ANDY McHUGH    On how to thrive (not just survive) In your NQT year

There’s a lot to be said for just surviving your NQT year. It’s physically, academically and emotionally tough. But, what if you could change your mindset to one of openness to opportunity rather than doing just enough to get by? What if you embraced the challenge, rather than hide from it? My guess is that you’ll enjoy this first year of your career far more.

It’s easy to moan about what lies ahead (and believe me, there certainly will be some legitimate times to moan), but NQT induction is not just some task you have to check off your to-do-list, it’s the beginning of something exciting.

Here are some ideas to help enrich your teaching experience and get you started:

Get to know your students

One thing that sets teachers apart from others is the relationship they have with their students. When I think about my own experiences at school, I (rightly or wrongly) seemed to put in more of a shift when I was being taught by someone who genuinely seemed interested in my life.

Teachers who bothered to ask about hobbies they knew about, or who asked about our families just seemed to have a distinct advantage when it came to getting us to buy-into whatever it was they wanted us to do. It has to be genuine though, students can smell ‘fake interest’ a mile off!

Help with extra-curricular activities

One of the easiest ways for NQTs to build a strong reputation amongst students is to help run a club, be it sports, drama, music, reading, chess, or anything else. Students love it when teachers are willing and able to give up their time outside of lessons.

When I first began teaching, I ran a football team. This gave me so many opportunities to develop a rapport with students throughout the school and my reputation among them grew quickly and lasted for years.

Take risks in your teaching

This one can seem a little controversial. Sometimes, when you are planning lessons early on in your career, it can be difficult to assess whether something will work or not. In my experience, most things work, given enough enthusiasm on the part of the teacher, providing that they have a good rapport with the students.

So, try that activity that could be amazing, even if it might also flop. You have a long career ahead of you (hopefully), so you might as well take these calculated risks early on when you can get away with the excuse of being inexperienced. The ups and downs are part of the journey. Embrace them!

Build and use your network

Treat teaching as a team sport. Use the support and guidance of others when you need it, but also give back as often as you can. There are so many groups, both online and offline that you can benefit from when it comes to sharing and collaborating on teaching resources, schemes of work, exam materials and pedagogical tips.

You’ll find that many MATs and LAs offer NQTs the opportunity to meet up to discuss and work with each other. Additionally, search for your subject on Facebook or Twitter and see what comes up. There are often weekly chats on Twitter, depending on your subject.

Just scroll through the timeline to see if any subject-specific hashtags frequently appear and make a note of when, eg. 7pm each Thursday, so you know what to look out for in the future. But remember to get involved too, you never know what useful connections you might make.

Be honest and reflective

The quickest way to grow is by acting on feedback. So be honest in your self-appraisal. Take time at the end of the day to go through what worked and the possible reasons why, then do the same for what didn’t work and the reasons for those too.

Over time, you will begin to spot patterns. You will improve much quicker and will also spend much less time planning and marking as a result. Maintaining a work-life balance is crucial and we’re in this for the long haul, so honesty is the best policy.

Finally, sit with the radiators, not the drains

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is this: spend your time with people who are enthusiastic and energetic about teaching. You will benefit from their ideas and be put into a positive mood just by being in their presence (and there will be days where this is all that matters).

So, let’s not just ‘survive’ NQT induction. Enjoy it for what it is: an exhilarating rollercoaster, with all the ups and downs that make it the greatest job in the world. Good luck!


Editor of HWRK Magazine, Andy is a teacher, Head of RE and Senior Examiner who loves nothing more than a good debate.

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