Not just surviving, but thriving in your NQT year

Gone are the days where all of your trainee peers secure full time contracts by the time they have finished their initial teacher training (it’s certainly a different landscape to when I qualified in 2002). I am having more and more conversations with people entering the profession who are unsure about their immediate and long term future. With more people moving to teaching from other careers (as opposed to the more traditional post graduate route) and often with families to support, it can be quite an unsettling time. This may not make you feel any better, but I spotted this quote on Twitter via @growthmindset1

 

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In a recent conversion with a (nearly) Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT), I was asked to consider what advice I would give for their first year in post. They have a one year fixed term contract as cover for maternity leave. This post is aimed less at surviving their first year, more about preparing them to be an attractive appointment for a school in one year’s time.

My opinions are formed by being a subject mentor for eight years, and four years as a Senior Professional Tutor and a senior leader responsible for recruitment in multiple subject areas (which doesn’t makes it right, it’s just my opinion).

When you get back in the market for jobs next spring, you want to ensure that you have used the year to enhance your professional portfolio as much as you can.

I would look to employ someone that:

– demonstrates a positive / growth mindset
– has ambition / desire to self improve
– has leadership potential
– has had (and therefore can have) a measurable impact
– and most importantly, loves teaching

Much of the following advice could be extended to all NQT’s and anyone on a main scale teaching salary, including those with permanent contracts.

So here it is..

Appraisal / performance management
If you are in post for a year, ensure that you are clear on who your line manager / appraisal lead is and carefully consider what your targets are. Try to link one or more of your targets to your areas of development identified on your final placement report during your training year. This is a great way to convince employers that you can identify and improve specific areas of your practice.

Continuing professional development (CPD) / courses / conferences / teachmeets
You should be entitled to benefit from the CPD budget, so get looking for courses and conferences that will support your development. Get looking early so that you can apply what you learn into practice. You may need to justify your attendance by linking the outcomes to your appraisal targets or the wider school improvement plan. Sharing knowledge and skills on your return may be a requirement, but is also an opportunity to show future employers that you can support the development of other staff and can provide you with early leadership experience. Find out about any local teachmeets and attend these (usually free) events.

– Leadership opportunities
Ask your head of department if you can spend 5/10 minutes at the start of department meetings to share your recent learning experiences. Sharing good practice from your classroom and/or things you have picked up from elsewhere in this manner is a great way to gain early leadership experience.

Peer observations
Look to observe peers around the school. Watching staff in other subject areas is worthwhile as it broadens the styles you are exposed to and you can learn a lot from seeing students that you teach, learning in different environments. Different schools will have different approaches to observations. You may need to build relationships before inviting yourself into someone’s classroom. You could offer a reciprocal observation or ask your line manager (or other established member of staff with whom you have a good relationship with) to help set it up.

Seek experts in pedagogy
Go and find excellent teachers and have professional conversations with them. Listen to them and learn. Failing that, go online and read blogs / follow people on twitter. There are plenty of great practitioners that blog, who freely share their knowledge and experience.

Melting pot style
My style of teaching and leadership has evolved over a number of years; having been exposed to hundreds of great teachers and leaders. I am (what I consider to be) the best bits of everyone I have ever worked with. No doubt you will have been heavily influenced by your experiences in your training year (for better or worse!). Start looking at qualities in others you work with and be careful not to inherit negative traits!

Evidence portfolio – hard copy and/or digital
Make a record of any extra-ordinary work, experiences or learning that occurs. Make a note of what impact it has had on your development and/or impact on student progress. File everything from well done letters from your head of department / head teacher, lesson observation records, details of leadership opportunities, entries in the school newsletter – anything that shows you are worth employing! You might not get an opportunity to show anyone this portfolio at interview, but it can help shape your letter of application and provide material to talk about on interview day.

Blogging
Write your own or read others. Set time aside in your week (up to an hour) or impromptu when you get a moment. Find good bloggers through Twitter. As with all literature, some (most?) might be worthless (you will have your own opinions on this post!?), so only take the bits that you like and that are relevant.

Visit other schools
If your school is part of a Multi Academy Trust, ask your line manager / Headteacher about the possibility of visiting one of the other federated academies. Choose a specific focus that links to appraisal or whole school targets.
In some ways, your NQT year can be less challenging than your training year e.g. no assignments, more settled in one place of work rather than multiple placements and a university timetable to consider. However, in other ways, the challenges are greater e.g. less support from subject mentors/course tutors/senior professional tutors and increased teaching load. A big part of your first year in the profession is about getting through the days, weeks and terms, making sure your lessons are well prepared and finding a rhythm that works for you to meet the demands of teaching.  With this in mind, be realistic about what advice (if any) you take from this post. Hopefully, the actions you take will lead to you being able to manage the demands more successfully and ultimately result in positive outcomes in the future.

If anyone enters the profession as a supply teacher, take it as an opportunity to observe a range of different schools; picking up ideas and examples of good practice. You will also see examples of how not to do it. Any experience will help shape your own educational philosophy and influence your behaviours as a teacher. It’s worth knowing I once worked under a Headteacher that started life in the school as a supply teacher. Vacancies are always coming up, sometimes when you least expect it. Any school you might supply in, could be a potential employer in the future. Bear this in mind when you turn up to whichever school are lucky enough to have you for the day. Remember this quote from Steve Prefontaine…
Image result for to give anything less is to sacrifice the gift

Enjoy the challenges that lay ahead; I hope that you love the profession after your first year as much as I do after 14 years!

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