I’m about to embark upon the creatively entitled NQT year. I don’t really know a lot about this teaching game as yet. All I can say is what I think helps and has helped thus far. I know I have a lot to learn! This summer has given me the chance to reflect on last year. I’ll summarise before I go on for too long; I can’t wait to get better at my job. What terrifies me is the time, energy I will use up and inevitable mistakes I will make. I can’t even remember how I felt at the beginning of last year because it was all a blur. But to those about to start either PGCE or GTP then there are a few thing I do remember and can share. If anyone fancies giving me a list of tips for NQT that include how to avoid bags under eyes, loss of contact with friends and how to get over an addiction to Yorkshire Tea it would be greatly appreciated.
What follows is totally generic, not exciting or revolutionary but it might help someone and it reminds me of what I’m about to do! Good luck everyone!
1) Don’t worry, Be happy.
I was very lucky as a GTP because I had a very experienced, kind, supportive, thoughtful, clever and inspiring mentor. He has a unique way of only using words when necessary and always choosing the right ones. Something that is actually not that common amongst English teachers in my experience – we like our own voices! He told me in my first few weeks that I must always remember how lucky we are to do such a wonderful job. We are lucky to just spend time with students who have ideas, thoughts, experiences and perspectives that are different to our own. Not only do we get paid to spend time with them, laugh at their jokes, laugh when they don’t get ours and remember what it was like to be 15 but we also get to inspire, influence, engage and teach them skills that they will inevitably use for the rest of their lives.
This applies to every subject but my mentor, much more concisely than me, explained about how English continues to be a subject that has an undeniable influence on the many students. Even if your students hate reading, detest writing and would rather jump out the window than do a speaking and listening task we still teach them how to read situations, how to understand and show empathy, listen to others, form their own opinions and argue (sometimes astutely) with others. Whenever things seem too much, when everyone moans because the wrong biscuits are out on INSET day, when year 8 behave like monkeys on steroids, when you spend 30 hours planning an observation lesson (yes this happens), when you can’t sleep because you know you have too much to do, when Gove pops up on TV…whenever anything vaguely upsetting happens remember why you are called ‘Miss’ or ‘Sir’ for 80% of your day. Lastly, remember why for as long as possible. I forgot in February 2012 – my department thought they had broken me/won. I taught year 7 Poetry and I remembered why. It is, I think, worth all the crazy days for those tiny wonderful moments. Don’t stop smiling if possible. Failing all of that find some limes and start drinking more. Obviously I mean more tea.
2) Stay positive but expect the unexpected.
You will plan, sometimes pointlessly, for hours and then one tiny thing will change your entire day. If nothing goes ‘wrong’ for a while be assured there will be a fire alarm by the end of the week. Plan as much as you need to. Do what you need to do and don’t judge yourself against other trainees. I am someone who loves a plan. I am also someone who knows that having the plan does not mean it will be followed. This applies to your whole school life and not just your lessons. If and when things go off-plan you need your smile, energy and intuition. As long as you go in every day knowing things could be far more different to the day you planned in your sleep you’ll be okay. That way you won’t be as fazed when things do go in a different direction. Some of the times things didn’t go to plan for me include:
- the day I was observed by Governors
- the day I fell over in said observed lesson
- the day a student was sick in lesson (a different one this time)
- the day I lost a contact lens and taught blind
- the day the fire alarm went off in observed lesson
- the day my car wouldn’t lock = late
- the day my car wouldn’t start = late
- the many days I got my school weeks the wrong way around!
The best thing about school is it’s unpredictability. How else do they get the plot lines for Waterloo Road? Anything goes. Anything can happen. Be like Batman and be prepared for it. Always have flat shoes nearby.
3) Keep everything, Highlight everything, Throw nothing.
As a GTP or PGCE and NQT you are expected to prove you know what you are doing. Which is fair enough. The best thing to do is keep everything. Do what works for you. I started off by being very organised and just putting things in the correct part of a folder as soon as I got it. By things I mean anything – anything that can be used as evidence. Keep all lesson plans. Keep all meeting notes. Keep all random pieces of paper with your name on them. As it got busier I got worse at doing this but I still kept everything and organised in half terms.
4) Particularly in Secondary: Remember how important your subject is (to you)
This is something I wish I had made more time to do – keep reading for your own interest. I spent most of last year worrying and thinking about pedagogy. I didn’t leave much time to read my own books. I wish I had and it is something I plan on doing more this year. The main tip I would give prospective English teachers is (as well as the classics you didn’t read at Uni) make time to read the books your students will be reading. If possible head to your school library, speak to your librarian and see what is popular. You’ll be surprised how, if you’re lucky enough to have some keen readers in your classes, they enjoy discussing their books with you. I suppose it is not essential, but remembering why your subject is important to you is helpful. Students appreciate it when teachers are still excited and interested in their subject. It’s easy to forget that at Primary School they learn many subjects with one teacher and it must be tough to fain enthusiasm for every subject they teach. In Secondary we are lucky to only have one, two or three subjects to focus on. At times during your training it is difficult to remember what your subject is called but it is important to reignite your interest in it before you can do that with others. This is of course a really obvious thing to say but I was surprised how quickly everything else took over!
Finally I found these books really useful last year. Particularly towards the second term. They are really little and full of ideas. Very helpful for planning. Links are below.
Right, now that generic positive spiel is done anyone know how I get through the NQT year?