Choosing the school that's right for you
As we begin a new academic year, I realise how much I have progressed during my first year as an NQT. I have grown in confidence and developed new skills. I have led CPD sessions, taken part in extra-curricular activities and gained leadership experience. There have been moments of stress and there have been days when teaching has been difficult. But on the whole, this year has been overwhelmingly positive.
Whilst I have had to work hard for this success, it would not have been possible without the support in place at my school. My school, a secondary school in a diverse catchment area in Sheffield, ensures that all NQTs feel secure and valued as they learn to teach. For example, this year I have benefited from having the opportunity to observe others and witness best practice in the classroom, whilst also receiving observations from a range of staff to get the best-quality feedback possible for my own evolving practice. The school has hosted NQT TeachMeets so that new teachers from across the city can meet and share ideas with each other. In school, the NQTs meet weekly to share resources and collaborate on how best to tackle tricky behaviours in the classroom. The most useful activity we collaborated on was a student voice survey on apathy. It enabled us to all gain a better understanding of our classes but also to share strategies on how to craft our lessons in order to respond to issues raised by the students.
When looking at the type of school in which you want to work, there are some specific things that I think are often overlooked. Firstly, the basics. Consider your own priorities. Is it a high priority to teach A-level, for example, or are you looking to focus more on teaching Key Stage 3? Do you want to work in a school similar to your placement schools or do you want an entirely new challenge? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions – only what suits you.
Consider organising a visit to the school before the interview. Ask how many NQTs there are working at the school and see whether you can speak to them personally. This will give you a good idea of the support that the school puts in place for their NQTs. It is also worth trying to talk to some pupils and get their opinions about their school. Finally, ensure that you understand the school day. What time are you expected to be there and when do most people leave at the end of the day?
Your NQT year is the time to begin to hone your craft as a new teacher. It’s a time to try new styles of teaching and work out who you are in the classroom. It is your opportunity to seek out help and support but also to gain greater independence as you leave your training year behind. Look for a school that helps you to do all these things and you will enjoy your NQT year immensely.
Do not expect to be perfect from the start. It was hard for me to go from being a trainee to an NQT. The step up is large and it can take time to adjust. Keep persevering and you will improve day by day, but do not expect to be the best from the start.
Ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness if you seek support. Teaching can often feel very isolating – just you, teaching in your room by yourself, away from everyone else. However, it doesn’t have to be. If you are struggling with something, ask for support from your head of department or mentor and you will immediately feel better. They are often busy and might not realise straight away that you need help unless you ask for it.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward. Whether it’s running a club, sharing some research or joining a teaching and learning group, schools love to see an NQT getting involved! It will help you to fulfil your NQT pass criteria and will stand you in good stead for the next year.
Kathryn Norton is an English NQT at Newfield Secondary School in Sheffield. She gained a PGCE from Sheffield Hallam University, after graduating from Newcastle University with a BA in Classical Studies and English. She joined the Teach First movement in 2017 with a view to closing the educational inequality gap. She has successfully passed her NQT year and will become a Teach First ambassador next year.