Life Hacks for New NQTs

For many NQTs, the first year of teaching is the most challenging. The pressure can feel daunting as PGCE students transition to the challenges of working in a school full time.

Of course, you've worked in schools before. After the placements, this could be your third or potentially fourth school within less than a year. There are new teachers, new procedures, new students and a new syllabus to get used to. 

Department for Education figures show that four in 10 new teachers leave the sector within a year of qualifying. This is a dramatic increase from the two in 10 leaving in 2005. Our #NotQuittingTeaching campaign aims to address that recruitment and retention crisis head on, highlighting the importance of support during those vulnerable first years in the sector.

Here are our life hack tips to survive your year as an NQT:

Learn to say no
You will quickly find yourself starting to develop a routine to cope with the increasing amounts of work that you will face in your new job. Soon, all of the academic work that you coped with during your PGCE year will be replaced by more marking and lesson planning than you know what to do with. In some cases, you may find more experienced colleagues try to add more work to your ever growing pile of commitments. Don't be afraid to say no and explain to them that you are not trying to shirk work, but there are tasks that require more of your time and effort than you realised. For now, adding more work will only eat away further into your personal time. 

Marking
Devise a system that will enable you to mark books quickly, but with the scope to add comments to help students improve their work. Stamps and stickers can be very helpful here, as can structuring your feedback. For example, you could write What Went Well on a piece of work and add one Even Better If tip to guide future assignments. Nicholas Genge, a Maths teacher at John Kryle High School in Hereford, also advises setting up "a marking timetable, so that you know when you need to mark certain books by".

Time management
As you develop your teaching career, you will find that good time management skills are crucial. In order to make life easier, some teachers schedule time to complete the worst tasks first (e.g. report writing) and then the smaller and more enjoyable tasks, such as planning a lesson game, afterwards. Organise your time efficiently, schedule regular breaks and use a list or diary planner if it helps keep your day on track.

Planning
During your PGCE year, you will be encouraged to practice lots of pedagogical techniques in class. Evidence-based research is key before you try a new approach. See how the teacher who created it applied it to their own classroom before experimenting with your own students. Planning plays a pivotal role in every lesson and is needed to make them as exciting, challenging and imaginative as they can be. Don't be afraid to show passion for your subject. But also don't be too hard on yourself if it doesn't go quite according to plan - that does not mean that it was a bad lesson. Have a think about whether you could have approached the subject or structured the lesson differently and make notes for next time so that you grow from the experience.  

Work/life balance
Most important of all, you must strive to maintain some semblance of a work/life balance outside of school. This is something that you are likely to struggle with throughout your career, so it's beneficial to make good ground rules now. Genge stresses that having good people around you inside and outside of work is crucial. "This is incredibly important because you can surround yourself with people to talk to about your day and any other issues that are preying on your mind. Having a good team around you is key to surviving an NQT year."  

Learn from experience
One of the benefits of working in a school is the wealth of experience that surrounds you every day. Make the most of this. Victoria Snape, a current NQT at Pitmaston Primary School in Worcester, says: "It is good to observe colleagues as there is a lot you can learn from them". Don't be afraid to ask for help. Remember that they have been in your shoes too.  

Parents
At times, being a teacher can feel like being a social worker as well. With the importance placed on league tables and competition, parents can expect more from their child's school. Remember that parents only want what's best for their children. Be clear about when you are available to chat and how they can get in touch with you. Ask your supervisor for support if you're unsure about what to do. Snape also suggests keeping a colleague within earshot so that you are not "left in a vulnerable position". 

Don't panic
When it's Sunday night, and you're still staring at a mountain of work, your lesson is crumbling around your ears, or an Ofsted inspection is looming, don't panic. You are only human and there is only a certain amount that you are physically able to do. Talk to your mentor or head teacher if you find you are consistently struggling to manage workload. Schedule time off from thinking about work and get enough sleep. Everything seems more manageable when you are well rested.  

 

About the writer

Matthew Snape is a freelance journalist and PR specialist. He has a diverse background of experience that involves banking, retail, charity work, politics, education and writing. In regards to his background in education, he has worked as a play worker, teaching assistant, trainee teacher and project worker for a special needs charity.