Are you ready for year 2 at the chalkface?


SecEd's NQT diarist from 2011/12 has just completed his second year at the chalkface. Here, he offers his advice for last year's NQTs as they prepare for year 2.

First, I’d like to congratulate all the NQTs who have made it this far. You should feel very proud of yourselves for finishing your first full year of teaching. 

Many of those who start a PGCE don’t finish, and then once NQTs hit the chalkface for real, a high number also drop out – but you’re one of the few who finished, so have a massive pat on the back!

I spent my NQT year documenting my life on a weekly basis for SecEd’s Diary of an NQT column. It turned out to be a really great way to reflect on my learning and development as a teacher. I, like every NQT does, learned a huge amount about how to teach, how to handle teenagers, how to get them through their exams, and how to mark books and exams. Crucially though, I learned a lot about myself – as a person and a teacher.

This year, while I didn’t religiously document my life every week, I made sure that I continued to reflect on teaching and my life in school. At least once a term I wrote a brief review of my thoughts, ideas and experiences. So below are my top tips for starting year two.

Time is precious – use it wisely

As an NQT you are on a slightly reduced timetable. While the step-up from PGCE to NQT is massive in terms of teaching hours, it still is rare for you to teach a full timetable several days in a row. 

That luxury ends when you become a qualified teacher. While it is only a few hours more, in reality it is a lot more work. You may only have one more class, but that is one more set of books and tests to mark, one more set of reports to write, one more set of parents to see at parents’ evenings, and one more set of resources to prepare and lessons to plan.

Put simply, you will have less time for everything. And if you are not careful you will end up working 24/7 during term-time as well as during your holidays. This is not a healthy situation to be in. Even if other teachers are doing it, you don’t have to. 

To save time, wherever possible try to re-use or plan lessons so that they can easily be adapted and rolled out for more than one group and more than one year. Ask yourself: can your A level lessons be “watered down” for high ability GCSE classes? Can a GCSE research task be “scaled up” for an A level class or used as a starter? Often it is as simple as changing the wording on a question sheet.

Try implementing a few simple time-saving techniques into your lessons. For example, if you are giving a class a test, mark their books during the test (just don’t forget to look up and give people a suspicious stare every so often!).

Once you have sorted out the behaviour of your classes, it is entirely possible to set them a task and then wander about marking books during the lesson. I was doing this once when the deputy head popped in during one of her random “learning walks”. I thought I was for it, but she thought it was a great idea. All the students were on task and I was giving one-to-one formative feedback to one or two students.

Use your ‘gain time’ well

I suppose that really this is a “sub-tip” to the above, but about now, when all the exams are over and years 11 and 13 have flown the coop to pastures new, NQTs find themselves with a truly stupid amount of “free time”. I believe that all teachers find “gain time” to be the most wondrous thing. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to slip into a tea and biscuit-fuelled coma for six weeks until the summer. 

Don’t make the same mistake I did and do little or no preparation for next year. I wish I had spent more time last summer preparing at least my first month or better yet first half-term’s worth of lessons, schemes of work and resources. Instead I spent a lot of time chatting to colleagues, “faffing” about on the internet and having pointless meetings.

Find out which classes you will be taking next year. If you have never taught them before, print out any names and photos so you can learn them now. Check their SEN details and talk to anyone who has taught them before to get advice. Do a seating plan and get it checked.

During my NQT year, I relied rather heavily on my mentor’s amazing long-term planning to tell me what I needed to do by when. During your second year you will not have the same support, especially when it comes to advanced planning and knowing where and when certain key events need to take place. 

The area in which I have developed most this year has been my advanced planning. I now have a teacher’s planner chock full of plans, lessons for weeks in advance and details of what I will be ordering from technicians and when (I teach science). But at the start of the year, I was a mess. If only I had used my gain time more wisely! 

Getting paid properly

I have noticed that often schools hire NQTs to fill “departments of one” because, let’s face it, we are cheap. If this is the case with you, as it was with me, keep a list of all the head of department roles you have completed – such as making sure students were entered for exams, their coursework was submitted on time, preparing schemes of work, or attending courses which are relevant. 

Then around this time of year have a discussion with the head about becoming a recognised head of department next year. Sow the seeds early so it can be included within next year’s budget. 

To-do lists

I am in a really rather bizarre, unique situation. I am head of photography and acting head of biology at the same time. This means that I have to be super organised with my time. 

Aside from the advanced planning I had to do in order to make my life liveable, I found that I had to keep massive to-do lists. I started off with sticky notes, but quickly graduated to a notebook, and then a nicer notebook – and finally I settled on an iPhone. 

This now rules my life. I have got to-do list apps, calendars for all my teaching events and also for personal events – all synchronised and in one place. I was never a lists person but now that I have started, I cannot seem to stop. 

It is ridiculously satisfying to cross something off the list. And it is much more relaxing to sit down on the sofa on a Sunday night, knowing that you have finished all the week’s tasks and don’t have to worry about what else will be thrown at you on Monday morning. 

Start building a new reputation

Like it or not, you have spent a year earning a reputation in your school. If you are staying on at the same school or moving to a new one, you can now change your reputation for the better. 

If you were too nice and friendly with students, and it did not work during your NQT year, you can change this now, by being stricter with new classes. 

If you were too strict, you can loosen up and be a little more human. But not too much – believe it or not, kids actually like the strict teachers who make them learn. Now is the time to make the change. 


Most importantly of all, you must make sure that you enjoy your summer holidays – do something fun and relaxing and make sure you recharge. I hope you enjoy next year; it will be hard, but just as much fun! Good luck! 

  • Our NQT diarist for 2011/12 wrote anonymously. He is a teacher of science working at a comprehensive school in the East of England. 


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