Sharon Porter, Lead Practitioner in Maths (Bristol Brunel Academy) and Specialist Leader in Education (Cabot Learning Federation) provides excellent advice for Recently qualified teachers. You can follow Sharon on Twitter via @SPorterEdu.
This is your second year as a teacher (possibly your third year if you have been doing this part-time) and you’ve had the support of a subject mentor, an NQT mentor and help from your usual friendly staff for the entire year. So who’s going to help you now that you are no longer an NQT?
Over the summer, I’ve thought about the support I usually give to NQT’s and new staff and how I can improve this support/guidance. This blog is a direct result of my reflections and hopefully, will provide you with guidance and some thinking points for this academic year. You may well be in the same school that you were in for your NQT year but then again it might be a brand new start for you; new school, new colleagues, new students. The following, although not an exhaustive list (albeit a long one!) should help.
If you need help, ASK. Most folks now see you as ‘a teacher’ and no longer ‘an NQT’, so they will not necessarily be looking out for you (this is not intentional). You may not have realised it but whilst you were an NQT, your entire department would have been making sure that you were not struggling with:
• tricky classes
• writing school reports
• phone calls home for problematic students …and so on.
I still find that I speak to colleagues in my department, around school, at other schools and on twitter, about anything from resources for CPD to lesson ideas. Besides, others may well have taught such a lesson recently and may have hints and resources for you.
There are days however, when you will literally need to just stop what you are doing, clear your head and directly ask someone to help you. Do not be embarrassed by this.
Remember to speak to other teachers and vent when necessary; whomever you are living with (unless, they are also teachers), no matter how patient they are, they do not necessarily want to hear about Mary ruining her book in your lesson, Keith constantly talking, Sam trying to charm you because of late homework….at the end of each day.
Spend some time each day or a couple of times a week making a note of what has gone well in lessons and generally what has gone well for you in school. An electronic diary/planner that you can just dump your thoughts into, is ideal or if you really enjoy writing, set up a blog. Write some regular posts about your experiences this year, both good and bad and I promise you, it will be of use to another educationalist.
Taking a note of what has happened on a good day also serves as a pick me up. If I were to tell you that I have cards, sketches and letters from students, letters from principals and ‘notes to self’, stuck on the inside of a cupboard door in my home office you might think that I was weird. Alright, it is a little strange but sometimes, when I’ve had a particularly tough day, (students not being particularly nice) I know where to look to confirm that I am able to do my job well and that I am a good teacher; it always makes me smile.
This your new mentor. Take advantage of what’s on offer. Give feedback on the sessions and let the CPD organiser know if there is something you want to have in the next session; others may want this too. Try not to get caught up in the negativity that sometimes surrounds CPD.
If you think that the session was bad or could have been better in places, be the brave one and speak up. Let the organiser know by email or find them for a quiet chat.
I’ve had to run a few CPD events and I know that I will be running more this year. I am always open to suggestions, ways to improve a session and I’m always on the hunt for new resources to share. I don’t think your CPD person is any different…they will listen.
Time & Responsibilities
Teaching & Learning Responsibilities (TLR’s), Academic afterschool sessions, Break time duty, Breakfast Club, Chess Clubs…the list is endless so do not feel obliged to do it all! Break duty and Academic afterschool sessions may well be part of your role as a teacher at your school and you will not be able to opt out. Just be careful, you are still on a journey as a teacher and you are still learning. Make sure that you have the time to continue performing your main role well; the role of a teacher.
Try to plan some of your time outside of school too. If you don’t schedule time for yourself or to visit friends/family, you risk isolation, working continuously and possibly making yourself ill which is never a good thing.
Needing more time is something you have more than likely heard colleagues talking about in the staff room, in corridors and in meetings. I hate to say it but you will lose your additional 10% PPA that all NQTs are entitled to. Do not panic. Stay organised. You will become even more efficient.
Furthermore, get comfortable with this word… “NO”
You have got to learn to say no sometimes and not apologise for doing so. Try not to feel guilty about it either. Some colleagues may try to take advantage of the fact that you are the newbie, the kind one, the smiley one, the youngster on the team, the one who is often always helping out others. They will get over it. The following is a good example of what I mean.
I was having a conversation with a colleague (sorry Sir, you know who you are) and we discussed how busy we were and the ridiculous demands being placed on us. We both have TLR’s, we had both recently been asked to run workshops at an event for a number of schools, we had presented at various Teach Meets in our area and we were in the process of marking many mock exam papers (I can’t remember if it was near the end of term 5 or the start of term 6 but it was hectic!). However, at a point in our conversation he said “…I need to start saying NO to requests.” Of course I agreed and informed him how well it works when you say “No. I’m sorry but I can’t do that…” whilst smiling. It really confuses people; ‘let me get this straight, you’re smiling at me whilst refusing to help…okay then, I’ll go and ask someone else’.
Sure enough, within 30 minutes, another colleague entered the workroom and said “I’ve had an email from Mr X at School Y and I said that you might both be willing to present at his Teach Meet next year”. Guess what? Yup that’s right, my colleague, without even thinking, said “yeah, I think that will be okay.” Me? Well, I said I’d think about and see what my workload is looking like.
Covering lessons can be really interesting. You can get an insight into how students behave in a different environment, with a different group of students and sometimes even a different time of day. Most importantly; get ready for it. You will probably be asked to cover a lesson (unless you have a plethora of cover supervisors at your school) and you will still need to be prepared. More often than not, you will know at the start of the day, in which case, try to find someone in that department that can help you find books, be there to unlock the room, etc., If your colleagues are good they will have provided you with a register of students, seating plan and would have emailed or already printed what you need to do in the lesson. Remember to thank them for leaving clear instructions and just enjoy it (you might find a love for a new subject).
You would have had many observations in your NQT year. The good news is that the number of observations may decrease AND you probably do not have to keep a massive log of everything you do (which standards have you met, which ones have you achieved? T5a – tick! T7c – tick! You know what I mean). Any observations that you now have will be for your Performance Management (Performance Review or some similar name) and these will not be as frequent. The expectation to achieve Good or Outstanding lesson observations will vary from school to school for someone at this stage in their career. As Dan@DesignThinking so kindly reminded us…
Although a sprinkling of outstanding is always nice!
Do you really need them just now? Can’t a Masters wait? What are you trying to do? Are you trying to impress someone? Can you teach full time, plan lessons, run extra-curricular activities, complete a module in a masters programme, have a social life and mark books at the same time? Yes, of course you can. If you run yourself into the ground and possibly make yourself ill that is. Not ideal really.
But, if you think you can handle it, then do it. I have seen teachers take on Masters modules in their second year and they have passed. Some of these teachers express their annoyance with themselves because they didn’t get the best grade or that their lesson didn’t go as well as usual with 10B or that they can’t understand why 7a haven’t settled well.
Think about it. When you were studying for your degree, you were just studying for your degree. You were on point, you were focused and that’s why you got top marks.
I’m sorry but…
Don’t apologise for what you’re about to teach. I have observed many a lesson where teachers have said to students “I’m sorry but this is going to be a bit boring…it’s in the curriculum… we have to teach it…”
You need to continue to do what you did in your NQT year and this will include writing your lesson plans; don’t get too lazy. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you find this interesting? What are the students supposed to do whilst you are explaining something? Taking notes or just watching you? Think carefully about this.
Try new resources, move to a different location for part of the lesson, get students to sit on the floor or their desks, find a guest speaker (another teacher!), involve the students in planning (great story by @Thrasymachus), include stories to make the lesson more exciting to give the students a hook into what they are going to learn. Hence provide them with a unique way to remember the topic.
Doug Lemov covers this beautifully in his book ‘Teach like a Champion’ pg. 51-56. The section is entitled “Technique 5: Without Apology”. Here Lemov encourages teachers to avoid apologising and blaming others for the content that needs to be taught. In the chapter he talks about making the material accessible by using ‘alternative statements’:
• “This material is great because it’s really challenging!”
• “Lots of people don’t understand this until they get to college, but you’ll know it now. Cool.”
• “We’re going to have some fun as we do it”
• “There’s’ a great story behind this!”
These are just a few of his ideas but the entire book is definitely worth a read. Try to get your Teaching & Learning guru or librarian to get a copy for your school.
You may find that this year, class 8b is remarkably different to last years’ 8b; more noisy/quiet, studious, lethargic, etc. Just remember that each student and every class is different, even if they appear to be of the same ability on paper!
If you have been entrusted with an “A’Level” class, remember they are still kids. A CPD session at one of my previous schools was centred around this “…sixth formers are just year 11’s in jeans”. They will still need discipline, clear instruction and you leaving them alone to do their work. Yes it’s a strange thing, but sometimes, the group will just get on with what you’ve planned; so don’t interrupt them.
Ensure that you gain (or retain) a good set of routines for your students. As an NQT (or new member of staff), you would have more than likely had your own classroom. This should have made it easier for you to get your students into an entry and exit routine. As a teacher who does not have her own classroom, I know that it can be challenging; turning up to a classroom to find that students have let themselves in and are just ‘making noise’ or someone has switched off a pc that you had set up earlier, because they thought it was accidently left on. Even if you are in this situation, try to make the best of it and let your students know your expectations of their entry/exit from day one. Some of my colleagues have students line up outside of the classroom until the majority arrive, others insist on students entering, collecting their books and getting on with a settling activity immediately, uniform checks and so on (See Lemov, D. Technique 28: Entry Routine pg. 151/2). Whatever you choose to do, stick with it because students will follow a routine; Whether it’s a routine that you have devised or one that they have become used to following because you have not put anything in place.
As a Specialist Leader of Education (SLE), I have had the opportunity to see entry/exit routines at a number of different schools and was fortunate to work on such routines with a fellow SLE at my own school. The feedback that we provided has enabled some members of the department who were struggling, to improve this aspect of their teaching lives.
If you are lucky enough to have one, enjoy it! You will be spending a lot of time in there (yes, I am jealous). Do you like having students’ work on display, professionally made glossy posters or are you more of a minimalist; clear walls? Whatever you prefer, take the time to make this space your own. You will find numerous blogs on classroom displays and the use of classroom space (desks, walls, ceilings, windows) all over the internet so I won’t go into what you could do. Besides, I’m sure you have already been in over the summer to ‘do your thang!’ to your classroom.
If you are like me and many other teachers; you are not loaded. Don’t spend your money on buying lots of items for your classroom; ask your friends/family for donations, look at websites where you can get things for free (freestuff, Gumtree, PreLoved), be smart!
Find out if there is a Childrens Scrap Store near you (UK Directory). They have some weird and wonderful things that are always really cheap. Your school or someone in the Art Department may already have an account. As an example, for a Maths project, a couple of my colleagues were able to fill the boot of their car with materials for students to use on their Pythagoras and Loci Takeaway Homework…it only cost them £4.50!
Some teachers worry about being able to project their voice on the first day of teaching after a long break. Don’t! Seriously, do not worry. Just hum loudly (and then sing if you are so inclined) on the way to school and this will loosen up your vocal chords…you will find your teacher voice in no time.
Well done for staying with me to the end! This certainly turned out to be a bit longer than I intended, however, writing this post has reminded me that I need to look out for fellow teachers who are in their second (third, fourth or even their twentieth) year of teaching. It would be great if you could do the same…it will be appreciated. I hope that some of this has been useful for you but as always, I’m open for suggestions. If there is an aspect that I’ve not covered or you have some advice to share, please do this in the comments section below or contact me via twitter @SPorterEdu.
Happy Teaching Ladies and Gentlemen
Lemov, D. 2010; ‘Teach like a Champion‘ 49 Techniques that put students on the path to college. Jossey-Bass Teacher (A Wiley Imprint)