I’ve spent a great deal of time recently contemplating the future and what next year might hold for us as a profession. However, I have also found myself looking back and thinking about how my NQT self might have coped with the current climate within education. The answer was, not well. So I have decided to dedicate this blog to you, the new crop of NQT’s who will be heading into schools for what is likely to be one of the strangest academic years on record. The aim of this is to give you guys some helpful hints, tips and encouragement for the year ahead and also to remind myself and other grizzled vets about some of those basics that we can all easily forget or ignore.
When I left university I felt like I was completely prepared for what was coming. The truth is, I wasn’t. Not even a tiny bit. I had a vision in my head of what it was going to be like and how life at school would pan out. It took me a long while to realise that vision needed to change. Dramatically. So my first tip is to remain as open minded as possible. For the first half term at least things will be happening around you that will be difficult to understand and digest and you may find yourself wondering why you feel so overwhelmed and begin to judge yourself. It seems easy to say but try not to. If you can remain open minded you can ask questions and adjust yourself accordingly without fear of reprisal or judgement. A good teacher or leader will support your questions and provide you with the time you need in order to help you get to the answers.
That brings me on to my next point quite nicely. Relationships. There are a vast array of complex relationships and dynamics happening in a school and it can feel like an immense task to find your place to begin with. Every school has different atmospheres, and I am not here to judge, but it can sometimes feel like there are cliques of people here and there or a very distant and aloof SLT or support staff who generally don’t feel valued and make it known. It can feel like a minefield. However, you may find that you are going to a place where these sorts of atmospheres don’t exist and I truly hope that is the case. But forearmed is forewarned!
The most important relationships that you will nurture are, of course, those you have with the children. Those 30 little faces will become your world for a large part of the day and nurturing the relationships you have with them is vital to your success. I could talk for hours around this subject but we are looking at more general points here so that can be a subject for another time. Some of your most valuable relationships around school will be with those people who keep school ticking day to day. The cleaners, the caretaker, the lunchtime supervisors, the office staff. Take your time to get to know them, learn about them and take an interest in them. Without them school life day to day simply would not work. You may even find your classroom is just that little bit cleaner if you do!
For me, one of the most enduring and important relationships is the one you have with your LSA. An LSA has it in their power to make you and your teaching shine and can take huge pressure off of your shoulders. They can be an understanding ear when you need it most. They also tend to be from the local area so can have an in depth knowledge of the children and their families to give you a heads up on issues that may be useful for you to know. I was told many years ago that an LSA has the power to make you or break you so make sure you treat them well. It’s a lesson I have lived by throughout my career.
Another important relationship is with your SLT. These mysterious groups of people come in all shapes, sizes and types. I have had the absolute privilege of working with some incredible leaders. One in particular will always be special to me and has been a real driving force behind my journey so far. I owe her an awful lot. It is important to forge a good relationship with your SLT or one person within your SLT. Someone that you know you can talk to, confide in and will support you as you move forward. There are some very special leaders out there and I hope that you are lucky enough to find one.
Don’t lose yourself
Now, this is the part that we teachers are intensely poor at. Maintaining a work life balance. The veritable Holy Grail. Many teachers have tried and many have failed. Fortunately, more have succeeded in their quest for balance than you might be led to believe. There is no secret formula or potion to be taken. In my view it revolves around a few simple rules.
Make sure you make time for you. It is vitally important that you keep up the things that you love. As many of you who are regulars to my blog will know, I’m a musician and have been playing in bands for a long time. It is my passion and I would be lost without it. I have always made sure that it has been given my time and devotion even during the busiest times as it, like teaching, is a huge part of my identity. Whatever your hobby may be don’t lose sight of it. It’s so important for your mental wellbeing and pressing that ‘off’ button from time to time.
Don’t stay late every night of the week. You will find it very difficult to know when to go home to begin with. You’ll probably spend time looking at others and trying to work out when is ‘acceptable’ to go home. The short answer is the time to go home is when is right for you. We all work differently and it is very possible that you could be more productive at home than at school in the evening. It really is a personal choice. However, if you choose to stay at school make sure you take at least one or two nights a week to go home before 5. Eat a dinner that isn’t warmed up in the microwave, spend some time with those you love most, go to the gym or the pub. Whatever works for you.
Lastly and maybe most importantly, enjoy it. Enjoy being with the children and everything they have to offer be that good or bad. Learn and soak up everything you can and work out those little teacher hacks that make life easier. Hoard stationery, sit in the staff room at lunch time, laugh at the crazy things the children say, take every positive you can and for goodness sake stick around. Our profession needs you.