After term one, are you an A* NQT?


SecEd CPD expert Margaret Adams helps new teachers to reflect on their first term at the chalkface.

Are you top of the NQT class? Are you a grade A NQT, or might you even be an A* NQT? It is too early in your career for you to call yourself an excellent teacher, although you may be on the way to becoming one. 

However, an A* NQT is a different proposition. Do you think you might have earned your A* for the progress you have made to date? Do you think you have done pretty well this term? Consider the following success criteria and make your judgement. 

You are still here

You may not have seen it happening in your school, but quite a few people start their first term in teaching and do not make it through to the Christmas holiday. For whatever reason, they decide that teaching is not for them. They come to the conclusion that they have made a bad career choice. They then cut their losses and leave quickly.

This hasn’t happened to you. You are still in post. You are still in school, so you have already achieved some success as a teacher.

You have built up your stamina

Teaching two or three lessons a day was probably what you got used to on your teaching practice. Maybe you were sometimes asked to teach for a full day, but you did not have to teach throughout the day, every day. 

Now that you have taken on a teacher’s workload, things are different. Even if your school has given you a slightly reduced timetable because you are an NQT, you are still holding down an exhausting and demanding job. 

Remember that. Remember, too, that you are coping. You are building up your stamina and your teaching fitness. You are building up your capacity to cope with your responsibilities. You are doing what the job demands of you, each day and each week, and you have been doing so for almost a term. Well done.

You are learning from your mistakes 

As an NQT you make quite a few mistakes. It is inevitable. You do not know that much about being a teacher, yet. You are teaching several syllabuses – all of them for the first time. 

Of course, you have made mistakes, but stop and think carefully about them for a moment. How many of the mistakes you made back in September and October have you also made more recently? How many of your mistakes have you learned from and modified your own behaviour as a result?

Just as long as you are learning and eliminating mistakes from your practice, you are still in the running for that A* award. Therefore, do the sums. Work out how quickly you are putting the mistakes you have made behind you, and how quickly the total number of mistakes you are making is decreasing.

You know your subject better

It often comes as something of a rude awakening. You know your subject. You have a degree in your subject. Your subject expertise is one of the reasons that your school hired you in the first place. Yet, as soon as you started teaching, you discovered you were back in learning mode. 

You might have found yourself teaching authors and set texts you did not cover during your degree course. You may be teaching elements of your subject that you did not spend much time on at university because you took different options.

The result is that you have learned a lot more about your subject over the last three months. You have needed to, in order to cope with the demands of the job. You are even more of an expert in your subject as a result. 

You know your school

Getting to know how a complex organisation like a school functions is not easy. You probably learned your way around the building in the first couple of weeks in September. Then you started to learn who does what, who can be approached for advice, who is a bit prickly in the staffroom before that first cup of tea of the day has been consumed, and so on. 

Now that you are getting close to the end of term, you have learned many of the formal, and the informal, rules that operate in school. You know what people expect of you. You know what your colleagues classify as the correct sort of behaviour. You are also starting to adapt the way you behave to suit your colleagues’ expectations of you.

That’s a big step forward. Even if you have blundered a bit so far, you stand a better chance of avoiding serious problems in the future because you are learning about your school’s culture which means you are starting to fit in. 

You have a plan 

Finally, as you think about how well you are doing, it is time to ask yourself if you are developing a plan for how you are going to handle your role and your responsibilities in school in the spring term. 

Are you already making decisions about what you are going to do differently next term? Are you also thinking that you would like to work alongside a particular teacher because you want to learn more about his or her approach to teaching year 10 students or about the best ways of dealing with behaviour issues with year 9 classes?

Are you angling to get yourself invited to take part in a project that’s starting after Christmas because you are really interested in the aspect of practice that’s being covered?

Congratulations if you are, because it is that sort of planning – even if your plans are still in your head – that means you are serious about finding ways to improve your teaching abilities.

A* NQT or not?

So how many of the above tests did you pass? An A* NQT or not, you are still coming towards the end of what will be your most difficult term as a teacher. There will never be another term quite like this term, so even if you are not prepared to award yourself that A* prize, give yourself a medal of some sort, because you have definitely earned it.

  • Margaret Adams is a former teacher. She is the author of Work-Life Balance: A practical guide for teachers and The 30-Day Work-Life Balance Challenge.

Free best practice download for NQTs

This article has been published as part of SecEd's autumn 2012 NQT special focus, which comprises a range of best practice and advisory articles aimed at new teachers as they approach the end of their first term at the chalkface. The special focus has been supported by the NASUWT and you can download a free PDF containing all the articles from the Supplements section of this website by clicking here.


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