teachgr
Advice for secondary NQTs

I officially completed my NQT year last Friday 22nd July. It was an incredible feeling. A lot of people have asked how my first year went, which is a question I’ve found very difficult to answer. I settled on the response ‘it was one the most significant years of my life.’ It was extremely challenging in many different ways, but equally rewarding too.

I’m proud of everything I did and accomplished this year, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t do some things differently if I could do it all again! This post is for all secondary-school NQTs - I’d like to give you the bits of advice I wish I’d had (or acted upon) at the start of my first year of teaching.

1. Design a Behaviour Plan

One of the bits of advice I heard most often prior to starting teaching was to be ‘firm but fair’, and actually it was perhaps the least helpful. It made me focus on being fair, which for me translated into being lenient - being reasonable, giving second chances, listening to excuses. Of course consistency is vital (students respond less to the severity of sanctions and more to the consistency with which they are applied) but I personally would have benefited more from designing my own clear behaviour plan and enforcing it religiously. Your school will have its own policy but there will always be parts that are open to interpretation, and it will tend to be fairly general (if my school was anything to go by).

I designed my own behaviour plan after the first term, and wished I had done so sooner. I sat down with a fellow NQT and we each suggested as many ‘behaviour scenarios’ as we could, and in each scenario we decided what we would do about it. We soon covered the scenarios we had already had to deal with and moved on to those we imagined might happen at some point.

My advice then: before you start, design a behaviour plan, so as to be completely clear with yourself and with the students about what your expectations are, and what will happen if they are not met. Then be absolutely relentless about following this through (even when it could appear unreasonable). Don’t let anything go!

2. Gather Evidence Often

As teacher that is ‘newly qualified’ you inevitably have the additional challenge of collecting evidence for the ‘Core Standards’. Find out early on from whoever will be assessing you just what kind of evidence they are looking for. Once you know this you can be on the look out for opportunities to gather it - whether it’s photocopying examples of written feedback, printing out email correspondence with parents/TAs/teachers, etc. It may seem obvious, but ‘little and often’ is by far the best approach here. Spending a whole day of my half-term holidays catching up on evidence, when I could have been preparing lessons (or not) was miserable.

3. Prioritise

Improving my time-management was a massive hurdle for me this year. As an NQT you have so many more responsibilities and admin work than during a PGCE, and there are times when you need to cut corners or completely scrap some tasks. People deal with this in different ways and prioritise differently, but here is my advice in handy sentence-long chunks:

  1. Get organised (sorry to sound patronising) - make your resources easy to find, record your plans for later, etc.
  2. If a task doesn’t directly help students, and you won’t get in trouble for not doing it, don’t do it.
  3. Make sure the quality of your lessons remains a high priority, mainly because the more often they go badly the more miserable you’ll feel and the harder your job will be. 
  4. Try not to take work home - this can be tough but makes a big difference to work/life balance.

4. Plan Less

One of the biggest changes in the way I taught over the course of the year was that I ended up planning less - both in terms of detail of my lesson plans and the amount of work I expected students to do in one lesson. Before each lesson, you really only need to plan one or two main activities that the students can be getting on with. Then during the lesson you need to be able to adapt. Learn a small repertoire of plenaries that you can use week-in week-out. Set lots of extension tasks for when students finish early, preferably tasks that don’t require planning like: getting students to design a plenary quiz; assigning them as ‘learning monitors’ to give feedback about who is making the most progress; or redesigning a lesson activity to make it harder/easier.

This advice is based partly on my experience of planning beautifully detailed lessons that were ruined through student apathy/poor behaviour, and partly because including student-led activities is simply good teaching.

I hope you found this advice useful. There’s a lot more out there - see the NQT Survival Guide which will be published later this year, having been written by lots of teachers collaborating via Twitter and Google Docs. Twitter itself is a massively useful source of advice (especially the #ukedchat hashtag), as are the forums on TES New Teachers.