‘There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel’ read a tweet from an NQT I came across last week.
Every teacher who was once an NQT or a trainee has said this, thought this, and sadly, all too many act on this and quit when they’ve barely started. The mere fact is that nothing can prepare you for either of the former. A workload which probably violates some article of the UN charter for human rights, combined with constant scrutiny and criticism (sometimes of a personal nature- a trainee once complained that his mentor said his voice was ‘too boring’) makes for the perfect cocktail of experiences necessary to destroy ones spirit.
The purpose of this article is to tell you of one truth- the truth that my then boxing coach used to tell me when I was on the canvass, wishing I was dead. The truth? Pain is temporary.
It will get a lot easier after training. Here’s why:
- Your body adapts
As someone who keeps the fast of Ramadan for no less than 30 days a year, (this involves no food or drink during daylight hours – which in the summer months is 18 ½) I can assure you that the body adapts. The first three days are a killer but soon after, while it’s obviously never going to be a walk in park, it does get substantially easier. As a new teacher, you are always tired and probably nod off at 8.30pm on a Friday evening (I once fell asleep on the speaker at a night club) but this will not always be the case. Yes- teaching is emotionally draining and you will always be more tired than an office worker, but the fatigue of the NQT year will never return. The more the body does, the more the body can do. I get less tired now in my mid-30s than I did in my mid-20s. Bizarre but true. (My book goes into detail on how to keep your energy levels high).
- You will learn to prioritise
Schools can be so bloody hypocritical sometimes. The person that overloads with an untenable amount of work is often the same person who says shit like: ‘It’s important for you to take time out for yourself; try not to worry; don’t stress’ blah blah blah. Ladies and gentlemen, the main person who you should rely upon to look after you is . . . wait for it . . . you!
NQTs often take on the impossible task of prioritising everything. This is both moronic and oxymoronic, as well as unsustainable. My book goes into detail about how to prioritise, but I can assure you that after a few wasted evenings of marking year 8 books when you know there is a year 11 book scrutiny pending, you will be able to do this a lot better.
- You will get the knack of lesson planning
As an NQT you are planning more lessons than you’ve ever planned, and probably taking the same time you took to plan them as you did while you were training. Obviously, this is not sustainable and actually it won’t even be necessary. Habits are formed by repeating behaviours, so the more you plan, the easier and the more normal it becomes. As an NQT you may feel yourself go into cardiac arrest when you look at a topic in the the scheme of work and realise that you don’t know it, let alone how to teach it. However, it won’t be long until you develop a thought pattern. You will have a set of activities in your mind and you will quickly be able to think- ‘I could do a market-place activity for this,’ or ‘there are lots videos on that’. In addition, you will form a mental checklist of what you want to include in each lesson and be able to get on with it more efficiently.
- You will unleash your inner maverick
Think of all the teachers you admired when you were at school. I bet you your £26,000 bursary that you didn’t admire them because they were able to show ‘rapid and sustained progress’ in the 20 minutes that someone was watching them. More than likely, they had a personality you could engage with, a sense of humour, and they could enthuse you in their subject. They most probably did this their way. Good school leaders generally know who their mavericks are, and leave them be unless/until, whatever it is they are doing is no longer working. After you have been doing as you’ve been told for two years, you will unleash your inner maverick and will enjoy teaching even more, hence making it easier. In the maverick spirit, since my second year of teaching I’ve kept a pet snake in my classroom; something the kids love (or hate!). Meet Diablo:
- Your behaviour management will improve
Ah yes. The bane of many trainees/NQTs lives: behaviour management. I can recall a time when I was one of 20 NQTs at the same school which at the time, behaviour could only really have been described as atrocious. The majority of the 20 of us could not control our classes (in our defence, SMT couldn’t either). Some staff cried during NQT meetings, and to add insult to injury, teachers were blamed for the poor behaviour: it was insisted that kids were misbehaving because our lessons were boring.
There was however, light at the end of that tunnel. The next year was radically different: we were different, the kids behaved differently around us, and we responded differently to their misbehaviours. It was just . . . different! Easier, perhaps because we now had a sense of ownership as the kids knew our faces, and the positive relationships we built with them paid off. In short, you may be a screaming NQT now, but you won’t be next year. If you are (and everyone else isn’t) then you are probably at a school which doesn’t quite suit you.
- You will be under less scrutiny
Unless you end up working at some callous Academy that treats all of its staff with the highest level of professional distrust, you will be under a lot less scrutiny post NQT year. Much of the stress in teaching is due to the constant hoop-jumping or the perception that you have to perform for someone else. As one RQT so eloquently put it: ‘They’re gonna get a basic lesson. I’m fed up of bending over and blowing bubbles through my arse.’
- You will kick people out of your life
Sound harsh? Well sometimes it is necessary. I’m referring to the people who just don’t get it. No matter what you say, or how tired/anxious/stressed you obviously are, they insist that teachers are just moaners or glorified babysitters. I’m not referring to your sarcastic non-teaching friends, rather to the people who say it and mean it. Kick them out of your life. After reading this blog, delete their number. Then, if ever they text you, reply with: ‘Sorry- who is this.’ Teaching is stressful enough, you don’t need avoidable negativity.
- And finally . . .
The longer you’ve been teaching for, the more of these you will rack up and they will make the tough times easier. Stay positive!