It’s a jungle out there – just remember the bare necessities.
Now I can empathise quite easily with Trainee teachers and NQT’s for two reasons:
- I was one once upon a time.
- This year I started a new position at a new school after being in my previous one for almost a decade which was a bit scary.
There is often a fear or a curiosity in my case when starting somewhere new. I know I will have some of the same questions as the NQT’s: what will my classes be like? What is my department like? What will the students be like?
However, being an NQT is a unique thing. I remember arriving with the attitude of “I can make a difference” or “I have some great ideas”. I am really pleased to say that I still think that now because if I didn’t I shouldn’t be doing this job. There will be others far more long in the tooth that say to you as an NQT “get used to it” or “that’s just way it is” but as I’ll explain there are a whole host of characters you’ll meet in the ‘School Jungle’.
Now, imagine yourself as Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”. You’d think a youngster in the Jungle could easily fall victim to a number of undesirable fates, but with the right support and the will to succeed you can succeed as Mowgli did. One thing that’s guaranteed is you will encounter plenty of people: some great role models and some not so great. What you have to do is be yourself. I made the error of trying to be a copycat of a member of staff in my department. He was brilliant, really knew his stuff and was so proactive – I could tell he had a gift (he’s actually now a Headteacher at a school so just goes to show I was right about him). The thing is, everyone is an original and no matter how hard we try there can only be one and remakes are often not as good as the original. I tried to adopt things which weren’t really me and I was trying too hard. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with liking what someone is doing or trying. Teaching is a profession built on collaboration and sharing. I have seen so many great teachers and taken something, no matter how small from all of them. From a one-liners when talking to students to 100 plenary ideas, the important thing is to develop your toolkit but build it around you: you as a person and as a professional. Always include you as a person into your teaching as well as the professional. This helps build and sustain relationships.
Like I’ve mentioned, you will come across a variety of characters within your departments or whole school staff cohorts. There is no one character you should aim to be but you can learn a lot from all of them. Let’s start with your mentor; every NQT should have someone supporting them through what is a very demanding yet rewarding year. Bagheera is one of those characters who may pass on wisdom from experience and they are always there, they are reliable and have your back. Bagheera looks to encourage Mowgli to reflect on his actions and that is essential in teaching. Self-awareness is crucial in your development and sometimes having someone to bounce ideas off is vital. We all need a Bagheera as an NQT. They should provide you with hints and tips and always guide you towards your potential. There are times when they might need to make certain points but sometimes you must listen to experience. Having a good rapport with my NQT mentor really helped me. They led by example in the classroom and I still remember observing him teach and thinking “bloody hell – he’s good”. He is still someone I have a very high opinion of and I still go to for advice nine years on.
This brings me onto Baloo. Everyone needs a Baloo; he represents getting the work-life balance right. There will always be staff you see that are calm, unflappable and always smiling – nothing gets them down. A lot of the time it’s because they have the work-life balance right. This is difficult as you’re embarking on starting a very demanding career, but you must remember it is only part of your life, it isn’t your whole life. You must embrace the “bare necessities”. Whatever you enjoy as a hobby or pastime, make sure you do it. Find time for that coffee with a friend, don’t miss a date with your partner. If you maintain a healthy balance, then things in school are easier – trust me. We can also use the “bare necessities” in terms of your classroom expectations.
Dealing with behaviour is probably the most concerning thing for an NQT when they start. Don’t go in with hundreds of expectations and rules. Students will forget them all and so will you probably. Instead, keep it short and limit them to three, possibly five at a push. You can link all behaviours to basic rules without having to create a rule for every possible behaviour. Also, seek out those who are known for their ability to deal with behaviour and create great environments within a classroom. You may wonder how they do it, pondering if they hypnotise the students like Kaa the snake does to Mowgli. I’m afraid not but they are consistent in their approach which allows students to know where they stand and to create a culture in your classroom.
Below are some suggested expectations/rules for your classroom (make sure they support the whole school policies that exist and don’t contradict them). Choose three from below to take into this year. All behaviours can link back to at least one of the three you choose, I promise.
- The best you can be
- Respect yourself and others
- Be safe
- Show manners
- Be ready to learn
- Be patient
- Be willing and open-minded
- Be resilient
- We get things done.
Don’t forget to model these yourself; students pick up on your body language, tone of voice and what you say very easily. Even when little Johnny is doing your head in, avoid losing your cool and telling him “to stop being an idiot” or “shut up”. If you do, you could be breaking one of your owns rules.
Beware of King Louis, this is someone who wants something from you. Being an NQT, you will be full of ideas, be proactive and make resources that might even be the envy of others. Now, I’ve mentioned teaching being about sharing and collaboration but that implies a two way system where everyone is supporting each other and developing together. Sometimes, there are those who want to have the resources because they rely on you doing the work/planning for them. This is rare but beware, we all want to impress and contribute but do not let others take advantage of your enthusiasm and energy especially if it means you sacrificing your own time for them.
I’m not going to about discuss the Shere Khans of teaching too much as they don’t deserve the blog space. Unfortunately, there will be negative people in all professions so if they ask you “why are you bothering?” or “what’s the point?” don’t let their negativity infect you – it is contagious but never useful. Channel your enthusiasm, listen to the positive people around you and enjoy the first year of being in such a rewarding and life changing career.
Good luck man-cubs….