Starting your NQT year can be nerve-wracking but there is support and advice out there. In this article, Izzy Hall, NQT Services Manager at Buckinghamshire Learning Trust and a member of the Bucks NQT team for almost 10 years, offers some top tips for NQTs to get their year off to the best possible start.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask
This is the most common piece of advice that NQT+1s ask me to pass on to each new cohort. Remember that your mentor, Headteacher and all the rest of the staff want you to succeed and to be happy in your new school. Maybe you could ask for a ‘buddy’ who’s been through NQT Induction recently.
No question is a silly question. You are not expected to know everything or be able to do everything so don’t be afraid to ask for advice or help.
2. Start as you mean to go on
No doubt you’ve heard that old adage about not smiling until Christmas? I understand the rationale but I’m not sure it’s the best way to engage your pupils in the learning process. Developing positive relationships is key to getting the best out of your class. So, set expectations from the beginning of the year and get the right environment for learning established from the first week.
If you end up having issues with behaviour management though, don’t panic, you can still get it back...poach strategies from colleagues, ensure you are differentiating appropriately, set clear expectations and stick to sanctions and rewards systems.
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3. Don’t be too hard on yourself
For the purposes of statutory NQT Induction, the Teachers’ Standards only need to be met to a satisfactory level by the end of your NQT year. In my experience, teachers are a self-critical bunch and fail to see their own successes sometimes. When you receive praise, don’t downplay it. And when things don’t go as planned, remember that every lesson is a learning experience and even the most experienced practitioner doesn’t produce an outstanding lesson every lesson!
4. Make best use of training, development and networking opportunities
Your school should provide you with professional development either in-school or through organisations like BLT – if they don’t, ask for it! Take full advantage of any free learning opportunities like BLT’s NQT ‘best practice’ networking sessions. The best CPD gives you practical strategies to take away with you – be sure to then put them into practice and reflect on their effectiveness.
Connect with other NQTs and also professional bodies like the Chartered College of Teaching who have just launched a free, annual publication with guidance and tips to support new teachers.
5. Try not to feel overwhelmed by your workload
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Ask colleagues for practical strategies and ideas for managing your workload. Take a look at the 3-stage guide to reducing workload by Michael Green from the University of Greenwich who recently worked with a number of schools and initial teacher education providers to provide some advice to support those in the early stages of their career:
6. Build a strong relationship with your mentor
Trust and respect are critical to this relationship...from both sides. Don’t expect your mentor to take on your workload or be your therapist but do rely on them to be your first port of call in the early days. Be honest with your mentor and ask them to be honest with you.
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7. Take control of your own development and progress
As a new teacher, it sometimes feels like there is a lot that is out of your control. You can start to drive the agenda of your own development needs as the year goes on though. Don’t worry if you need direction at the beginning - the ability to self-reflect and identify what support you need will develop. Feel empowered to take risks and remember that the impact you have on your pupils is within your own control.
8. Use your NQT time wisely
You are entitled to 10% off-timetable (in addition to your PPA time) for NQT-related activities. As tempting as it may be, don’t use this time for marking and planning. Instead, you could review your progress against targets, add some evidence to your evidence portfolio, reflect on recent strategies you’ve tried or observe best practice within your school or another local school. Use the protected time you have this year to help YOU become a better teacher.
9. Look after yourself
You don’t need to be the first one in and last one out each day! Don’t let your job consume your life. It will only lead to you burning out and that won’t allow you to the best version of yourself for your pupils. Turn to your support network, whether that be friends you went through your ITT with or family and friends who are not involved in education. Leave early one day a week. Have interests outside of school.
If you need some external support, The Education Support Partnership is a charity providing round-the-clock mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff.
10. Remember your ‘why’
Maybe you have a passion for your subject, or you enjoy working with young people, or maybe you want to do something that really feels like you are making a difference. Whatever it is, write it down now and use it to help you remember the bigger picture when you go through a tricky period. I’d advise sharing it with you mentor – they can remind you when you most need to hear it.
And remember, you are doing an amazing job, your dedication will pay off and you aren’t expected to be the finished article!
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About the author
Izzy Hall is a qualified teacher and NQT Services Manager at the National Learning Trust www.learningtrust.net. After graduating from the University of Birmingham with a languages degree, Izzy taught English as a Foreign Language in South Korea and Italy before her PGCE and teaching career in the UK. After 10 years supporting NQT Induction, Izzy now leads on NQT services, routes to QTS and teacher recruitment in schools across the UK and in British Schools Overseas. You can follow Izzy at @IzzyHallBLT