Reflections on an NQT year

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SecEd's NQT diarist this year, Tomas Duckling, considers the lessons he has learnt after his first year in the classroom.

And now, the end is near, and so I face, my final curtain. To think, a whole year has gone by and I am approaching the end of my time as an NQT. I am nearly a “proper teacher”! 

SecEd has asked me to reflect on my year for this special NQT edition. Hopefully these reflections will prove useful for those trainees among you who will be starting out in September. So here are the top 10 things that I have learnt. (I apologise in advance if some of what follows sounds a bit mushy, but reflection is always rose-tinted). 

Your ideas are only as good as the relationships you build. You can plan the most wonderful and intricate lesson you can imagine, but if you haven’t developed relationships and understanding with a class they will never go with you. You need to care, and show them that you care, and then they will happily follow you anywhere. The minute you break down the barriers of resistance in a classroom and get them to respect you, they will largely appreciate what you are doing and allow you the opportunity to try and teach them. Ignore the need to form such a bond and they will look to destroy you. 

If you want confidence, know your subject. People can say what they want about the youth of today, but they are discerning. Most of all they want someone who knows their subject inside-out and is enthusiastic about passing it on. Knowledge impresses students more than fear. Knowledge breeds confidence in the classroom and confidence in your performance. The more you know, the better you can teach it. 

Go hard or go home. If you are not prepared to discipline children you will look weak. That does not mean you need to be nasty, but you need to be able to create uncrossable lines and stand by your judgements. You need to be clear in your instructions and your boundaries. If you do not know your rules, how are they supposed to? If you promise a punishment, see it through. If not, don’t expect them to shut up. 

Being part of a school is more than just teaching your lessons. If you go into work, teach your lessons and then go home you are not making the most of your workplace. Get involved. Not only does it get you into strange situations and open bizarre doors, but it enables you to connect with students on a different level and communicate in new ways. This year I have been sprinter, journalist, film director, football manager, agony aunt, army commando, presenter, teacher and student among many more. How many jobs offer that? 

Finding time for a student is never time wasted. Standing in front of 30 expectant faces does not offer much time for direct engagement. When a student comes to find you or needs some help, you need to make that happen. You can make huge strides in their focus and interest if you just allow them some one-on-one time. You are not a tutor but you will never regret giving up that five minutes (although you may regret not doing it). 

Don’t be afraid to ask. Sometimes being at the bottom of the teaching pile can feel lonely but those above you have been there and, in my experience, are readily available to help. 

My colleagues and my department have been an invaluable sounding board this year and offered advice, warning and opinion whenever I needed them. I would have struggled to deliver the quality of lessons I have managed without them. 

Risks can go wrong, that is why they are called risks. In my training year, I tried some stupid ideas. Ideas I would not try again and I had lessons that went horrifically wrong. On the flip-side, a few of those risks paid off and provided me with some very special lessons. Be prepared to fail and make mistakes – that is how you learn, after all. 

If you are not bothered about learning, you aren’t teaching. When I started teaching, my biggest mistake and largest weakness was that I thought it was all about me. I thought it was a show and a performance. I have not removed that side totally, because that is what makes me an interesting teacher, but at the same time I now have a totally different concept of learning. 

I no longer worry about my performance, I worry about their learning. I want to know if what I am doing is making a difference, I want to know if they are intellectually developing. 

My training may be over but this is where I intend to keep learning, because I am better at this now than I was last week and I can only hope that trend continues. 

Coffee can be good – and bad. Many a morning I have rolled in after a bad night’s sleep or the odd hangover (don’t tell my boss) and I have sunk four cups of coffee. Sometimes this gives me the impetus to teach like a master of education, other times it makes me think the students are out to get me and I snap at the first tapping pencil. Know your limits. 

Enjoy yourself. Other stupid phrases that could be inserted here include “be yourself” and “carpe diem”. However, I genuinely feel you have to try and go into work and enjoy it. If you fear the class it will show. 

You need to think the next hour of your life will be fun, rewarding and worthwhile. If not it becomes a mere production line and you are not bothering to do what you are paid for.

I could have done other things and maybe made more money in other vocations but I have enjoyed every day I have had as a teacher, good or bad. It isn’t really a job.

So there you have it. I hope the above has not come across as obvious or patronising – it is an honest account of what I have learnt in my first year of teaching, which, ironically, has been my most important ever year of learning.

  • Tomas Duckling, a history teacher at Queens’ School in Hertfordshire, has been writing a weekly diary in SecEd of his experiences as an NQT this year. 

 


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