From learning to juggle unexpected workloads to making time for after-work drinks, our teaching community share their experiences of their first year in the classroom.
Completing the PGCE is one thing, but heading into school as an NQT and surviving your first year as a fully-fledged teacher is a whole new kettle of fish.
There is no shortage of ‘horror stories’ – breakdowns in the staffroom, teary episodes when the pupils are looking, and the late nights spent marking and trying to juggle your workload. In the wilderness of school life, it really is survival of the fittest.
We interviewed some of our teaching community to share what they believed were the biggest struggles of being an NQT, and some top tips on surviving the jungle.
Jake Burgess-Slater, an NQT at a secondary school in Manchester:
I think the main issue for NQTs in their first year is the change in expectations. The workload for NQTs is twice that of a trainee’s, and the first few weeks are by far the most vital in testing an individual’s resilience.
The workload of an NQT isn’t even a complete teacher’s timetable, so after the first year is over the work only increases. Teachers’ workloads become so large that teaching is more a way of life than a career and I find that just to survive some teachers attempt to cut corners. This is not something they should be criticised for, but it should highlight just how much is expected from them. Teachers jeopardise their social lives, sleep and health for the sake of doing a good job, and it really shouldn’t be so taxing to do a job that is so important.
Unfortunately, the repercussions of bending the rules as an NQT can affect the quality of education provided. A lot of NQTs will want to work for schools of a higher Ofsted grade or reputation to avoid jeopardising their craft and aid better pedagogy. Regrettably, grammar schools don’t often recruit NQTs and a career in education has a ‘pay your dues’ mindset before you are ‘allowed’ to work for a school that can support you effectively and help you provide quality teaching consistently.
As a trainee, I applied to a lot of grammar schools who claimed they were looking for NQTs but I was either not invited for an interview or sent rejection letters informing me that I was “not what they were looking for”.
As an ‘outstanding’ trainee, with a glowing letter of recommendation and a five-star online reputation as a resource provider, what more could I have done for an NQT position to make me more desirable?
There really isn’t enough funding going into recruitment at all, class sizes are still too big and as a result teachers have an increased workload and have a duty to know about all their pupils. There are some kids in my class who I don’t have a clue about. I know the basics, but it is just impossible to know each child, their individual learning techniques and their home life. It is clear that this is where money needs to go. Schools are run like businesses and in order to maximise profits they aim to get the most potential out of the least workers – it is a shame as this isn’t how schools should be run; they should be a creative process that isn’t driven by these kind of factors.
- Get organised.
- Do not expect a lot of free time – so when you do have some time this becomes more of a treat than an expectation you resent not having.
- This may sound really cliché, but make friends. You will survive in your school through the help of others.
- Being a teacher isn’t a job but rather a way of life, and those thinking of getting into teaching need to abide by this. I have already had a trainee and an NQT drop out at my school since September. Unfortunately, they didn’t understand the expectations and, therefore, did not prepare for them.
Adam McGuigan, a science teacher at a secondary school in Cheadle:
Having been a science teacher and a subject and professional mentor for ten years, I thought I would share some tips and advice that I give to my trainees.
Accept that teaching is stressful – do not enter it because you want to start at 9am and finish at 3pm – teaching often comes very high in workplace stress studies, and there is really not much you can do to avoid it. If you cannot cope with this (don’t worry, many can’t!), then you need to ask yourself if teaching is for you; some people simply are not cut out for it. As a mentor, having this discussion with a couple of trainees has been integral in their decision to carry on pursuing this career.
Ask for help – the people around you should be more than willing to help. If you are a trainee, your mentor and teachers whose classes you are teaching are an important resource, and you should be liaising with them every day for feedback and tips. As an NQT, do not lock yourself away in your classroom, instead speak to more experienced members of staff and other NQTs to get ideas. Learning how to be a good teacher is a very long process and asking for help with planning or a troublesome pupil is not a weakness.
Behaviour management – one of the best stress management tools is applying your school behaviour policy correctly. Smile, be positive and treat the pupils firmly but fairly. Applying behaviour policies and developing your skills in this area will greatly reduce the stress of teaching particular groups. If you struggle with this, talk to and observe some more experienced teachers, particularly with new groups if possible.
Time for yourself – make sure you continue with your own hobbies and personal life; if you cannot balance this then you are either doing too much or working at a school that is asking too much of you.
Your induction year is likely to be a whirlwind of excitement and anxiety; forming good relationships with your pupils, getting to grips with your workload, and managing classroom behaviour can sometimes leave you feeling drained and a little out of your depth. Do not suffer in silence – you are part of a profession which requires everyone to develop new skills all the time. Our NQT Support topic area contains useful guidance that will support you on your journey from an NQT to a fully-fledged teacher.
Download our Behavioural Policy to help to promote high levels of behaviour in schools, in accordance with the latest DfE guidance. It addresses key considerations such as training, pupil and staff expectations, smoking and drug use, rewards and sanctions, and behaviour off school premises.