An NQT’s guide to handling NQTs, part 2

Jane Basnett

Jane Basnett is head of MFL at Downe House, a successful Independent Girls School in Berkshire. She has been teaching for almost 20 years and is still learning. She achieved an MA in Digital Technology for Language Teaching at Nottingham University.

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Website: janeebasnett.blogspot.co.uk Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

As a sequel to her original piece on handling newly qualified teachers at the beginning of the year, Jane Basnett's former pastoral colleague, now an NQT, returns with thoughts on how we might support such teachers at this time of year

This post has to begin with a huge thank you to everyone who has supported an NQT in their first few weeks of Proper Teaching. You might have given someone a warm welcome, made timely cups of tea, given advice, asked probing questions, shared resources, sympathised with teacherly woes, or invited an NQT to observe a lesson. Or you might be one of the wonderful people who offer your time and patience to mentor a new teacher. Whoever you are, thank you!

At this point in term, everyone’s knackered. Interventions are in full-flow and the work of Controlled Assessments is underway. Parents’ Evenings are happening. Reports are being written. Target Grades and Levels of Progress are taking on a life of their own. Spreadsheets full of colour-coded data cover the department office table. And, somewhere beneath all of that, the first round of NQT paperwork is soon due.

“They may seem fine, but many are struggling to feel they’re making any progress or keeping on top of things” and “What tricks do you use to keep on top of it? Do you really follow the departmental fortnightly-marking policy to the letter?”

So, while the rest of the department is fully-functioning (if fraying around the edges slightly), what’s going on with your NQTs? Some might be having a brilliant time, enjoying the freedoms and responsibilities of their own classes and feeling well-supported. Others…not so much: they may seem fine, but many are struggling to feel they’re making any progress or keeping on top of things, and may even be hating the daily grind. If you have a moment to think about your NQTs during the next few weeks, here are a few things you might consider:

1. NQTs are still very new. 12 weeks of full-time teaching is nothing in the slow-burn learning cycle that is teaching, but it’s easy to forget that after the first few weeks. What they don’t know still far outweighs anything they do know, and the rabbit may still be well and truly in the headlights.

2. Marking. If your NQT is in a marking-heavy subject, it is almost certainly still taking them a long time to get through a class set of books, or to grade a set of assessments. Could you offer to moderate the first few assessments they mark, to reassure them or offer constructive feedback? This might cost you 30 minutes, but could save them an entire day or even whole weekend of marking inaccurately or under a cloud of doubt.

3. Have you checked up on their lesson planning? Most trainee teachers plan on a lesson-by-lesson basis, and lots of NQTs will still be doing this. Is there anything you could do to help facilitate a shift to weekly or medium-term planning? Do you have a weekly or half-termly process, or a template document you use, which you could share?

4. It’s easy to play it safe. Lots of NQTs will have found a ‘safe mode’ that allows them to survive, and won’t feel they have the time, energy or ability to take some risks, but now is the time for creativity! Could you share a favourite lesson plan, or a nifty structure that helps facilitate a higher-quality of group work, discussion or peer-feedback? Is there scope for the NQT to abandon the departmental Scheme of Work for one of their groups for a week or two, and do something completely different? Give permission to take risks and try new things. Encourage your NQT to move out of their comfort zone, even just for one or two lessons a week.

5. Continue to invite NQTs into your classroom. Even better, invite them and then sit down with your planners immediately, setting a date / time. Could you ask them to give you feedback on something specific? Could you team-teach a lesson or two?

6. Do you know vaguely what your NQT’s work habits are? Many will feel like they are drowning – really drowning (see numbers 1, 2, and 3!) – and may need some guidance, or even insistence, about managing their time and workload. What tricks do you use to keep on top of it? Do you really follow the departmental fortnightly-marking policy to the letter (if so, how)? If they’re really struggling, and if they seem resistant to practical solutions (perhaps because perfectionism makes them think that, if they’re not doing everything brilliantly, they’re failing), then it may be helpful to take control away from them. Insist on something. Insist on them NOT taking any marking home this weekend. Insist on them NOT seeing any students during lunchtimes this week. Insist on their health and sanity.

7. Is your NQT sharing any of their resources with the department yet? If not, it may be due to lack of confidence. Encourage them to share a resource they’ve created and, if it’s any good, say so!

8. Is your NQT struggling with a class or their Tutor Group? Remind them that it is never too late in the term to reinvent yourself and your routines, and to re-state (or re-make) expectations, and that it is always worth trying something new rather than slogging horribly onwards. Chances are, if something isn’t working for the NQT, it isn’t working for their students, either, but many NQTs won’t have the confidence to make changes mid-term or mid-year.

9. Talk rationally about work expectations of the Christmas holiday. Some NQTs will be dreading it, because they will feel they have so much to do that they can’t enjoy the break. We all need the break: show them (don’t just tell them) how it is possible.

How do you work with NQTs at this time of year? Let us know in the comments.

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