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Everything NQTs Need to Know Before September

So you’ve secured your first teaching post. Once the euphoria subsides, curiosity, trepidation and maybe even desperation will follow. Here’s what you need to know...

  • Everything NQTs Need to Know Before September

I can remember exactly where I was when I found out I’d got my first teaching post. It was back in 2004 and I was standing in the classroom of my final placement school when the phone rang.

Forget butterflies – it felt like a flock of agitated pigeons were flapping wildly in my stomach as I answered and heard those wonderful words: “We’d like to offer you the job.”

Once the exhilarating news had sunk in and the pigeons had flown back to their nest, it suddenly dawned on me that I had a heck of a lot of questions I desperately needed answering.

So it got me thinking: what do the NQTs of 2019 want to know? What questions are lurking at the back of their minds?

I reached out on social media and as it turns out, there are quite a few.

What are some top tips for establishing positive relationships with a new class at the start of the academic year?

Ah, the start of the academic year. The cleanest of clean slates for everyone. An opportunity to begin to get to know the faces staring back at you. Here a few things to consider:

  • Make your own observations – try not to lean too heavily on the notes about the children from their previous teacher. Bear in mind that when they were written or shared, the teacher was at the end of a long and busy year. Give the children the opportunity to develop their relationships with you. Sometimes a different learning environment and a different teaching style can make all the difference.
  • Get to know them and build relationships – find out their hobbies and their likes and dislikes in the early days. Do they swim for a team or enjoy playing rugby? Are they an artist or do they play the guitar? Regularly ask about their interests when you’re on break duty or when listening to them read. If they played in a match over the weekend, ask them about it. New haircut? Compliment them. The little things go a long way. It makes all the difference if they know you care.
  • Model positivity – it all comes from you! Try to establish a positive attitude, both towards the children and about the learning. Find the positives in things they do and say. Encourage them to say positive things to each other.

Will I ever get over the nerves of being observed?

Observations are like Marmite; you either love them or you hate them. Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from them. My suggestion? Learn to love them. Embrace the learning and improvement that can come from them.

Practise reflecting on your day-to-day lessons – ask yourself, what went well? Scribble down some notes on what you’d do to improve things next time. Don’t compare yourself to colleagues; look to be a better teacher than the one you were yesterday.

You’re nervous about observations because you care. It’s natural. However, begin to see observations as opportunities to improve and grow as a teacher, and you’ll soon take them in your stride.

Observers are not there to pick faults in what you do; their job is to highlight your strengths, as well as pointing out any areas for improvement. There is no such thing as a perfect lesson.

If you find that nerves get the better of you, why not ask your colleague or mentor to pop in to your lessons from time to time so you get used to having someone in there? The more familiar it becomes, the less terrifying it has to be. It’s all about the mindset.

There are so many behaviour management strategies out there. How do I know which one will work for me?

The short answer is you don’t. Not until you give some a whirl. Go in with one or two strategies that you feel most confident doing and stick with them. Be clear about your boundaries, so you can communicate them effectively to the children.

What do you expect from them? What’s the ideal learning environment like? Make notes, create a spider diagram, whatever works for you.

Don’t chop and change strategies all the time either, as the children won’t know whether they are coming or going. Give your systems time to embed. Think back to your placements – what worked well then? What do you know that doesn’t work for you?

If the strategies you decided on really aren’t working, either work with your mentor or another colleague to try something else.

Don’t sit there in silence and let the class dictate the rules. It’s your classroom and you decide the boundaries. Children need them in order to feel safe. Be firm, but fair. Be consistent. Be kind.

If you get the behaviour management right, your NQT year will be much easier.

I hear of so many NQTs working late into the night and all weekend. How can I make sure I create a good work-life balance?

If I am being brutally honest, a lot of this will come from the boundaries you set for yourself. You must start as you mean to go on, but it can feel hard to know how to do this effectively when you first start. Why not think about trying one or two of these?

  • Learn to say No – it can be hard when you’re an NQT, and you won’t always have the choice, but when asked to do something extra, check your to-do list: can you really add anything else on?
  • Learn to block out the world – if you want to get work done undisturbed, pop in some headphones while you’re marking or planning. Most people will come back if they see you’ve got your head down, headphones in and working hard. You don’t even have to listen to anything if you find it too distracting; simply putting the headphones in will be enough.
  • Learn to stop – make a deal with yourself that you will leave the school by a certain time each day. Be strict with yourself. Set an alarm if it helps. When the clock strikes that time, you put down what you’re doing and walk out of the door. It will still be there tomorrow and you’ll be able to tackle it with fresh eyes and a rested mind.
  • If you do have to work on the weekend (not something I advocate), set a timer for a maximum of two hours. Work solidly for the time you’ve selected. When the timer tells you it’s time to stop, you stop. Walk away. Go and do something completely different. A well-rested teacher is an effective teacher.
  • If you find your workload unmanageable, speak up. Don’t suffer in silence. Find someone you feel comfortable talking to and tell them how you’re feeling. You won’t win any prizes for exhaustion.

Your NQT year will be one to remember and you’ll find that more questions arise as you journey through it, so don’t be afraid to ask them.

Take that habit with you throughout your teaching career. Use the expertise of your colleagues, your mentor and your friends to your advantage.

Embrace the learning journey you are about to embark on and you’ll enjoy it all the more.

Steph Caswell is an educational consultant and writer. She is the author of three books for NQTs and a regular contributor to Teach Primary magazine. You can connect with Steph on Twitter at @stephcaswell_.

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