At the end of a long year: thoughts on NQT and thriving

There was a time this year when I had written my notice, I had told my husband I was quitting my job and I’d applied to go back to studying Theology. There was a time when I sat in my head of department’s classroom and cried in a visceral, horrible way because I felt like I could not do this anymore. There was a time when I went to see my GP and they signed me off with workplace stress and I sat in my room and cried and felt like a complete and utter failure. It wasn’t that, on the surface, I was being a bad teacher, I was in control of my classes, I was delivering the material, I was doing what I needed to. Instead it was a feeling very deep down that I wasn’t really teaching and that students weren’t really learning.

Looking back on that from my desk on the Monday before the end of term I cannot believe that occurred in the same decade as this one, let alone just a few months ago during this, my NQT year. I remember telling people at the start of the year that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to step off the lesson-to-lesson roller-coaster of stress and emotion. I was convinced that when people told me “it gets easier” they meant in five or ten years rather than in just a few short months. Now though I really feel as though I can give that advice to next years’ NQTs, it does get easier, you do become adjusted, this is a job you can do and being an active part of a network of professionals is at the centre of that.

A huge part of my transformation was about rebuilding my confidence in my ability to teach. In that sense I’m incredibly thankful to my head of faculty who gave me a copy of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction in a CPD meeting earlier this year. I had already dabbled in some different pedagogical approaches and in the chat about pedagogy on Twitter but it was Rosenshine’s Principles that really liberated me from my anxiety in the classroom about my ability to teach. Here was a clear and tangible way to structure my teaching which meant that I was able to teach in the way that felt natural to me. Better than that this was not some faddish method for lesson planning like those I’d come across before, most of these principles were things I was already doing but having them written down like this gave me such a boost in confidence.

One of the biggest moments for me was letting go of a spark of anxiety that my PGCE had instilled in me: “too much teacher talk, aim for 20/80”. That was a persistent note on so many of my lesson observations and so I went into NQT finding myself obsessed with reducing the amount of my own talk. Rosenshine gave me freedom once again to take ownership of my space in the classroom and teach in a way that was not only quite heavily structured and therefore easy to plan, but also a way that empowered me as a teacher and as someone with a love and knowledge of their subject. My proudest memories of this year are not the flashy PowerPoints or card sorts but the photos I’ve kept on my phone of my whiteboard covered in notes or of well-used models or the recall quizzes that have been picked up and used around the school.

Ms H’s Reflections on my NQT Year blog post really focused my attention on moving the narrative for NQTs away from merely surviving this year and instead looking at places where NQTs have thrived. I think I’ve had half-terms where I did merely survive but there have also been moments where I’ve felt I’ve come into my own as a professional. Some highlights of this year include: talking at BuffetEd, giving a speech at the TUC Young Workers’ Conference, getting elected as the secretary for my NASUWT association, having my resources featured in school-wide CPD, engaging with some of my favourite writers on Twitter, seeing my blog and my Twitter page grow, seeing people using and enjoying resources I’ve made, getting good feedback on lesson observations from people I really respect at this school, engaging with my subject community and generally feeling part of a network of professionals I like and respect.

In the short space of a year I feel as though I’ve actually become a professional in the full sense of that term. I remember saying to myself “I just don’t know why I’m doing this” back in the dark days before February half-term and it is in no small part thanks to Twitter and my colleagues both online and off that I actually know the answer to that now and I actually felt sad coming into my classroom on this Monday morning and knowing that soon I wouldn’t step foot in it for six whole weeks.