Introduction to your NQT year
Starting your first teaching job is a particularly nervous and tense moment. At the same time it's satisfying to throw off the restrictions which the training year inevitably placed upon you. Now for the first time, for good or for bad, these are your classes.
I can vividly remember my first day joining a new school in the midlands. I had got to the school nice and early and had been down to my classroom to organise a few things. I can remember the relief at seeing another member of staff dressed in casual clothes—I had guessed correctly that wearing a suit and tie would be a mistake. Such things might seem trivial but they reflect the nerves and worries that will naturally exist. We all want to do a good job, we all want to fit in and we’re naturally nervous that we might not.
On my first full teaching day I did now sport a tie and I arrived at the staff room for morning briefing looking particularly dapper. As I entered the room there were many faces, some of which I now recognized and many spare chairs available for my selection. I looked around and spotted a row of four of five chairs that were spare. That looks like a nice spot I thought to myself and I sat down. A few moments later the room had filled up but no-one had chosen to sit next to me. Then, at the moment the Head walked in, a caring soul whispered in my ear, “you’re in the head’s seat’. I moved quickly sensing a few giggles. About three years later I would perform a similar rescue act for another ‘newby’ who had made the same mistake.
There are some valuable lessons here. The first is that you will make many mistakes in your first year. The most fundamental part of teaching is dealing with people and this can be a fraught business which will inevitably lead to friction from time to time. One piece of advice that I have never forgotten is that teaching is not something that can be cracked because every day can bring challenges that you have not yet encountered. Resilience and a sort of lightness on your toes are skills which come in handy.
The second is that feeling awkward and self-conscious is a perfectly normal way to feel. If you are joining a secondary school it might be that you are one of a hundred teachers which can be quite daunting. If, on the other hand, you are arriving at a small primary school you might be acutely aware that everyone knows each other very well and that too can leave you feeling on edge.
The third lesson is that invariably there is someone who will ride to the rescue. Teaching is a demanding job and although it is necessarily a fairly lonely task (we all teach by and large on our own) it is also a collaboration, a team effort where colleagues rally to each other’s defence and support one another readily.
There is something very exciting about starting your first teaching job and although you will be very busy please do take some time to pause and to enjoy the process. I look back with very fond memories of my first year.
Teaching is the only profession I can think of where its workers are required to lead for the majority of their working day. Leadership is not something that we aspire to in teaching it is something that is demanded from the first moment of that first teaching day. Leading a class, whether it be primary or secondary, is a demanding task and one which requires a rigorous and consistent approach.
Use the support systems that are in place in your school. Take the advice of your NQT co-ordinator and your induction tutor. Get to know the school and its systems. The collaborative element of our profession requires us all to share in the ethos of the institution to which we belong. Sharing values is not enough—we have to model them in our students—and we can only do this if we consistently apply those systems which have been proven over time. Read the school handbook and understand that your job is to know how the school actually runs and to work it out quickly. If a student tells you that they can leave early for break because their other teachers allow them to you can quickly respond: “that is not the school rule and it is not mine either, nor is it any of my colleagues…I was not born yesterday.” Communicate with your colleagues and ask for their advice if you are unsure about how to proceed.
You have all this fun to look forward to. If you set up your classes in a determined fashion and if you prepare engaging and interesting lessons then students will respond to you. If they don’t, then use the school’s systems. When they do you will find the job most rewarding.