Be prepared: A veteran’s advice for NQTs

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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Recently, I was reminded of Baz Luhrmann's chart-topping single from 1998 called ‘Wear Sunscreen’. The song itself was based on an article written by Chicago Tribune Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Mary Schmich. Schmich wrote that "inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker". It got me thinking about what advice I would give to NQTs and others about to embark on a career in teaching... So, here goes.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2014... Be prepared.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, preparation would be it. The long-term benefits of preparation have been proved by research whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the energy and freshness of your inexperience. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the energy and freshness of your inexperience until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at classes you taught and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really were. You are not as unoriginal as you imagine.

  • Don't worry about results. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your teaching are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you in the last lesson on a Friday afternoon.

  • Do one thing every day that scares you. Ok maybe not scare, but do something different every day and push the boundaries. Students like variety and will remain engaged.

  • Sing. Never underestimate the power of song for teaching.

  • Don't be reckless with your students' lives. Don't put up with students who are reckless with yours.

  • Attend TeachMeets.

  • Don't waste your time on the search for the perfect resource. Sometimes you'll find it straight away, sometimes you won't. There are plenty of opportunities to improve and rebuild. Move on, don't dwell.

  • Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

  • Keep positive emails. Delete the ones that make you feel bad.

  • Engage.

  • Mark. You won't thank yourself if you let it build up.

  • Don't feel guilty if you think you taught a bad lesson. The best teachers I know reflect on what went wrong and work to do it better next time. Some of the least effective teachers I know still don’t take the time to ask "why?".
  • Say yes and take chances. You will not know what you are capable of unless you push yourself.

  • Maybe you'll be Head of Department, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll make lead teacher, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll get a TLR post, maybe you'll become an AST one day. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your promotions are half chance. So are everybody else's.

  • Enjoy your creativity. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.

  • Do not answer every email. There are more pressing things to do.

  • Listen to advice but remember that you do not always have to take it.

  • Use your judgement. You are wiser than you give yourself credit for.

  • Remember your friends and family no matter how busy you are. They will give you great support. They will encourage you in your endeavours.

  • Understand that you need time for you too. Take time out to do the things you love. You deserve as much care and attention as your students. Exercise.

  • Watch your colleagues' lessons. Let them watch yours. Observation is not your enemy. It is one of the best sources of CPD you will ever get. Use Twitter.

  • Accept certain inalienable truths: Year 11s can be difficult. Parents aren't always on your side. You, too, will one day be experienced. And when you are, you'll fantasize that when you first started, Year 11 were polite, parents always supported and children respected their elders.

  • Respect the children you teach and they will respect you.

  • Know that there are people there to support you. But accept that there will be times when you will need to stand on your own two feet.

  • Do not be negative. Negativity will not help you solve problems.

  • Enjoy your job. It will make you a better teacher. Do not forget that you were a pupil once. Recall how you felt in the classroom and remember every child is unique, just as you are unique.

But trust me on the preparation.

What advice would you have for the young teachers of today? Let us know in the comments.

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