Robert Aitken, ex-teacher and education technology specialist at ONVU Learning, has some advice for the NQT in your school…
Step one is complete; you’ve found an NQT job for next year. It’s only natural to feel a little scared by the prospect. You’ve spent the last year training and now it’s just you at the front of the class, and there are 30 students staring back. There’s no need to panic though. Here are eight ways to build confidence as an NQT and to be your best self.
1. Get to know your new school before your first day
Once you know you have a job with a school try to visit several times and learn as much information from the team. Gather as many resources as possible. If you’re based a long way away, try to visit at least once and then follow-up with some probing questions. That will allow you to spend your time over the summer holidays planning effectively and gaining confidence in your approach.
2. Learn and follow school policies from the outset
Each school has its own way procedures and it is vital that you follow them wholeheartedly as an NQT. Reading them carefully is the task number one, but if you can spend time shadowing a class or a student before the summer break you’ll get to know how such policies and approaches are delivered by teachers in the classroom in practice. That will make all the difference in your ability to assimilate and thrive in the new environment.
3. Look for respect, not to be liked
There’s a saying: “You shouldn’t smile until Christmas”. That’s a pretty big challenge. A smarter version is to look for respect. Don’t fret about telling students off when needed, but at the same time you can laugh when the situation comes up. Just remember who is in charge and the goals everyone is there to achieve.
4. Stick to the basics of teaching – explain, model, question
Alex Quigley’s book ‘The Confident Teacher’ has a tip: Don’t think of trying to deliver overly complex ‘wow’ lessons every lesson every day. Just ensure that you have a core process of explaining new ideas, showing how they work in practice, and then using effective questioning to assess the learning delivered and if it has translated into understanding.
5. Look after your voice
A study by Greenwich University found that 50 per cent of NQTs suffer from voice loss during the year. What a problem to have! The NUT2 advises teachers to take a range of steps to avoid this, from warming up the voice at the start of the day to finding a comfortable range of pitch to drinking enough water. It’s a real problem, so take steps to address it so that the risk is minimised. If it should happen, do the right thing right away so the episode passes as fast as possible.
6. Don’t agree to do too much too soon – even under pressure
It’s easy as a new member of staff in a school to want to throw yourself into a wide range of new activities. Everyone wants to be respected and relied on. But everyone needs time to prepare lessons, do their household chores, sleep, AND have a life beyond teaching. As you become more experienced, teaching and preparation will take up less time and you can take on new roles. A teaching career can last over 40 years! Don’t try to conquer the task at the expensive of your life.
7. Use networks for help and support early and often
As an NQT you’ll have a network of people within your school to help you – usually a mentor and an induction tutor as well as a peer network of NQTs and RQTs (2nd year teachers). You may also be part of a wider network through a multi-academy trust or local authority – and you’ll probably be in touch with fellow students from your initial teacher training programme. It’s important to use them – and to remember that no question is too silly to ask! Ask the question before you run into the problem.
8. Take time to reflect on your lessons in a positive way
Take a moment out of each day and reflect on your lessons. Notice the critical incidents within them, and use reflection and external coaching to continually improve. Some schools make this easy with technology and structured techniques that improve the effectiveness of such self-reflection. Certainly think back after each lesson and ask ‘what would I do again?’ – identifying the key things that you did right. If anything could be better, think about what happened to drive that outcome, the internal and external factors.
It’s an exciting time, and as in all aspects of life, proper planning prevents poor performance. Every student deserves a great learning experience and every NQT is able to deliver one, with the right attitude, training, and support. Self-reflection and a growth mind-set focused on continuous professional development will get a committed NQT through day one, week one, and year one, and onwards for a rich career.