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NQTs; you will make a difference

  • NQT
Mike Hodgkiss
Mike Hodgkiss 02 October, 2019

As an NQT you have successfully passed teacher training and you’re ready to teach your first class. You have completed all observations, signed off all the documents and are keen to now put into practice all of those ideas and strategies on how to teach your class; with the freedom to use your new skills and experience to adapt your approaches to suit the children’s strengths and weaknesses. 

You can’t wait to begin your teaching career.

For some new teachers, however, their experience comes as a bit of a shock.

“There was the realisation after the first few weeks that, in fact, I wouldn’t have the time or freedom to trial behaviour-management techniques or classroom set-ups or to implement my own ideas. And the school’s approaches to lessons were at odds with what I had been taught and told previously.

There were expectations of having big, bright and interactive displays. All exercise books had to be the same across the school, whole schemes of work had to be followed, behaviour management was identical in every class, and you had to timetable a certain number of English and maths hours into the week.”

Newly qualified teachers (NQTs) are the lifeblood of the system. They are vibrant, dynamic and a breath of fresh air to any school. But NQTs are also some of the most vulnerable teachers and like all precious resources they need protecting and safeguarding.

Many struggle with the enormous demands and challenges of the job and some are keen to exit because the stress can be too much, support is in short supply and it all feels like ‘sink or swim’. The Education Support Partnership found two in five NQTs have experienced mental health problems.

With retention rates of early career teachers lower now than they were a few years ago, the experiences of new teachers in their first year are critical for the future of the profession and we need to listen and act to ensure that we protect their wellbeing and retain their talents.

A healthy school is one where mentors and senior leaders understand that NQTs are not the finished product; learning how to be a teacher takes time and it isn’t linear. A school with a wellbeing strategy will value NQTs as professionals with a lot to offer who deserve intelligent and strategic support.

Many NQTs can quickly fall victim to the curse of impostor syndrome by seeking perfection, comparing themselves to others, over-preparing and constantly trying to impress. They beat themselves up for making mistakes and they can make themselves ill with crippling self-doubts and by imagining they are frauds.

Here is some advice:

Everything you thought you knew about discipline won’t fully prepare you for pupil “D” and his negative words and actions. Everything you thought you knew about parent relationships won’t help with your most negative parent who thought he was an expert in education. And everything you thought you knew about instruction wasn’t enough to help  differentiate for all your students’ needs.

What you will learn by your second year is that everyone makes mistakes; the key is to learn from them.

Here is an account of the experience of NQT:

I had periods of time when I felt disheartened, particularly at the end of my first year of teaching. I also had days when I started the morning full of energy and passion and excitement, but by 10 a.m. the problems dragged me down.

There were days when it seemed like it didn’t really matter if I tried, put forth extra effort, did a really great activity instead of a worksheet, or tried for the hundredth time to reach that student.

I tried to make a difference, but Roger still got in a fight. I did everything possible, but Brittany still didn’t bring her homework. I communicated with parents, but they still said it was my fault that their child wasn’t learning.

You probably will also have days when you ask, “Is it worth the effort? Am I making a difference?” Let me assure you, you do make a difference.

However, one of the most difficult aspects of being a teacher is that we sometimes don’t see the results of our efforts. It’s like planting an apple tree in your backyard and discovering you are moving away at the end of the year. Full growth won’t be evident until after you are gone.

You dug the hole, planted the tree, watered it, added fertilizer and some TLC — but because it takes three to five years for an apple tree to grow to full height, someone else will enjoy the apples.

Teaching is exactly like that. You invest lots of time, energy, and passion today, but sometimes you have to trust that the fruits of your labor will flourish sometime in the future. You do the work and you trust there is a benefit in the years to come.

It’s important that every single day, you keep the faith. Your kids watch you; they read your moods; and they notice what you wear, what you say, and even sometimes what you think! And every single day, every single moment, remember, “On your worst day, you are still someone’s best hope.”