Tip #1 – Observe, Observe, Observe
I cannot stress this enough. Your NQT year puts you on a 0.9 timetable and you will be blessed with more ‘Planning, Preparation and Assessment’ time than you might see again for the foreseeable future. One of the best ways to develop your pedagogy and find new techniques is to observe lessons and see what works. I often recommend observing teachers outside your subject because it allows you to forget the content and maintain focus on what that teacher is doing to facilitate the learning process and make progress with students. Go watch your fellow NQTs and feed off each other’s fresh ideas. Make the most of this reduced time now, while you have it, and see a variety of delivery styles and applications of knowledge. You might even see the mistakes experienced teachers make, which will show you that you don’t need to be perfect!
Tip #2 – Set routines in your classroom early on
Many NQTs worry about their behaviour management, and this is understandable. There is a well-peddled myth in schools that you shouldn’t smile until Christmas to show the kids who’s boss. We’ve all heard this being said, but I don’t ascribe to this philosophy and I prefer to beam from day one. But smile or not, the key thing is to establish ground rules from day one and not falter from them. Display the discipline policy in a prominent place and don’t be afraid to refer to it. I’ve found that having my more challenging groups draw up the rules (or a ‘class contract’) with me and allowing them a say makes them feel included, valued. This approach gives me a yardstick to remind them, when they act up, of the mutual rules agreed together. Contracts are two-way, and I’ve also found success in asking what ‘my rules’ are (i.e. fairness, giving warnings before consequences) which I found created a mutual bond from the get-go.
Tip #3 – Don’t reinvent the wheel
It might not seem it at first, but the jump from the PGCEs 12-16 hours a week to 20 hours a week, plus the added responsibilities of school life, can catch a lot of people off-guard. If you try to plan and prepare all your own resources from scratch, you might have a meltdown before December! Sure, you will make lessons with ‘bells and whistles’ on, but you will also occasionally need to go fall back on the textbook or lift from your department. Your colleagues will be happy to share their resources so ‘magpie’ as much as you can. Your work-life balance is going to be critical in this first year, so you need to find ways to minimise how long you are spending planning.
Tip #4 – Get to grips with your tutor group as soon as possible
Your school will likely give you a sweet and un-presuming group of Year 7 students in your NQT year with the hope that you will guide them through to Year 11. It’s advisable to learn the names of your tutees very early on and find out who in your tutor group have particular needs and vulnerabilities. It’s all too easy to prioritise lesson preparation over your tutor group, we’ve all been there at times, but you will do well to maintain focus on your new pastoral role. Establish routines for tutees early on and be prepared to help some (or many) with organisation skills. Contact with tutee parents early on is essential for developing a support base at home. Phoning parents with good news and praise is going to have a huge impact on their behaviour in school. I also recommend knowing the key colleagues from the first day (SENCO, Safeguarding, Year Lead) for prompt communication and follow up.
Tip #5 – Find the good in what you do
Mental health is incredibly important and NQT’s are often their own worst enemies. It is so easy to finish a lesson, slap your head and criticise yourself for what you should have done differently. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was every Friday afternoon to write down three things on the board that went well that week. It can be a student you advised, a meaningful task, or maybe even a meeting that went well. When you return to your classroom on Monday, re-read your points and remind yourself that you are doing great work. It can sometimes feel that you have ‘imposter syndrome’, but you are actually doing better than you realise. If you don’t remind yourself, you are doing yourself a disservice.