Hindsight is a wonderful thing. There’s probably not a teacher out there who hasn’t thought if only at one time or another. And the NQT year is one of the most fruitful if only times there is. When you’re in it, you can’t see the wood for the trees: it’s overwhelming, exhausting and challenging in ways you never imagined. But when it’s over, there is SO MUCH you wish you’d done differently.
With the benefit of hindsight, here are five key things I wish I’d done as an NQT.
I was told this countless times. Make sure you file as you go along. Make sure you write up lesson reports as you go. Make sure you keep your data up-to-date. I tried. I really did. But it always seemed like there was so much else to do. I would regularly find my desk drowning in paperwork, and I just couldn’t keep up with it. But I wish I had: if I had listened to the advice and stayed organised, then I wouldn’t have had hours of panicked searching in the small hours, trying to find that one elusive piece of paper which was suddenly super-important. As a colleague once wisely told me, efficiency is a form of laziness. Staying on top of the admin saves you time and work later.
Don’t make friends.
Not with the staff, of course – you can make as many friends as you like there. In fact, it’s positively encouraged! But don’t make friends with the students. It’s easy to think you’re the exception to the rule – the cool, laid-back teacher who can have a laugh and still get the work done. But the reality is very different. You’re not their mate: you’re their teacher. You can’t exert authority if you’ve given it all away on the first day. Sure, you can be friendly, but you can’t be a friend.
Don’t be too proud to accept help.
It can be tempting to decide that you’ve got to go it alone, that you won’t truly have succeeded unless the graft is all your own. But it’s simply not true. You haven’t cheated by using a colleague’s scheme of work or borrowing their great lesson plan: you’ve shown that you’re open to new ideas. And if you have the opportunity to subscribe to some teaching resources, take it! You won’t have failed if you don’t plan each and every lesson yourself. The test of a good teacher is how well they teach – not how well they plan.
Mark, mark, mark.
This is a horrible one, but there is no way of getting around it. Students respond best when their work is being acknowledged. That doesn’t mean you need to spend hours poring over each and every book – feedback can be verbal, it can be from peers, it can be done using any number of bespoke marking systems. Your school will have a policy explaining exactly how often detailed marking should take place. But if you make sure that you are aware of students’ work, and you show them you’re aware, it makes life so much easier. It means you can differentiate properly, you can plan effectively, you have better behaviour in class. After all, students are only human: why should they bother to work hard if no one ever notices?
Be kind to yourself.
This is the most important point of all, and the one which is ignored by NQTs the most. Being a teacher is a never-ending job: there will always be more you can do. But you have to be disciplined enough to know where to draw the line. Don’t work past midnight, don’t skip meals, don’t dedicate your whole holiday to school work. It’s so easy to burn out during your NQT year, and ultimately that helps no-one. Set yourself perimeters, and stick to them. If the work doesn’t get done, it’s really not the end of the world. You are more important.
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