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Great NQT Mentors Keep Potentially Great Teachers from Leaving the Profession

"You pick me up when I’m down, and cheer me up with biscuits" – Sophie Bartlett, writes a letter to her team leader and mentor'

  • Great NQT Mentors Keep Potentially Great Teachers from Leaving the Profession

I am a completely different teacher to who I was three years ago. Aren’t we all?

There are so many factors that come into play that have shaped me into the teacher I am: learning to respond to different classes, working with different colleagues, adapting to a work-life balance, perhaps even teaching at different schools. I could go on. In another three years, I expect to have changed even more.

But perhaps the most drastic changes in my teaching happened from the beginning of my NQT year to the end, and this was most prominently shaped by one person: you, my NQT mentor.

I think (OK, I’m going to go in full pelt here and say that I know) that the role of NQT mentor is often completely undervalued in some schools. I say this because I have a number of friends that moved schools after their first year due to a complete lack of support.

In fact, some have even left the profession altogether; how might their situation have been different if they’d had a different mentor to begin with?

Teaching is difficult – especially if you want to do it well. The majority of NQTs are excited to start and eager to please. Yes, they will make mistakes (again – don’t we all?), but they need reminding that this is OK; how else would we learn what works and what doesn’t?

An NQT mentor needs to be positive (there’s enough negativity surrounding teaching as it is), a good role model, and an endless support. I am lucky enough to say that you were all these things.

I distinctly remember a time in my first term of teaching Y5. I had lower-set maths and was really struggling. The children were lovely and the supporting adults had brilliant intentions, but I was still learning to use three TAs effectively, cater to the needs of a statemented child, and plug gaps from the Y1 curriculum, while also trying to teach Y5 objectives.

I thought I’d finally found my stride, until we did a maths test across the year group to assess their progress. I was so upset by my class’s results, and worried about what would happen, that I cried in front of the headteacher when he asked me how my day was going.

Crying in front of your new boss is not a good look. I felt like I had been doing something wrong that whole term – why hadn’t anyone noticed how bad a teacher I was?

You picked me up (metaphorically, but also literally, because a hug was exactly what I needed!) – not just with words of encouragement, but with reasonable, actionable targets. You observed me again and suggested ideas that I still use today. I observed you and learnt even more.

The headteacher popped into my classroom multiple times over the next few weeks to check how I was, and to assure me that I had been worrying over nothing. You had shared the responsibilities of your role so that I could learn from and be supported by other members of staff as well.

You were an amazing mentor, but you made it clear that I needed to learn from others too. Our school is a team, and I was chosen to be a member of that team – we were, and are, all responsible for supporting each other.

I’m now in my third year and you are my team leader and partner teacher. You know exactly when I need help, but nowadays that might take form in a variety of different ways, from offering to get me a large pile of biscuits when I have a huge pile of marking to get through, to asking, ‘Do you really need to do all that work now? Will it really affect the children’s learning tomorrow?’

Because of you, I would love to contribute to the development and mentoring of other teachers. What better way to share your love of teaching than inspiring others to love it too? And, as in my first year, I still very much lean on you – but I like to think you lean on me a little too.

From Sophie

Sophie Bartlett is a Y6 teacher in an English primary school. Find her at missiebee1.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter at @_MissieBee.

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