Part 2 of our survival guide for NQT’s – take heed and prosper.
6 – Keep trying new things
No doubt after the first few weeks the novelty of having your own classroom and teaching groups will begin to evaporate. No doubt your enthusiasm for crafting perfect lessons will follow suit and you’ll settle into a steady rhythm of recycling old tasks and lesson structures.
Resist. Keep trying out new things, maintaining a curious and experimental perspective on your teaching practice. This is one of the most general ways to keep improving as a teacher, taking risks that are managed in the right way. And remember – if things don’t quite work out how you wanted, you’ve still learned something about being a good teacher.
7 – Mark smart
Marking’s been a major flashpoint in discussions of best practice for quite some time now, with it still forming the bulk of teachers work outside of contact time. Many argue that it’s a superfluous exercise in bureaucracy, while others point to evidence in support of the high impact feedback has on academic achievement.
However this stalemate pans out, marking is going to be a big part of your life as a teacher. Whether it’s a major or minor role, however, largely depends on how you decide to cast it. You can build marking into your daily routines as a teacher – getting to students to peer assess where possible, planning lessons with windows of silent work allowing you to get a few books marked and using coding systems to give common feedback and provide follow-up questions. Alternatively, you’ll leave your marking neglected for several weeks before trying to session through multiple sets in one night. It should be clear which the smart option is.
8 – Keep behaviour your focus
One of the best features of the PGCE is having a group’s usual class teacher on standby when you’re teaching them. It allows you to focus on certain key components of your teaching practice. However, an unfortunate side effect is it often insulates trainees from how challenging behaviour management can often be for teachers at the start of their career.
This is a shame because the reality is that behaviour management is probably going to have to be the main focus of your teaching in the first few years at least. All the elegantly designed resources and floridly detailed lesson plans in the world won’t allow you to teach a good lesson if you can’t assert a high degree of control over a group. We may wish that it was otherwise, but it is so – accept it and focus on getting all your groups under control. Follow the school’s behaviour policy, pass on concerns to the appropriate figures, ask for help from experienced teachers and get into the habit of contacting home about both good and bad behaviour. Above all else, don’t simply accept challenging behaviour. Expect more from your students and keep pushing to get it out of them.
9 – Read
In a sense there’s never been a better time to read about teaching. Accessible mass market paperbacks abound and it seems like every other teacher has their own regularly-updated blog (said with a knowing smile I assure you). The majority of these are more confessional in tone, but there’s many out there that are packed with insights and activities from seasoned hands that you can learn from. Twitter and Pinterest are also both rich with lesson ideas and tips for planning and delivery.
With the profession in the current state it’s in, it also behooves you as a member of it to try and understand the wider socio-political landscape that education operates in. It’s not obvious that this will help your practice, but it will certainly help you grasp the milieu in which your practice unfolds.
10 – Don’t take it all too seriously
For some, the NQT year is where they discover their calling. It’s a source of pleasure and purpose in their life. For others, it can be gruelling and hellish, characterised by despair, loneliness and confusion.
I’ll take it as obvious that you want to avoid the latter. One of the best ways of doing this is by not taking any of it too seriously. When students misbehave, don’t take it personally. If the week comes to a close and you’ve still got work hanging over you, don’t worry about it – it’ll get done in good time. None of this is to suggest that you should shirk your duties or be slack in any way; just don’t beat yourself up about it when you briefly lapse. Remember that this thing of ours is among the most challenging jobs in the world and that if you’re finding it tough then everything is more or less as it should be. With every challenge you surmount you should almost feel your nerves and muscle fibres tearing apart and reorganising into a newer, stronger teacher. So embrace the difficulty and remember the secret strength you have within you. It’s what you’ve said to students countless times – now say it to yourself.