From surviving to thriving: advice for your first NQT year

Posted by John Mulgrew on August 20, 2018
Teaching is hard. But it’s also one of the most important professions around, because it's responsible for cultivating and nurturing the next generation of doctors, scientists, business leaders and teachers. The first year of being an NQT is exhausting, emotional and can sometimes come down to survival. BUT, it’s also hugely rewarding and the first step in a worthwhile, fulfilling career. What can you do to thrive rather than just survive an NQT year?


7 tips for thriving in your NQT year

As well as gathering advice from other NQTs, we asked John Mulgrew, who was promoted to Head of Geography and LGBT Coordinator at The East Manchester Academy after 6 months of being an NQT, for his tips on surviving an NQT year. Find his comments included in the tips below.

"The NQT year is hard and the first term is particularly challenging. By following these strategies you can be more efficient, develop faster and provide better lessons for your pupils." - John Mulgrew

1. Take charge

It’s your classroom and your teaching is up to you. Organise your students by developing clear boundaries and sticking to them, such as homework and behaviour policies; be consistent so that your students know what is always expected of them.

Never forget the power of seating plans and keep them in mind when refreshing groups. In ‘Ten Tips to help NQTS survive their first year in the classroom’, Tracey Lawrence shares how she once had a student who was so happy to be trusted sitting next to their best friend that they behaved impeccably from then on.


2. Reflect

It is only natural to make mistakes as you learn. What’s important is how you use those mistakes to improve. Allocate some time every week to reflect on your teaching for your own professional development.

Reflecting on your own teaching is an important means of improving. You may find it useful to keep a professional journal for your first year to look back on how your teaching has changed and discover exactly which methods worked best. Video technology can also be helpful in aiding self-reflection by giving you the power to revisit the lesson in your own time and build a video journal to objectively see your improvements over time.

"Reflecting on the teaching and learning in your lessons is an important thing to do in order to help you and your pupils make better progress as the year continues. One strategy I made use of in NQT year was IRIS Connect. I made use of IRIS once every two weeks to record one or two of my lessons. I would take time to watch my lessons and reflect on both positive and negative aspects. I would set myself weekly targets to improve and record another lesson a few weeks later to see if I actually did improve on what I had set out to achieve. IRIS Connect is an excellent piece of software that has helped to improve my teaching and learning and it is something I have continued to use daily in my lessons." 


3. Don’t go through it alone

As an NQT, you may be tempted to close your classroom door, get your head down and bury yourself in your lesson plans and marking. Don’t go it alone!

There are a number of teaching communities readily available for you to join.

Here are 5 suggestions to help you feel supported:

  • Use to see if there are any upcoming meetings near you for the opportunity to listen to other teachers sharing their ideas. 
  • For online advice from other teachers you can check out the TES community or join twitter and follow some of the inspirational educators out there.
  • Look to your own school for help; speak to your colleagues and ask them for tips. Alternatively, share a great idea that you’ve had and open yourself up to your school community.
  • It is also important to work with your students’ parents. Developing strong friendly relationships early on means parents are likely to be more approachable if you ever encounter difficult behaviour with their child.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even after your first year, teaching is a learning profession so SLTs and mentors within your school are there to support you.

"Last year, I struggled severely with behaviour management and the best thing I did was ask for help. As a result, I became more confident and it has really helped me to improve teaching and learning in my subject. If you feel like you cannot ask for support from your mentors, talk to other NQTs and RQTs. There is a wealth of knowledge and skill within your school so make use of that! Observe other members of staff and discover new strategies and techniques because they helped me to remember things that I had once forgot." 


4. Learn when to stop

Don’t be a perfectionist. Learn to tell yourself “that’s good enough” and mean it. Equally, don’t worry if your lesson goes off plan; adapt to your students’ needs to still get them to where they need to be.

You also need a personal life and time to yourself so marking shouldn’t take over your life. James Cutler’s contribution to the Guardian’s ‘NQT Survival Guide Teaching Tips’ is the suggestion that rewriting the same comments repeatedly is unnecessary. For a more economical use of your time, and as a way of making your students engage with their written feedback, you could devise a coding system. Use stamps, stickers or short symbols on the work then produce a key and make your students copy down the comments that correspond.
Love what you’re doing

It’s important not to lose sight of why you’re teaching. It will be clear to your students if you can maintain a genuine passion and enthusiasm for your subject. Find a way that works for you to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing when the going gets tough.


5. Marking Tips

Always follow your school marking policy.

"The best way to know your pupils are making progress is through marking their books and giving feedback to help them make better progress. I know that this may sound easy to do in theory but we all know marking is an onerous task. I found that marking was taking up a lot of my personal time. I had to find a way to improve my marking to stop this. One way was to make frequent use of self and peer assessments in lessons. This helped to reduce my marking when pupils have already assessed and reflected on important tasks in the lesson – especially exam questions. Also, consider using marking stamps and stickers. All of my KS3 pupils love seeing stickers and positive stamps in their books. It not only helps them to be proud of their work but it also helped to prevent me from repeatedly writing the same comments. Amazon has lots of marking stamps and you can even design your own personalised stamps – it will really help you to save time." 


6. Time Management

NQT year is very tough, especially when you have to plan lessons, mark books, mark assessments and carry out other professional responsibilities in school.

"I found that by designing a deadline sheet with key dates helped me to manage my time better. I would design a weekly document that included books that I needed to mark and planning responsibilities I had to do for that week. I would stick this on my computer and keep it visible so that I did not forget about keeping on top of my never ending list of things to do. I still use this today and it really helps me as Head of Subject to keep on top of my extended responsibilities within our department." 



4. Planning

"Never be afraid to deviate from the original plan. If you are fortunate to have collaborative planning within your school, ensure that you adapt your lessons to meet the needs of the pupils in your classes. One size does not fit all and what one class might find engaging another set of pupils may not. Get to know your pupils, carry out a pupil voice and see what they would like to do in lessons and adapt your lessons with reason to make your lessons not only exciting but engaging and challenging. This is your chance to put all of your skills into practice – take risks, reflect and improve. Teaching is always about making mistakes and learning from them. Be your own teacher. Try to make your subject relevant to your pupils. Think back to your own school days and how the teachers who inspired you made you love your subject. However, be guided by whoever has curriculum responsibility for the subjects you teach." 

Further reading on surviving your NQT year:

Do you have any tips of your own to share? Did you receive any advice in your NQT year that really helped you?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.


Not an NQT, but looking for how you can better support them? Download our free practical guide to supporting NQTs below.

Topics: NQTs, TeacherTales

Practical guide to supporting NQTs
Practical Guide to supporting NQTs