In his latest blog, Mr. Morgs reflects on everything he wished he’d known when he was an NQT in a letter from his future self.
Dear NQT me,
You’re no doubt staying at work til 7pm (yes, my NQT school stayed open that late) doing your marking. Stop for a moment and take heed of my advice after 5 years of teaching. I’ve condensed my advice down to 16 short points because I’m wary of cognitive overload (you’ll find out what that is in 3 years when Twitter starts going absolutely mad for it).
Work smart, not hard – perhaps the single, best piece of advice I can give. Prioritise your workload. Write a to do list on a post-it note after school each day and prioritise each job based on its importance and deadline. This includes getting rid of pointless or optional tasks. If it doesn’t benefit the children, don’t bother doing it. Don’t focus on displays that take 2 hours to put up when you can focus on improving subject knowledge or planning.
Don’t create unnecessary workload for yourself – practical lessons with no book work, worksheets that go in the bin and use of textbooks are all unfairly demonised. Don’t listen to the nonsense people say about these things, like taking photos of work and sticking it in books to evidence it (the evidence will be shown in children’s progress throughout the year).
Your pedagogy doesn’t have to be the same as your headteacher’s – they can co-exist and inform each other. Your headteacher should be committed to developing you as a teacher yes, but that doesn’t necessarily entail telling you exactly how to teach or forcing initiatives on you. You will learn how best to teach on your own through regular experience and observing others.
Read, read and read some more – every teacher and his dog seems to write a book these days, but some of them really are worth their weight in gold. Read them and develop your practice.
Join Twitter – Edutwitter will have a huge positive impact on your career. You can share your own ideas and resources and receive some even better ones in return. Some people on there are a bit odd and like to provoke, but they are a minority. You’ll meet some great teachers through this, including going to very cheap CPD events all over England.
Harness your strength and become a specialist – pick an area that interests you (e.g. maths, SEND, behaviour) and develop your expertise in that area. Read about it, go on courses and ask others for their advice and about their experience. Seek career opportunities in the area you want to focus on and improve your practice in doing so.
You may not like your school – in my case, I did choose to move on after my first year. The best decision I ever made. I moved to a school that was committed to helping me develop and one that provided me with so many opportunities. When I look back at my NQT school and think about staying there for a few years, I think I would have quit teaching. So my advice is to give up on the school, not give up on teaching. There is a school for you somewhere.
Don’t be afraid to fail – you learn from mistakes, just like the children in your class will. Try things out and if they don’t work then that is ok. You won’t know, if you don’t try.
Don’t just go to your mentor – seek advice from all experienced teachers. There will be a wide variety of experience in your school and they will all have valuable advice to share. Different perspectives are always good because they challenge, subvert, contradict, support or even affirm what you believe.
Treat your TA like the hero that they are – if you are lucky enough to have a TA, make sure you look after them. Build a strong relationship with them and rely on each other. You are not enabling them; they are enabling you. Take an interest in their lives and always remember their birthday!
Teaching is learning – you are a novice and you will be for at least 10 years. You are not an expert after 1 year or even 5. You are always learning and as long as you have that mentality, you can only get better at your job. The children in your class deserve a teacher who wants to teach to the best of their ability. You can learn from others – you are not competing with them. Better together.
The bad days happen – you will have many a moment where you ask yourself if this is the job for you, or if you are having an impact. You will understand your value when you see a child finally understand something they struggled with for so long (even something as simple as teaching them to tie their laces).
Switch off – when at school, work as hard as you can. When at home, relax and do what you enjoy. Switch off from work and enjoy your hobbies. Doing work on a weekend or during evenings is fine, but do it on your terms. Don’t take marking home – all it will do is sit by your front door unmarked until you go back to school on Monday.
Teaching isn’t a precise science – that being said, some ideas are rooted in evidence and research while others aren’t. Be critical of everything you choose to use in the classroom. How does it work? What will make it most effective? What will prevent it from working well? What are the pitfalls and advantages of this particular approach/theory/resource/scheme?
You have a voice – engage in discussion with staff about marking, assessment and other school-wide policies. You have a voice just as much as they do. Bring your perspective as an NQT to the table, because experienced teachers and headteachers often forget what it was like to be an NQT.
Reach out – if you’re feeling snowed under, reach out to others to let them know. Teaching is a job that presents constant pressure and it is important to think about your mental health. But teaching is also a profession full of people dedicated to helping others. Reach out and you will be supported.
From your future self.