I remember the first day I went into my new classroom, filled with anticipation and so many great ideas. There, lying in front of me was backing paper, borders, a staple gun and no instructions. Now, in all my years, I had never backed a board and was literally clueless. It took me a whole day to back my first board - yes one whole day and it wasn’t even a big board! That is why, to this day, I teach every student I have to back boards - a skill for life! (Mine have definitely improved - see below)!
I also wasn’t sure what to have on the boards - there wasn’t Twitter or teacher forums to ask and everyone else was making the most of their summer holidays. So, I did what any decent new teacher would do, I filled my boards! I used WordArt (it was new and very up and coming) and created 150 words for my ‘word wall’. I then created the numbers 1-100 for my maths wall and so the madness continued. My first classroom was so busy and not how I have my classroom now - but I genuinely didn’t know any better. I remember learning about classroom ‘wallpaper’ in my second year - the stuff that is just up and never gets changed. The stuff that children no longer see because they are so used to it. Just like wallpaper - it becomes invisible due to familiarity!
Anyway, my classroom was ready, I was ready, September began and I welcomed my first class. I couldn’t have been happier or more excited - my own class - my class - no one else’s class - a class named after me - 1B! Anyway, during my first week I had a terrible awakening - I was the one fully responsible for the thirty children in my care. For some reason, I thought that the safety nets that I had had as a student would still, somewhat, be there. However, the stark reality was that I was the one in charge - I had to think on my feet and I couldn’t go for advice to the class teacher, because that was me. Oh my goodness - what a responsibility!
Having thought about this a great deal, I truly don’t know how I could have prepared for my NQT year because it was and is an immense shift. I went from teaching some of the timetable (and I was teaching a great deal) to all of it. I went from not worrying about the bits I wasn’t teaching to having to ensure anyone covering me knew exactly what needed to be done. Yes, there were school policies and I did have supportive colleagues, but what, how, when and where my class learnt was down to me.The progress they made was dependant on the choices I made and tat was hard.
Thankfully, NQT support has moved on from those days but I have some top tips for any early-career teacher that I learnt from wise people along the way:
Make sure that you have everything ready for Monday - that way you won’t be worrying over the weekend.
Make sure you have at least one day off at the weekend (ideally two), so that you are refreshed for the week ahead. If you keep working you won’t be in any fit state to teach thirty children on Monday morning.
Don’t work in the evenings - everyone needs a break and if you go into school at 7.30am, work all day and then work in the evening you will become short-tempered. Get your work done in school so that you are able to go home and relax.
Don’t spend hours chatting to everyone after school. Now, I have to be honest and say that this is the piece of advice that I found hardest. I love to chat! I love to catch up with everyone’s day and see how they are, but if I spend two hours chatting then I won’t be able to have the evening off.
Ask for help? As an NQT you cannot and will not know everything so don’t pretend that you do. Use your mentor’s expertise as well as that of others in your year group and school. You are not alone and you do not need to prove that you are the best teacher ever - you have only just taken up the craft of teaching.
Don’t say yes to everything. You will be asked to do many things in your NQT year so learn the phrase - ‘Let me think about it’ - then do just do that. Weigh up everything carefully using one question - Will this help me to become a better teacher? If the answer is no, then don’t do it.
When you are dealing with parents, remember that you are looking after someone that they love more than life itself and they may ask questions and worry, but that is not because you are doing a bad job but because they want the best for their child.
Write a list of what you need to do so that you don’t forget - but remember that you will never complete the list so learn to prioritise. What is vital? What do I need to do? What would I like to do? I would add to that - what did I see on Twitter that I thought was phenomenal but realistically won’t have time to create!
Create a routine from the very beginning. Teaching very young children, I found that routine created boundaries and boundaries were a means of giving these children a safe environment. They knew when they would have Maths, English, play, lunch and games. Never, ever underestimate the power of having a routine.
Be clear. children/ young people of any age want teachers to say what they mean and mean what they say. This allows them to know exactly what is expected of them. This again enables them to feel safe and secure, which allows them to feel confident to take risks within the learning environment.
Let them know that you care. This doesn’t mean pretend that you are their best-friend though. I am fully invested in every child I teach and have been fully invested in every child I have taught. I genuinely want them to succeed and they need to know that. They also need to know that I believe in them. Show your children that you care and that you believe in them!
Some of the children you teach will not have boundaries at home, clarity from their adults and reassurance that they are cared for which is why our job is so much more important. You may be the only stability that your children know, so be that stability.
‘The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.’ –Muriel Spark
Have a great week!