Starting & surviving your NQT year during Covid-19
When I think back to my NQT year, I was so excited, prepared and organised for the year ahead. I knew the National Curriculum for my year group pretty much off by heart, I’d double backed and laminated all my resources and spent a small fortune on special bits for my classroom and although I didn’t yet know exactly what it would be like having a class of my very own, I’d done a 3 year teaching degree and was entering a year no different to any other. For our NQTs starting their journey this year, things could not be more unknown.
From very experienced teachers to NQTs, all staff members will be returning to work in September having had very different experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some members of staff will have been in school throughout, some will just be returning in September for the first time. How school will look, work and the general day to day life of the school once all children and staff return is unknown to everyone.
For an NQT, although this may seem daunting, it may actually be more comforting knowing that everyone in the school will be in the same boat. Children, staff and parents are returning to a new normal routine of school. There will be so many familiarities that will provide comfort and much needed routine, but there will also be so many changes and anxieties to face. As an NQT, it is most likely your first experience in your new school and so having nothing to compare it to before, you can truly embrace the ‘new normal’.
I’ve put together 8 top tips for any NQT starting this year:
- Be flexible. Yes you may have spent what seemed like all day creating the perfect curriculum overview, lesson plan and resources, however what we need to remember is that children will be returning to school with very different starting points. Many will have substantial gaps in their knowledge but many will have learnt new skills and discovered new talents so you cannot possibly anticipate where you will need to pitch your learning and there will be lots of flexibility and differentiation required to cater for the needs of all children.
2. Alongside the guidance of your SLT, ensure the curriculum you are delivering provides opportunities for your children to rediscover their voices, their confidence and their love of learning. Children will need lots of opportunities to talk, play, reflect, be physically active and free to explore and express themselves as many will have been affected some way either psychologically, socially, emotionally or physically. Therefore, it will be so important to protect and support our children’s mental health and gently and appropriately integrate them back into routines.
3. Take control. You are the teacher and it’s your classroom. Your creativity, your spark and your personality are what will make you a good teacher. Seek advice, and be open to constructive feedback but be in control of this. It’s much better to check in regularly with your mentor and pro-actively and conscientiously look to develop your practice, than it is to have a big shock after your first observation. Remember children learn best from people they like, so just be you!
4. Smile. It will be an anxious time for many and the children will be looking to you as their stability. Hopefully, school will become a sanctuary away from the world of Covid-19 but you are their role model and how you portray yourself and your own attitude towards the current pandemic will rub off onto the children.
5. Make a ‘going home basket’. This was the best thing I had in my classroom. When people would drop children’s jumpers off, or bring letters to go home I could pop them in the going home basket and knew at the end of every day that everything was in one place ready to go home.
6. Reflect. Being a reflective–practitioner is the best way to improve. Even now, I reflect on the work I do and the lessons I teach. This is what keeps you moving forward and it’s through mistakes that you learn. If something worked well, great! If something didn’t work well, what will you change for next time? As an NQT, I would often reflect on the way home in the car or talking to my year group partners (again quite often on the hands free in the car driving home!).
7. Talk. Your NQT year is tough, you will have highs and lows but the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. Communicate regularly with your tutor, mentor, colleagues and use networking, online platforms and social media to really engage in the teaching community. Seek advice from more experienced teachers. Seek advice from your school’s teaching assistants – trust me, they will know more than anyone in that building! SLT are there to help and will want you to become the best teacher you can be, so ask them for support. Communication is key to success and this includes building a positive relationship with your parents too, be approachable, be present and spend that extra two minutes letting a child’s parents know how well they’ve done at school today, a little goes a long way.
8. Last of all, enjoy it! You really are entering one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.