How to smash your first year as an NQT

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Congratulations. You’ve secured your first teaching job. It’s an exciting time… and also a daunting one. So here’s some support and advice to help you prepare for that all important first day as a newly qualified teacher.

‘Oh, I didn’t realise I needed to do that’. This is a phrase I hear a lot. It prompted me to reflect on my practice as a mentor and led to us introducing an induction day, where key policies on assessment, marking, behaviour, learning and teaching are discussed and seen in action through
learning walks. The induction day also provides an opportunity to identify what elements should be present in the classroom, to run through the NQT process and expected outcomes. I appreciate this is not the norm for every school.

As someone getting ready for their NQT year here are some elements you can take control of.

Arrange a visit to your classroom before school starts

Spend a morning in the school and walk around, notebook in hand. Jot down displays that appear in every classroom. Is the work double mounted? This is very important to some school leaders. What behaviour management strategies, reward charts and systems do you see in use? Identify what is consistent. This will give you a good idea of how you will be expected to present your classroom.

There may be similar systems that are presented differently – this would suggest that teachers are encouraged to add personality and reflect their own ethos. This is also a great way of magpie-ing great teaching practice that you want to incorporate. Look in children’s books: are there targets present, are presentation policies clearly being implemented? How does the marking system look in practice? All these things will help calibrate your expectations towards students and the frequency and style of marking you will be need to adopt.

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid… ask everything. Schools make huge assumptions about what you know or will absorb by osmosis. They don’t always know what you don’t know. If you find elements of a key policy baffling, ask the question. There may be a simple explanation as to what something means
(policies can be tricky to interpret at times, particularly if you weren’t there at its inception.) The chances are, all the exercise books you need will have been ordered for you. If it is not obvious what it is for, double check with someone.

We once went a whole half term with an NQT working with spelling grids they had created themselves, instead of using a spelling book that the children already had. Our fault, not theirs – an assumption had been made. If schools know what you don’t know, they will fill any gaps. However if
they don’t know what you don’t know, they can’t. You know?

Give yourself time to settle in

Someone far wiser than me once said that each school has its own secret language. The acronyms they use, the location of the glue sticks, why things happen a certain way. It takes time to learn these things so don’t be too hard on yourself. And rest assured there will come a time when you will
be explaining them to someone else. That’s when you know you are truly part of the school.

It’s ok to lean on colleagues

Utilise the strengths of others around you and tap into the school support system. Don’t feel threatened by an experienced teaching assistant and instead, relax and know you’ve got someone in the room that can help you. Draw on their knowledge of the children, the parents and the school to
make your life easier. They will also bring you a drink on those days you don’t make it down to the staffroom at break time.

The best person to befriend on day one is the school secretary. They know everything that happens in the school, will be your first line of defence for parents, and they usually keep the glue sticks! Befriend the school cook if you have one – for obvious reasons.

Your NQT year is one of the most formative of your career. So be brave, make mistakes, but most of all enjoy it.

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash


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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