NQT Special: Tips for surviving your NQT year

Written by: Julian Stanley | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Learning how to say ‘no’, set boundaries and look after yourself is crucial to surviving as a teacher, especially in your first years at the chalkface. Julian Stanley offers some advice

Congratulations on getting through your first term as an NQT. However tough you have found things – and the first term is tough for everyone – it will never be as daunting again. You have cleared your first hurdle and are well on your way to becoming a fully qualified teacher. Well done on getting this far!

A proper break

The Christmas holiday is coming up and I strongly urge you to make sure you have a proper break. You may see this time as a chance to catch up with work and perhaps put a plan in place for the next two terms.

However, the most important thing you can do for your career right now is to have some time off from it. So try to switch off completely for at least some of the holiday.

I also advise you to do something completely different rather than just flopping in front of all that Christmas television – as tempting as that can be. Teaching is all about helping others; now is the time to help yourself and take care of your own wellbeing. Maybe among your new year’s resolutions, if you make them, could be ways to ensure that you switch off from work every evening and every weekend?

One caller to our free 24-hour helpline said that his NQT year was tough because he found it impossible to turn off from teaching and it spilled over into all areas of his life. Together with one of our experienced counsellors he was able to formulate a plan to keep work and the rest of his life separate. This is crucial if you are to enjoy a long and fulfilling career in teaching.

Setting boundaries

Following on from this, remember that a break isn’t just for Christmas! Make sure you take regular breaks throughout your NQT year. Staying at school longer to mark papers or working through your lunch break is not the best way to manage a workload that, I know, can at times feel overwhelming.

One of the best ways to prevent burn-out is to set boundaries. Leave work on time. Don’t allow work to “bleed” into every aspect of your life. Don’t talk or worry about work all evening, every evening when you get home. Be disciplined and set a cut-off time. Actually saying something out loud can help, such as: “Right. I’m putting that up on the shelf for the rest of the evening. What’s on telly?”

Sometimes the hardest thing of all is to accept that most “to-do” lists never get completely done.

Don’t be afraid to say no!

It is possible that your colleagues view you as a keen NQT and may be tempted to add to your workload: “Could you just do this please? Would you be able to help with that?” As a new teacher, chances are you will want to please at this early stage in your career and it can be difficult to turn down requests of this nature, as you don’t want to seem unwilling.

If you find it hard to say no to someone’s face when asked, then say instead that you will check your calendar to see if you can find room and come back to them. You can always send an email or text later saying that you are very sorry but you don’t have time to do this extra task justice. Make the point that you don’t want to spread yourself too thinly.

Remember, it is not a sign of weakness to admit that what you are already doing is taking longer than you anticipated and that adding to your workload will eat even further into your limited personal time. As a teacher you will find that learning to say no can be an important lesson.

Make use of your mentor

Some schools continue the use of mentors for NQTs into their second year but many don’t. So make the most of your mentor now. That’s what they are there for. Don’t try to be too stoical and stand alone. It is not a weakness to ask for help – it is not a weakness to say “I’m struggling here, can you advise me?”. It’s best to ask for help as soon as a problem arises rather than let it fester and grow. You aren’t alone. You have colleagues who care and who were in your shoes once.


Many NQTs worry about observations. Try to see these in a positive light – a chance to gain useful feedback. These observations are there to help you, not to trip you up. And remember – you are observed every time you stand in front of a class full of students. It is important to accept that you will make mistakes. We all do. The person who never made a mistake never made anything else either. It isn’t the mistakes we make that matter – it’s the learning opportunities they give us.

Do your worst task first

If you have a list of things to do, such as lesson planning and report writing, do the task you enjoy the least first. Otherwise there is a risk that you will spend too much time on the tasks you enjoy. Set cut-off times too – don’t spend too long on one task. And remember, when your workload is as high as it is now, good is good enough.


You may have found your first term extremely hectic but it will get easier as you get used to it. You’re a third of the way through your year and the toughest term is almost behind you. So have a great Christmas and best of luck returning refreshed ready to tackle your next two terms in January.

And please think about calling our free helpline if you are struggling with any aspect of NQT life. Sometimes it can help to talk to someone outside your school or college. We’re always here for you.

  • Julian Stanley is CEO of the Education Support Partnership.

Further information

For help or advice on any issue facing those working in education, contact the Education Support Partnership’s free 24-hour helpline on 08000 562 561 or visit www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk

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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