Confessions of a COVID NQT

Grant Tweeddale

Grant is a newly qualified PE teacher, teaching in Sheffield. He is a former sales manager who made a career change to pursue a dream career in teaching. Grant is passionate about increasing participation rates in PE and higjligting the cross curricular benefits PE provides. 

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As a Newly Qualified Teacher, I appreciate that there are hundreds of challenges that we NQTs face on a daily basis: New school, new students, new responsibilities, yet same old dreaded observations. Throw into the mix a global pandemic to cut short your training year, and it's much harder looking for that golden nugget of a job (but on the plus side I have mastered the art of interviewing in shorts, shirt and tie).

Phew! Having made it to the half-term finish line, and working towards the end of the first full term (as of writing), I am looking back on the past few months and I am experiencing a plethora of emotions.

There have been challenges that I expected, and some that I simply could not have foreseen or imagined. The need to support colleagues, families and students through the difficulties and realities of the current situation meant that, sometimes, workdays turned to worknights, and weeks merged into weekends. 

To be completely honest, I am exhausted. But despite it all, I have a lot to be thankful for these past few months that I think is worth reflecting on. Throughout my many reflections these are some of the main points I have learned in my first term as a NQT and I want to share them with you. 

Nail your routines early and reap the rewards later! 

This was my main task at the start of term. From lining up outside the classroom before a lesson, to the weekly raffle, setting up routines for the students was paramount to setting high expectations. All of the students have been off for six months and most - if not all - have had very little routine in that time! So, I made it imperative that as the students came into the classroom, I greet them, check their uniforms and pick out the students that might need to take a minute or two to calm down. Not only does this routine create a safe environment - it also cements the relationships that as a NQT I wanted to build quickly. 

I found that students reacted well to an established-yet-varied routine in the form of a codebreaker or puzzle starter as they entered. I have also found that students of all ability react well to praise for outstanding work. All the above helped to build student confidence and, in turn, my confidence as behaviour improved, the learning environment was positive, and the working relationships began to form. 

Me-time, more important than ever!

As the term progressed, my stress levels have gone through peaks and troughs. One thing that I have been trying to keep constant is having time away from school to relax and recuperate. Something I managed throughout my training year (to the dismay of some of my colleagues) was that I gave myself Saturdays and most Sundays off from schoolwork and emails, and spent that time with my wife and children. This year, I have also given myself mid-week Wednesday evenings off too.

As alluded to above, it is all about routines and prioritising time effectively. I have even managed to come into school early and do some planning or mark a set of books, which has given me more time at the end of the day to relax and enjoy a cheeky departmental beer on a Friday afternoon (pre-second lockdown)!

It is difficult some days to be so disciplined, but having hobbies outside of school and ensuring time for “me” means that when I am at school I feel more focused during the day.

Working from home

Relationships are more important than ever! 

Hopefully, you have realised the theme running through my reflections…. Relationships! Relationships are key to any NQT, but this year has thrown so many spanners in the works that having someone to talk to about the daily issues, such as those difficult groups, behaviour issues and - more importantly - where the spare jars of coffee are kept. My weekly mentor meetings are very helpful and a great way to share success, reflect, and also vent!

Your mentor is there not only to monitor and help with professional development, but also to check that you are coping and not feeling overwhelmed.

On the flipside, relationships with your students are more important now than ever! For some (like myself), the lockdown was a blessing: second child, finishing a stressful four-year-stretch to qualify as a teacher, and home-schooling our five-year-old took up plenty of time! But for others, the lockdown proved to be a prison that school was the only escape from. With this in mind, take the time to get to know students, what they like out of school, finding commonalities with them, and break down the barriers. 

In my first GCSE lesson, I spent 40 minutes chatting with my students, getting to know why they picked PE as a GCSE, what they wanted to achieve, and how we can be successful as a group. That 40 minutes has been the best 40 minutes I have had at my school, and has paid dividends on numerous occasions. Like most things in PE and sport, it is a team game and there is no I in team. 

A positive approach

At any time, I can choose to take off the rose-tinted glasses, and there have been days where I absolutely refused to even take them out of the case, never mind put them on (my long-suffering wife will vouch for this). 

However, I still think it is important to reflect on all the good that is still out there. This year is stressful, you will go through an emotional rollercoaster of ups and downs, guilt trips, regrets and highflying achievements when students have that lightbulb moment.

But take time to reflect on all you have achieved and take wins when you can. 

Enjoy the rest of term and use this year to thrive not survive!

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