For thousands of graduates across England, excitement will be building this summer as they await the start of their first year as a qualified teacher. Laura shares with us her tips for how to make it through the first year as an NQT.
You have just completed your last ever placement, handed in your final assignment and now it’s time to go out into the big bad world. The next step is to face your NQT year where you are solely responsible for a class of 30 children, a daunting thought to say the least!
Step 1: Finding the Job
In the current UK job market it is relatively easy to find a job in teaching, but accepting the first job you’re offered – as tempting as it may seem – could be your biggest mistake of all. It is important to ask in your interview what support the school has for NQTs, if your school has had an NQT recently (if they have they will have a mentor who knows what they are doing) and what non-contact hours (non-teaching hours) you will have. It is also worth asking who your mentor will be and what experience they have although it can be hard to get a feel for what your mentor will be like if they aren’t present in the interview.
In my own personal opinion, the school you choose is the single biggest factor that will make or break you. Having a supportive school is the difference between sailing through the year without any hiccups and having problems and difficulties the whole way through. Finally, choose a job that suits you: don’t take a job in Reception class if you’re more suited to KS2.
Step 2: Finding Your Feet - The First Few Days
You have got the job, spent all summer worrying about it and now the time has almost come for the 30 excited, smiling children to enter your classroom with the squeak of their brand new shoes and freshly purchased uniforms. First impressions count and I recommend being organised, especially for the first few days. It is well worth taking the time to plan out exactly what you are going to do over the first few days. Make sure to include a lesson where you compose a set of class rules with the children and that all children sign them, as well as more menial tasks such as labelling books etc. It is a good idea to plan overviews for the term ahead (or year if you’re very organised) in advance so you have a clear plan rather than chopping and changing from day to day. Share your expectations with the children from day one, be it neat handwriting, or raising your hand to speak. It is very hard to enforce them at a later stage.
Step 3: Advice From Colleagues
Too many teachers make the mistake of pretending they know everything as they don’t want to come across as lacking knowledge or not knowing how to carry out certain tasks or how to deal with certain situations. While I understand that you want to make the best possible impression it’s important to take the support and advice of older, more experienced colleagues. For example, if you’re struggling with your new science topic the science co-ordinator should be more than willing to help out. If you’re not sure how to cater for a child in your class with SEN, the SENCO will be more than happy to help and will already know the child and be aware of their needs and how best to support them. Your mentor and your year group partner (if this applies to you) are probably your best resources for day to day advice and tips.
Step 4: Manage Your Workload
A savvy teacher will find ways to cut down on workload without cutting any corners in the children’s education. A great way of doing this is by checking to see if your school has any old planning available from the previous year. Most schools have all of last year’s and previous year’s work saved on their staff shared area. As long as the curriculum hasn’t changed you can recycle old plans by simply changing the date and amending activities that don’t suit your class. If working in a two-form entry school or bigger, one teacher can plan maths, another literacy and another science and then swap planning and worksheets, smartboards etc. This will save a lot of time, worry and stress.
Step 5: Delegate Tasks
I’m a great believer in the old saying ‘if you want something done do it yourself’. However, given the workload which teachers currently face one would be foolish to think they can do everything themselves. Save yourself valuable time and energy by delegating tasks to others, especially to your TAs. The vast majority of classrooms have a TA even if only for a few hours a day. They can put up displays, do some photocopying, trim some sheets on the guillotine and help out with odd jobs around the classroom. I appreciate that this can be difficult at first and might be a little awkward particularly if your TA is older than your mum which is often the case but it is well worth it in the long run.
The children too can help out in small ways. Assign monitors to do jobs in the classroom such as tidying the cloak room, sharpening pencils or closing windows at the end of the day.
Step 6: Accept That You Can’t Do Everything
Ironically, a large portion of teachers are perfectionists. It is impossible to do all of the things which you would like to do, so do things in order of importance and accept that some less essential tasks may have to remain undone.
Step 7: Life outside Work
It is your first year of teaching, and you are intent on making a good impression. You want to succeed in achieving your NQT year and possibly want to progress up the pay scale. Nevertheless, it is important that life doesn’t become solely about work, otherwise you’re likely to become stressed, which leads to you becoming ill and hence defeating the whole purpose anyway. It is important to take time to yourself to go to the gym, read a book, go out for a meal with friends or whatever you enjoy doing. You can also socialise with work colleagues to help you bond and form a relationship with them. My top tip for making friends if you are new to London is to join a sports team.
Finally, best of luck with your NQT year!