Your first teaching post can start off as exciting, inspiring and motivating but as the honeymoon period comes to the end and the weight of responsibility and the marking kicks in, NQTs can often worry that they’ve made a terrible mistake.
Below we have shared some advice from more experienced colleagues who have been in your position.
1. “It’s never too late to take control”
If you’ve not managed to command respect from and gain control of every class from the first lesson then don’t worry, all is not lost. It can sometimes feel as if first impressions will haunt you forever, but it needn’t be so. Respect can be earned and control can be gained by having a clear set of ground rules that you work to consistently. Share your ground rules with your students and expect nothing less of them. Don’t tolerate small discrepancies or larger ones will follow. Be strict, be predictable and be consistent. Both you and the children will know where you stand and you’ll have taken the first step towards teaching nirvana. If there’s one or two particularly difficult students or classes, seek advice from colleagues about what they’ve found effective when working with them in the past.
2. “Go to the staff room”
Don’t spend every break time and lunchtime in your classroom marking or you’ll find yourself feeling very lonely before too long. It might feel like it’s the only way to get things done but taking time to get to know your colleagues can often, indirectly, lead to a reduction in your workload as you learn from your colleagues or share workloads by sharing lesson plans or giving team teaching a go. You’ll find allies in the staff room who can help you to become a better teacher and share your grief when 9M drive you up the wall. You don’t have to spend every spare minute in the staff room, but make an effort to show your face regularly and hunt out an ally or two.
3. “Ask for help”
Asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. There will be hundreds of years of teaching experience available to you in the staffroom every break time and lunchtime time. Use it. Don’t think you have to go it alone. Alternatively, get help externally by booking onto a course specifically for NQTs where you can learn helpful tips and share experiences with other NQTs.
4. “Eat well and get enough sleep”
Eating on the hoof or not eating at all and constantly depriving yourself of sleep in favour of planning and marking may make you feel dedicated and hardworking but, in truth, the degree of self-neglect that most new teachers inflict upon themselves is counterproductive and can be harmful to their ability to do a good job. Stop for proper breaks and healthy meals, prioritise sleep and allow yourself some downtime. Otherwise you’ll be completely frazzled before you’ve completed your first half term.
5. “Good is sometimes good enough”
New teachers often make the mistake of thinking that every lesson needs to be an exciting extravaganza. Each lesson is planned as if Michael Wilshaw and the Queen were in attendance with the consequence that each lesson takes ten times as long to plan as to teach, leaving your time poor. Added to that, learning is often compromised by kids who are over-excited by your engaging and interactive lesson which has come before you’ve fully established your ground rules and a positive climate of learning and respect. In general, aiming for good is good enough at first and starting slowly but setting solid foundations is a sound long term plan which will create the environment you need if you’re to pull off some more exciting lessons later on in the term.
6. “Sometimes you need to just say no”
Beware the curse of the enthusiastic newbie. Everyone will offer you responsibilities left right and centre. They’ll tell you all sorts of reasons why it’s a great idea for you to take these responsibilities on, some of which are true. However, first and foremost you need to get settled into your new role and tonnes of additional responsibilities are likely to hinder rather than help that process. It is okay to say no – this is something that many new teachers forget. As you feel more organised and more able, then by all means take on one or two additional responsibilities, but do so with caution and ask for training or support before taking on a role that is beyond what you feel currently capable of.
7. “Use every lesson as a learning experience”
Finally, allow yourself to make mistakes. Mistakes are fine so long as you learn from them. Your students are learning with every lesson you teach, and so should you. Try to take the opportunity to reflect on your practice regularly, note your strengths but also carefully consider where you have most room to grow and consider how you might be able to make this happen.
Good luck, teaching is the best job in the world. The first year is the hardest, but it is well worth it.
If you are an NQT that would like some practical help, then book onto one of our courses specifically for NQTs. These include: