Letter to My NQT Self
Dear NQT Claire,
Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off and you have joined the teaching profession. You gained ‘exceptional’ at all levels in your second placement and you’re feeling pretty pleased about it (this feeling won’t last, I’m afraid!). The next seven years of your life are going to test you and challenge you in ways that you never thought possible. You have trained to be a teacher because you believe in education's power to change the lives of your pupils for the better. The thing you have yet to consider is what that means for you. So here is my letter to you, reaching out to you from sevens years into the future with some words of advice, but still so much more to learn.
Learn to say no. There are so many things that you can do, so many avenues to explore and experiences from which you can benefit… but you cannot do them all. Some will have to wait, some will have to be missed because you are only one person. Over the next two academic years you are going to say yes to everything and it's going to impact you personally. The unintended outcome of taking on so much and being so keen is that people assume that you can handle it. At the moment the idea that someone might find you disinterested or incapable is terrifying, but working yourself too hard is not the answer. Choose the opportunities that genuinely suit your interests and where possible identify where people are just looking for you to do the legwork!
Don't bother saving your planning. You have this idea that you're going to use your lessons once you planned them through as an NQT, but in two years time you will open the folder, realise they are all on Publisher (why?!) and that they are already outdated or not of a good enough quality to teach again. Instead of spending all that time saving everything meticulously, spend the time really reflecting on your practice. Consider how you might want to improve things the next time around. Whilst we are talking about planning, you were trained in an era where textbooks were considered to be the devil. This is no longer the case and they can be used as a tool for perfectly good lessons. You don't have enough time to reinvent the wheel, so stop now and use the brilliant resources created by history textbook writers such as Aaron Wilkes and Ben Walsh.
By the end of your NQT year people will think that you're mad as you will have signed up for your Master’s in Educational Leadership and Management. They are wrong. Although this increases your workload it will be one of the best decisions that you will ever make. By studying at the University of Nottingham you will make brilliant friends, learn from fantastic academics, and intellectually challenge yourself in a way that makes you feel empowered and confident. You will forge connections with wonderful people who will support you to pursue your dream of studying for a doctorate. Most people won’t find this level of nerdiness as interesting as you do, but you always have Joe’s support and proof-reading skills (you end up marrying him in 2019).
Lastly, and rather harshly, you’re not as good as you think you are. I know that sounds horrible, but you are going to have some serious ego bruises over the next few years and whilst you’re not a bad NQT, you just have so much to learn. Stop. Listen. Reflect. You’re at a school where the word ‘outstanding’ is used to describe people regularly and you want to be one of them. The truth is there is no such thing as an outstanding teacher. You have good days, bad days and unremarkable days throughout your career. All that really matters if that you know you’re doing the best you can for your kids; that you aren’t resting on laurels or becoming out of step with the latest advances in educational thought. Pretty soon the grades will be removed from lesson observations, giving you the freedom to focus on your areas of improvement. You’ll find that the real value lies in improving for your self and for your pupils rather than a grade or approval.
All the best,