeting the Teachers’ Standards. This is a mistake. Schools are buzzing with activity and it is important for NQTS to get involved. My advice is to seek out additional responsibilities. I organised and led a residential trip to Poland during my NQT year. Some colleagues worried that I was taking on too much work, but I knew that I was capable. As long as you are comfortable with the additional work, your NQT year is a great opportunity to contribute to the wider school community.

Look after yourself

Staff wellbeing is a key concern for many schools. Although senior leaders must make the wellbeing of their staff a priority, it is also up to the individual to ensure that they are looking after their own physical and mental health.

Life in school is so fast-paced that it is easy to neglect yourself. I struggled with my work/life balance throughout my NQT year. However, by eventually recognising this, I was able to tackle the problem head on and make sure that I made time for life outside school.

Once you have achieved a good work/life balance, the job itself becomes much easier. You must find time to switch off as every day will bring new challenges, but also triumphs.

NQTs need to make sure that they are well rested, positive and happy – only then will you be able to tackle each challenge and relish each triumph as they occur.

  • The author of this article is a second-year teacher of history at a comprehensive school in the North of England. He was the author of SecEd’s Diary of an NQT column last year. To read the weekly column, visit http://bit.ly/2K0xABK

NQT Special Edition: Free download

This article was published as part of SecEd’s NQT Special Edition – eight pages of best practice advice aimed at NQTs and trainee teachers as they come to the end of their first term. All eight pages, published in November 2018, can be downloaded as a free pdf via http://bit.ly/2FGrF77


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