Coming to the end of his NQT year, Mr. E. looks back on what he’s learnt and explains how it’s OK to not know everything straight away.
It’s that time of year again where social media is filled with excitable trainee teachers buzzing after successful interviews, itching to set up their own classrooms and meet their first ever class. You can’t help but feel their joy and reflect on your own experiences since you first heard the news you were going to become a Real Life Proper Teacher.
On Twitter, I read so much fabulous advice and so many interesting ideas from teachers a few years into the profession. Their knowledge is unmatched, their kindness plentiful and their mistakes there to be learned from. Yet, often this well-meaning advice falls flat on one simple premise:
You can’t run before you can walk.
Since taking over my first class in April last year, I’ve tried countless initiatives, activities and lessons suggested by others, eagerly spending hours adapting resources, photocopying resources, trimming resources… Each time I have come to the same conclusion: this didn’t work as well as I thought.
Now, this had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the ideas. There are so many excellent ones out there. In actual fact, it was entirely down to my own subject knowledge, my delivery and, in particular, my ability to manage all of the tasks demanded of a new teacher. That new whole class reading plan might look good when you’ve already nailed your maths and writing instruction, but when you’re still trying to get to grips with teaching, write your first reports and finish that pesky paperwork, it just won’t cut it.
I have lost count of the number of times I have blamed myself for disappointing results or wayward initiatives and laughed bitterly as I shelved yet another ‘game-changing’ resource to the back of my cupboard. This self-imposed pressure, amongst other things, took a toll on my health (long story). Quite simply, I was trying to run before I could walk. It was time to slow down and focus on what was important: teaching well and looking after myself.
During my first year of this job, I have learned that this job is both a blessing and a curse, often simultaneously. Children rarely respond to quick fixes and progress is usually hidden from view. As a consequence, you can begin to question if what you’re doing really works. Would that activity have run better if it was a card sort? Perhaps I could have added more visuals to my flipchart? Maybe they would just benefit from more elaborate displays? I ask myself ridiculous questions like this all the time and, earlier in the year, the more I convinced myself these things mattered, the later I found myself staying and the more stressed I began to feel. My teaching got worse. My mood dampened. My teaching got worse. My health deteriorated. My teaching got worse…
So, wonderful trainee teachers across the land. Chances are, you’re going to spend absolutely ages setting up your new classroom this summer. That’s OK. In all likelihood, you’ll probably download tonnes of resources you’ll never actually use. That’s OK. I also bet you’ll post a few pictures online because you’re proud of your efforts. That’s fantastic too and I can’t wait to pinch some fresh ideas!
But, please, please, please don’t blame yourself if something doesn’t work out as you’d hoped. It’s not worth it. Sometimes it’s the kids’ fault. Sometimes it’s SLT’s fault. Sometimes it was because it was really windy at lunch. In the end, you just learn to take the good with the bad, cherrypick the resources that you hope will work for you and smile widely as you leave the school at 4pm on a Friday because, you know what, they can just write the LO themselves.
Don’t make the same mistake this NQT did. Enjoy the walk. There’s plenty of time to run later. Good luck!