How to survive as a newly qualified teacher

There’s no doubting that the PGCE year is a very tough year. Anybody who has gone through the PGCE route into teaching will remember (predominantly, with horror) the time (literally hours) it took to meticulously craft lesson plans, with timings cast in stone to the second, only to see all this good work unravel (usually by the end of the starter activity). And who could forget the pressure of juggling the need to submit essays at the same time as teaching?

There are no two ways about it, the PGCE and any route into teaching, for that matter, is very tough.

But you do get through it…

Don’t smile until Christmas

So, you have got through it and what do you face next? The NQT year. Unfortunately, this is a year that’s even tougher than the PGCE year! But, just as you got through the PGCE year, so too will you get through the NQT year. It will be tough but you will do it!

‘Don’t smile until Christmas’ is an old adage in teacher training. In fact, it’s bandied about so much it has achieved almost folklore-esque status within teacher training.

Why? Well, that’s a very good question because in many ways, the warning that you should not smile in the classroom until Christmas of your NQT year is an absolute load of rubbish!

There is a logic to it, of course. During teacher training, trainees are told ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ or you will see your classes run rings around you. It does make sense in that it is always best (and much easier) to start teaching a class by being strict and then gradually relax things a bit if needs be, than to do things the other way around.

It’s a myth that you can’t be strict and smile though and building positive relationships with students is a crucial aspect of successful teaching.

Another interpretation of ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ is far more useful though, in my opinion. It is this…

If you ‘smile to yourself’ at any point before Christmas thinking ‘I’ve cracked this. I’m now a proper teacher’ that will be the precise moment where things begin to slide.

But you should always smile in front of the kids, as much as you can!

Be consistent and persistent

A head teacher I worked for once made the argument that people often over-complicated the whole issue of school improvement. He made the point that, to a large extent, school improvement can be broken down into something that is very simple: all staff within a school community need to be consistent and persistent in everything they do and how they treat students.

There is a lot of truth in this statement and as an NQT always doing your best to be consistent and persistent will stand you in good stead.

Consistent in the way you do things, the way you treat students, the way you deal with misbehaviour, the way you mark books, etcetera. And persistent in the way you stretch, challenge and support your students and persistent in your commitment to become a better practitioner.

Review and reflect

Lessons often go wrong when you are a NQT. Let’s be honest, they often go wrong for very experienced teachers too! It’s important that you reflect on what went wrong with a lesson or with a class.

It can be a steep (and sometimes painful) learning curve, but it’s an important one. Reflect on what has happened and what you might have done differently. Be honest with yourself and don’t look for excuses and don’t be afraid to ask for support when you need it.

The ability to review and reflect on your practice helps you to build the resilience you need to survive your NQT year. But, you will survive it!

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