I remembed my NQT year as incredibly stressful, more so than my PGCE. I found myself in a challengeing school with extremely high expectations for staff. Whilst my department were amazing as was the NQT co-ordinator and lots of the other staff from across the school were very supportive, it was a difficult year.
Within the 1st term Ofsted decided to turn up, madness struck by the October half term. Workload was relentless, constantly planning, marking and assessing progress. It was hard work but taught me so much. So I thought I’d share a few tips for those embarking of their NQT year soon, these are based on personal experiences and others may have different advice.
Forget progress in the first term. Honestly spend the first term getting to know your students; how do they learn? What learning activities do they enjoy? What contributions do they make to school life? What hobbies do they have outside of school? Get to know the young people you are teaching. Build those all important relationships and make it clear what your expectations are in the first term. Personally I wished I’d done exactly that during the first few weeks of my NQT year rather than worrying about whether students were making progress. I now like to spend the first term finding out where my students are in regard to their subject knowledge, a bit about them and making my classroom expectations explicit. I make sure they are doing the little things that make the bigger things easier e.g. keeping their book tidy, meeting homework deadlines etc. and if they are not I crack down on it immediately – detentions, phone calls home, no second chances.
Set up clear routines. My first school had a clear routine for students once they entered the classroom. Collect books, get out equipment, write the date, title and learning objective and underline them and then get on with the starter task until the register had been taken. This made it easy to set up initial routines. If your school doesn’t have a specific start to lessons, create one. Students like consistency and knowing what to expect. Lay that out for them from day 1; once they know they then know your expectations as well. However it’s not just the start of lessons you need to set up routines for. Consider routines for some of the following: – End of lesson – Peer/Self assessment – Class discussions – Handing books in – Toilet requests The list could continue but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone.
Know your expectations Ensure you know what you expect from your students before the first day of school. It’s important when setting the foundations with your classes that you are clear in regards to what you’d expect from them and what they can expect from you. You will find yourself spending the first few weeks constantly repeating these rules and expectations but once your students are clear on them and are able to remember them (if you work in secondary, remember they will have numerous teachers with different expectations and routines they won’t instantly remember yours) you can then start to focus on the bigger picture – student progress. Word of caution though, ensure your expectations are achievable – if students feel there is no way or chance of them meeting your expectations you maybe faced with some behavioural issues.
Know the school rules Consistency is important, ensure you know and understand the school rules and behavioural routines before you start teaching. In the long run it makes life in the classroom easier for you; give warnings clearly, set detentions and chase them up. Phone home if you have to. Once student’s know they can’t mess you around and that you a consistent and follow through life in the classroom eventually becomes a little easier. Also it’s really annoying when you constantly follow school behaviour routines and find that others are not, it makes your teaching life a lot more difficult if staff are not consistent and following the school wide routines. Firstly students know what to expect if they consistently come up against the same routines, also they can’t argue back if you do what everyone else is (or should) be doing. Be firm, be consistent. Ensure that you and other NQTs know and follow the routines set out.
Smile before Christmas I’m sure you would have heard plenty of words of wisdom like the old ‘don’t smile before Christmas’. Ignore it. Greet your students on their way in and around the school. Talk to them off topic now and then. Tell them little snippets about yourself. Be human. Personally I tried too hard to be ‘a teacher’ and not a human teaching other humans; I felt I had to be 100% the professional and didn’t feel it was acceptable to share anything about myself with my students. I later realised this doesn’t work. It makes you unapproachable and unrelatable. Once you’ve established routines and expectations you can begin to ‘relax’ a little with your students and let them see a bit of you – you’re favourite colour (often related to the colour pen a student is using for their notes), your favourite parts of the topic (*insert excited face here* don’t get me started on climate change, I could talk about it for hours), your favourite books (oh, I see your reading….I love it, have you got to the part where…. whoops was that a spolier?). I’m sure you get the picture. Have those conversations with your students; let them see you are human too.
I hope this is some use to you, feel free to ask questions or for the more experienced of you feel free to add your top tips in the comments.
Thanks for reading.