NQT Special Edition: you are not alone!

There’s no doubt that being an NQT is tough. When you’re in the eye of the storm, it can feel like you’ll never emerge on the other side – but hang in there!

First, if you feeling overwhelmed, you are certainly not alone. Talking to someone about your concerns can make a very real difference and there is plenty of support out there. We take around 7,500 calls to our free, confidential helpline every year and many of these are from NQTs. Our trained counsellors are here to listen and to support you 24/7. It is worth knowing that, from our experience, many of the issues you are grappling with are also issues facing most if not all of your peers. It really will get better as time goes on.

Dr Sara Bubb, senior lecturer at the UCL Institute of Education, reassures NQTs in a number of helpful short films on her website, that: “It will get worse before it gets better, but it really will get better.” 

After completing training feeling optimistic, she says NQTs’ “idealism quickly turns to reality”. New teachers commonly start on a high before confidence and positive feeling drops quite dramatically as they grapple with a heavy workload and challenging student behaviour in what is a very demanding introduction to your career. 

But as Dr Bubb asks: “How many people fail the year? Is it a significant risk? No, it isn’t. The whole system is set up to help you through a successful induction.” The key is not to expect to be perfect – and to talk; as one helpline caller said: “It made me calmer and able to think more clearly.”

Knowing how and when to say ‘no’

Both NQTs and more experienced teachers can find it difficult to say “no”. You are likely to want to impress your employer and your colleagues and likely to be saying “yes” to everything asked of you, while trying to manage a complex workload. Many of the NQTs we help say they feel uncomfortable saying no because they don’t want to disappoint others or don’t want to be seen as being uncooperative, particularly in a new school.

But learning to manage and better protect your time from the outset of your career will pay dividends for your future. Effective communication is essential whether dealing with colleagues, school leaders or parents. It is first important to understand what your job description entails and then set realistic expectations of what you can and cannot do.

This will have benefits for everyone. You will feel better able to cope and others will be clear about what you are able to do – who wants to be the person who over-promises and then under-delivers?

Think too about how you can negotiate what you are being asked to do and try to offer alternative options. Could it be something you could do with someone else? Could there be someone you can recommend to work with on the task? Responses when asked to do something extra could include: “Thank you for considering me. I’ll need to check my diary before I commit.” Or “I appreciate you asking me. I’ll need to think about it and respond to you when I have time.” 

Try to demonstrate positive communication skills: be aware of your body language, maintain eye contact and a neutral posture; avoid showing anger or disdain in your body language, tone or words; paraphrase statements made by others to show your understanding of their request. An easy rule of thumb is that “saying no to something allows you to say yes to something else”.

Behaviour management

Another common frustration for NQTs in particular (but also for teachers at any stage of their career) is feeling under-prepared to manage poor behaviour. If approaches you are already using aren’t working, try something new. 

Our popular download Managing Pupil Behaviour is a practical guide, full of tips and advice to address disruptive behaviour. An issue for many, poor behaviour can be a barrier to learning and can easily threaten the health and wellbeing of teachers. Any strategy you choose to adopt needs to be clear and robust. A few key things to remember are: whatever the age of your students, create rules and express them positively. It shouldn’t just be a list of don’ts. Remind your classes of any relevant rules before a potentially disruptive activity or if you are aware of “something brewing”. This kind of response can drastically reduce inappropriate behaviour. Use your body language and tone of voice to clearly assert your dominance. Non-verbal “looks” can be very powerful.

Above all else, don’t be too hard on yourself. You can’t possibly get it all right from the start. Get one thing right before moving onto something else, and as you prepare for your first end-of-term break, take stock and congratulate yourself on getting here! SecEd

Ten tips from Anna (an NQT last year)

  1. Be organised: have files and folders ready at the start of each term, whether physical or on a memory stick.
  2. Build your network and workplace knowledge: go to the staffroom and meet other teachers. It is important to get to know your school/colleagues.
  3. Look after your wellbeing: don’t stop outside interests outside work. Hobbies and clubs are really important for retaining your sense of self.
  4. Diet: eat well.
  5. Exercise: get some wherever you can.
  6. Sleep! Aim for a really early night at least once a week.
  7. Share: bounce your ideas off other teachers and sound out how they fit with a school’s policies; but never be afraid to try your own things out.
  8. Be patient: it takes time to see results in the classroom. Be consistent with one approach and give it a while before changing. Some things will work, some won’t.
  9. Start interventions you can see are needed as soon as you can.
  10. Last but by no means least: always ask when unsure about something – this is the year for consolidation

How we can help

  • Help for you  
    Sometimes work (or just life) can be tough. A challenging student, an Ofsted inspection, personal financial worries; there are many stresses on those who work in education. That’s why we offer free, confidential help and support, no matter what your problem.
  • Help for your staff 
    Working in education is demanding so we’ve designed a set of services to help you check how your teams are coping, troubleshoot problems and boost everyone’s wellbeing.