NQT Special: Beating the ITT maze

Written by: Adam Riches | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Thousands of teachers started their training in September and the ITT year can be just as challenging as life as an NQT. Adam Riches offers advice for the trainee-to-NQT journey

Beginning your initial teacher training (ITT) is comparable with entering the labyrinth to face the Minotaur. You’re going to find the centre eventually but there will be some twists and turns along the way.

So how can you ensure that you make it out of the maze in one piece? There are a number of things that you can do during your ITT year to help you through (some of which are principles that continue to apply to even after you become a “proper teacher”).

Be open

One of the most important things about training is to be open. Calling upon your mentor or your department for support is something that is encouraged. You should never feel that you can’t ask for advice or help with planning, marking/assessment and teaching in general.

Your training provider will give you the knowledge, but often the application is the more difficult task. Make sure that you are open with those around you. You will learn a lot faster if you are because you will address problems more quickly and your trainers will see that you want to do well.

Respond to feedback

Lesson observations and mentor meetings in your ITT year allow you to progress rapidly – if they are utilised. Don’t be a trainee that has the same targets for five weeks in a row. Actively respond to feedback by adjusting your practice. If you’re unsure of how to meet targets, get some observations in the diary or call in some help from a colleague. Actively responding to targets will make your teaching sharper and show your mentor(s) that you are a strong practitioner.

Actively participate

Being a passive trainee will create more work for you during your NQT year. If you are actively involved, you will pick up on the wider experiences of teaching. I’m not saying volunteer for every job going – but I am suggesting that you take opportunities and use the experiences to help you grow as a teacher.

For example, having a form group, doing a duty or supporting in classes are all great ways of learning new skills and getting to know pupils quickly. Helping out with a trip, doing some supporting in a club are other ways of getting yourself around the school outside of your subject area. Be smart with your time, but don’t sit idle either.

Be a team player

Giving something back won’t go unnoticed. Even though you are a trainee, it is important to integrate yourself into your department and immerse yourself in school life. It is too easy to sit on the sidelines under the guise of being “a trainee”. From experience, people are far more likely to help you and take an active interest in helping you progress, if you show that you are a team player. Also, being in the thick of it adds to your self-worth and is a good way to build up your own confidence.

Be a radiator not a drain

It is too easy to be influenced by the people on your course who are negative. Being the ray of sunshine will make you a better teacher. In a profession riddled with negativity, as a new teacher you need to grasp the mantle. Being positive about teaching, as well as having a growth mindset, will get you a long way in education. The people who moan about everything are the ones who usually, in my mind, get nothing done.

I’m not saying that there aren’t going to be lows and that these should not be acknowledged and discussed, but I think it is really important to radiate positivity and not drain it from people.

When September comes

Starting your career as a teacher can be an incredibly daunting prospect. Following a year of training, consisting of support, observations and feedback, it can be a bit of a shock realising that in September it is going to be you and your classes. There are a few things that you need to remember though when your time comes...

You know the new tricks

Being an NQT means that you have been exposed to a huge amount of pedagogical knowledge, and most importantly, you’ve engaged with it recently. New blood in school often reinvigorates others, so don’t feel as though your inexperience in years means that you are in any way less valuable than anyone else. To the contrary, you will be one of the most up-to-date teachers on the block, so make sure you give your input where required.

You’re not expected to know it all

At the same time, the practicalities, routines and nuances of teaching are beasts that you tame as you gain experience. As an NQT, you’ll have a mentor and (hopefully) other NQTs in your school or close by. Make sure you use your support networks when you need help figuring out different parts of the job. It’s always better to ask than to worry yourself. You really aren’t expected to just slot in straight away. For some, it’s a matter of weeks, but for others it can take longer.

There will be dips

From my experience of working with NQTs, there is always a dip or two during the first year. Most commonly, a dip in morale and energy occurs just before Christmas and continues through January. That’s not to say there aren’t highs and lows all year, it’s just that this period in particular is often overwhelming. A combination of marking, fatigue and emotional overload are all things that contribute to dips – but if you’re feeling low, remember that it’s only a phase.

Kids love NQTS

I vividly remember my NQT year and I have to say it was the year I created the strongest bonds with my pupils. Maybe it is the fact that you are making those connections for the first time or it could be something to do with how invested you are. Maybe it’s simply that you put in so much time during your first year at the chalkface – whatever it is, students often love having new teachers for their classes.

You’re learning too

You are a teacher now, but remember that you don’t have qualified teacher status. You need to get that first year under your belt before you become a fully fledged teacher with your (proverbial) teaching wings.

Make the most of observations and team-teaching opportunities if they’re offered and keep up-to-date with pedagogy. If you get everything perfectly right, you’re a miracle worker. Sometimes you’ll have hard lessons, sometimes you’ll feel you haven’t taught your students too well – it’s all a learning curve and without a bit of defeat or some tough times, it is harder to better yourself.

Being left to your own devices shouldn’t be something to fear. Embrace your new-found freedom and make the most of your first year in teaching.

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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