How to set meaningful career goals as an NQT

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In 3 years’ time I’d like to be a stone lighter and a million pounds wealthier. I feel that the latter is more likely than the former the way the biscuit tin keeps calling to me.  With the spring term in full flow and a whole term as an NQT under your belt, you should be feeling in a pretty positive place. This can be a good time to start thinking about your future career goals, both short and long term.

First thing to consider, is this the right school for you?

When securing your first NQT post the excitement of getting a job is often the most important factor.  Sometimes when you work in school, you may feel that it isn’t the right environment for you to thrive in.  That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be right for someone else though. If your current school is the school for you, then you may see your career path there.  If not, it is worth using the time, before you start browsing jobs to prioritise what you want from a school. Is it single form entry? Parallel year group classes? A small rural school? A large urban one? 

The list of variations in school demographics and set ups is near endless, but sometimes you will know what you don’t want. That can be as good a starting point as any. A list of priorities or things to avoid can help you shape the search for your next job. 

What have you enjoyed teaching?

As a trainee we specialise in specific subjects through the route we choose or the dissertation we write at the end. My specialism was maths, but I have never led maths as a subject in school.  Sometimes this is about opportunities, sometimes it is about what you have an interest in. My first curriculum responsibility was PE. The PE co-ordinator left, I was finishing my NQT year, had enjoyed teaching PE, so I went for it.  It was the best decision I made. I had the opportunity for lots of CPD and to drive forward change in an often, at the time, neglected subject. My question to you is what subject have you enjoyed? What was your specialism? Would the opportunity be there for you to lead the subject next year?  In the summer term my NQTs always had time to shadow a curriculum leader in an area they had an interest in. It helped develop an understanding of the role, and often led to a smooth handover of curriculum responsibility. As you move through your NQT year, seek out opportunities to do the same. Ask your mentor to arrange time for you to meet with the subject lead to begin to build your understanding of the role before taking on the responsibility next year. (Remember it doesn’t have to be an area you specialised in, just one you feel you could make an impact in)

Furthering your career opportunities

Getting your NQT year under your belt is a key priority and should be the focus of your efforts. But what next?  Where do you see yourself in 3 or 5 years? SENDCo? Year leader? Deputy Head? Your NQT year is not the right time to be actively doing things about it, but it can be a time to find out the best way to achieve those aims.  You may want to study a Masters in Education? I did mine 3 years into my teaching (it took me 4 to complete) but at that point in my career I did not have a huge amount of additional responsibilities so had the time to focus on that.  At the start of my career NPQSL and NPQML qualifications didn’t exist. But it may be worth serious consideration for the coming few years, if you want to achieve a deputy headship in 5 years’ time. These are not things to be undertaken in your NQT year, but the conversation with your Mentor or Headteacher about the willingness to support you with these may be. If you are considering moving schools, it may help you with your decision.

Focus on being a great teacher

For me that was my career goal for the first 5 years – to be really good at what I did. To know that the children in my care had the best opportunity to achieve their full potential. Undertaking a Masters degree supported me with this, as well as the reading and CPD opportunities I sought out. (School budgets were not as stretched then, so CPD was still a priority for staff).  Your NQT year can be used to give you a head start at this.  

Ask your mentor to organise visits to other schools during your NQT time to help you diversify your teaching strategies. 

Utilise social media and teacher networks like Teacheroo to ‘magpie’ ideas and begin to build your teaching toolkit early on.  

Every time you try something new, you will learn from it and it will shape you as a teacher.  Without getting too cheesy, teachers are grown not made. Nobody arrives as the finished article, we all have a journey that develops and shapes us into who we are and who we want to be.  Sometimes we seek out opportunities, sometimes opportunities find us. If it is the right opportunity for you, go for it and grab it. If it is not the right path for you, then be brave enough to decline.  

Your NQT year is just the start of your journey to becoming the best teacher you can be.  It can give you the foundations to build your career on. Sometimes you will know exactly where you want to be and the route to get there. At other times you may take a convoluted route and suddenly realise that your career has not turned out how you had planned.  As long as you are happy with what you have achieved, never compare your journey to others and always be grateful for the opportunities you have had. 

About the author

Mr T is an Experienced NQT Mentor who wants to share expertise and support students and newly qualified teachers as they navigate their early career.

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