Achtung NQTs – the summer is nearly over. If you’re anything like me, the divine bliss of the holiday freefall is now coming to an abrupt end as you see the ground rapidly approaching. With that in mind, let me try and assuage your anxieties with some sage advice I was once given as a newbie on the scene. It’s by no means definitive, but it’s served me well and makes for a useful exercise in framing what kind of teacher you want to be this year.
1 – Start strong
If you’re an NQT, there’s a pretty good chance your students won’t have any prior experience of you. If this is the case, the first few lessons are decisive. They’re probably poised to take advantage of you and test the boundaries. Don’t let them. Make your academic and behavioural expectations clear from the beginning so they have no excuse. Build robust routines into every lesson – a clear rhythm of how lessons start, flow and conclude. This includes cycles of marking and assessing work. As malleable as kids are, once they get looped into these routines and patterns of behaviour they can be pretty hard to shift. So if you get it right now, it’ll save you a lot of work later on.
Although the firm-handed approach just outlined is indispensable as a new teacher, you also need to remember that your students aren’t going to automatically be on your side. They need to be nudged over to your cause. So letting students know a little bit about yourself and your background, furnishing your lessons with engaging activities and having a dynamic atmosphere are all vital to making sure they’re with you for the rest of the year. Believe me when I say a strong start can be the difference between a group eating out of your palm or biting the hand that feeds.
2 – Learn names and learn them fast
The first few weeks will feel like you’re engulfed in a blizzard of names, with only a few vague associations with faces to steer you right. Learn them all, staff and students alike. It’s incredibly difficult to build relationships with students or, often more pressingly, give out a sanction if you don’t know their names. Equally it’s worth making sure that you’re pronouncing students’ names properly. It may seem like a glancingly trivial matter to you when you accidentally pronounce a silent ‘G’ in a student’s name but it embarrasses them quite a bit and can make it harder for them to trust you later on.
To facilitate the tricky task of learning 300+ new names, It might be worth building name-learning into your early lesson activities to help you along with this. Turning it into a game can be an excellent opportunity to have a bit of constructive fun with your groups early on. Keeping annotated seating plans available when you’re teaching is also a valuable visual aid.
3 – Get to know your fellow staff
Although teachers are ostensively surrounded by people all day long, the profession can often be a lonely one. This is especially the case when you’re early in your career, beset by mounds of paperwork and fuelled by enthusiasm to design and augment endless outstanding lessons. No one’s encouraging you to slack off, but make sure you have time to get to know your colleagues, within your own department and beyond. That doesn’t mean you need to be getting the rounds in at every Friday work drinks – it’s more about the day to day effort of updating others on your progress, asking them for advice or sharing resources and remarks on how a particular lesson went.
A further note – the pronounced and visible hierarchy of schools can often lead to teachers reifying themselves and never deigning to speak to their ‘lessers’ – from TAs to cleaners. It’s a repugnant attitude and one you want to avoid. Every adult in a school makes a vital contribution to the end goal of education, so treat them with that requisite respect. In particular, a few easily neglected people to acquaint yourself with are dining hall staff, the cleaners on your corridor, the reprographics lead and the site staff. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll need their help at some stage so treat them in a way that encourages their assistance.
4 – Get yourself out there
As hinted at in tip 3, it’s pretty easy as an NQT to bunker down in your classroom to crack on with the Sisyphian mounds of work you’ll have. But make the effort to get out of your classroom and get involved in the wider life of the school. Run or assist with extracurricular activities, go on school trips, attend open evenings and music recitals, take on extra break duties. If you need to track a student down, use your free periods to go to whatever lesson they’re currently in.
It may seem like you’ve got more pressing things to do that contribute to passing your induction year, but the rewards of venturing beyond your classroom are rich and varied. Not only will you get a chance to the natural ebbs and flows of your school, with all its idiosyncrasies, you’ll also get to see a totally new side to a lot of your students. All this knowledge will help you be a more successful teacher in that school, with those students. Further to that, it’ll speed up the generally slow process of building a reputation around school. Seasoned teachers let their reputation do the work for them – they can silence a room just by walking into it. Although it looks easy, there’s usually years of background work that have gone into that. Getting yourself around school is one of the first steps to sculpting such a rep.
5 – Observe other teachers
It may feel like you’re on the other side of the equation now you’ve achieved QTS, but don’t be fooled. QTS is more of a trinket than a trophy and, like most practitioners, you’ve still got a lot to learn about teaching. So embrace it. Find out from colleagues which teachers are well known for their behaviour management or questioning or any area you want to improve on and arrange an observation with them. If you’re at a new school this can be a powerfully instructive way of finding out how they do things around there. It’ll also equip you with a bunch of tried and tested strategies, approaches and activities without having to do the heavy lifting of researching and developing your own.
Stay tuned for tips 6-10, coming soon…
Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay updated!