The ‘how to survive your NQT year’ message is well meant. I have absolutely learnt a lot from people giving out such advice. However, myself, and many of my NQT friends don’t feel like we have simply survived. We have absolutely thrived during our NQT and this is my way of adding some positivity to the NQT narrative.
My year as an NQT has been full of ups and downs. There has been a lot of hilarity (something I’m not subtle about, I believe the phrase ‘I can hear you laughing from the canteen’ has been used this year). There has been a smattering of tears, although only once in school which I see as a small victory. There has been frustration, flashes of anger (although usually not related to children) but overwhelmingly I have been happy.
In a conversation with my HOD last week she told me how impressed she is with me this year and how much of a brilliant job I’ve done. Aside from nearly making me cry (we’re all emotional at this time of year!) it made me realise, that actually I have done a good job. My students have made progress, I’ve built some great relationships with my students, I’ve run some successful literacy programmes in school, I’ve organised 5 very small trips and most of all I’ve learnt so so much. And why shouldn’t we celebrate the things we’ve done well? I don’t know everything, I am far from a perfect teacher but I am continually trying to get better. And I haven’t just survived this year, I have thrived.
I’m blessed to work in an incredible department with my best friend. As a department, we support each other, share in our achievements and help each other through the tough bits. I couldn’t have thrived this year without them. They have given me resources, helped me plan, given behaviour advice and support and let me rant (and brag!). Support from my department, I truly believe, has been THE most important thing for me this year (of course this includes my wider department of #TeamEnglish).
I’ve come to understand that the best form of behaviour management, for me and my students, is through building relationships. Sure, there is that one class that I never really cracked and there are a handful of students that I can’t win over. But, there are so many students this year that started the year as the biggest problems in my life, and have ended it being some of my favourite (not that I have them) students to teach. It has not been an easy ride and I’ve used every tool in my box. I can’t tell you how many parent phone calls I’ve made (good and bad).
I distinctly remember #GlueStickGate (when my Y9s decided to unwind whole glue sticks and stick them to my ceiling during an observation without me or my observer noticing). But then, in my last observation with them, they were trying so hard to behave, of course they couldn’t hold it together for the whole time, but they really tried and the relationship I had built with them was noticed and commented on. I took the time to get to know them and take an interest in them, and it really paid off.
I also remember being so furious at the apathy and disrespect in one of my classes that I asked my HOD and the assistant head (my mentor) to come into every lesson I had with them. And they did, for about two weeks, until I said they could stop, it worked wonders and, of course, it was great moral support for me. I’ll be honest, they are the class I never cracked but they are still a million times better than they were. At the beginning it was taking 15 minutes to take a register, now they are fairly well trained – just still a bit apathetic in pockets. The biggest thing I learnt from this was not to be scared to ask for help – some things are bigger than just me!
I’m notoriously unorganised, last minute and laid back but that just doesn’t fly as a teacher. So, I’ve found the way I like to organise myself. It might still all be a bit last minute but it works for me. I’ve learnt that I need to plan out my half term, but on a lesson to lesson basis I’m never more than a day or two ahead. I change my mind too often to plan more than that. I admire, but can’t understand, teachers that can plan further ahead – how do you know how students will react and cope with work until you teach it? My lesson planning, has of course, become more and more vague. I rely heavily on my visualiser and instead of spending my time making PPTs etc I spend it making sure I know my texts and my subject. I’ve found that to be a much more beneficial use of my time.
I’ve also learnt that you’ve got to be kind to yourself. I accept that on a Sunday night I’m not going to do anything quality. It’s much more effective to get some rest and come back to it tomorrow. It’s ok to say I’d rather be out with my friends/ family, watching TV, having a nap etc. My pupils benefit from having a well rounded, well rested teacher. Yeah they sometimes have to wait an extra day for an assessment to be marked. But let’s be honest – that hurts no one right?
So, for anyone about to start your NQT, the best advice I can give you is just try to enjoy all the little moments. When you close your door and it is just you and your pupils, that’s the magic bit. Remember EVERY teacher has that class they struggle with and it is likely that it isn’t just you struggling with a particular pupil or class, Avoid negativity like the plague. It gets easier all the time, it is about finding your routines and what works for you and your pupils and that means it will go wrong sometimes and that is ok. You get it right eventually. It will be hard at times. BUT for me it was absolutely worth it and the good outweighed the bad by a such a large amount.
You don’t just have to survive your NQT year. You can thrive.