Case study 3
Induction information for NQTs
Dr Luke Ronaldson, Maths Teacher
The difference between a year as a PGCE trainee and NQT
One of the most noticeable differences between my PGCE year and my first year as an NQT is that as an NQT, I am much busier. However, I would never tolerate working so hard if I didn’t find most aspects of the job immensely enjoyable and satisfying. My first school placement as a PGCE trainee was at a mixed, inner city state school for pupils aged 11 to 16. I enjoyed my time there and learnt a great deal but I also realised that I wanted to teach at a school where my main task would be to teach mathematics and not to constantly be checking inappropriate and challenging behaviour. My second placement was at a mixed independent school for pupils aged 11 to 18, a school with an established reputation for excellence and with a very different set of expectations of its staff and pupils. I was lucky enough to be appointed to a full-time position at this school and so this was also where I have spent my first year in teaching.
In my NQT year I have a reduced timetable to 90% of the normal level and I find that most of my spare time is spent marking and planning lessons. After talking to colleagues, it didn’t take me long to realise that marking, whilst necessary, is the bane of every teacher and would never go away. However, what surprises me still is the depth to which I write my lesson plans, having done so for nearly a year and a half. I expect that this is unusual and that most third term NQTs have mastered writing concise and brief lesson plans without the need for exact timings, precise illustrations and descriptions to guide them. However, perhaps one of my weaknesses as a teacher is that I don’t feel comfortable thinking on my feet too much and so I appreciate the security that a more thorough lesson plan provides.
Another shock to the system on starting as a qualified teacher is the taking on of myriad pastoral responsibilities. Many of these are unique to independent schools, or at least are more involved than they would be at state schools. As a tutor for 19 Year 8 pupils it is part of my job to monitor their progress academically and to ensure that they are participating fully in the many different aspects of school life, be it sport, music, drama or any of the other activities that are on offer. It is also my job to pick up the pieces for them when things go wrong. In my experience, ten percent of the pupils I tutor, or indeed, teach, take up ninety percent of my time allocated to pastoral troubleshooting. Add to this the time taken to prepare PSHE lessons, school assemblies, write reports, prepare for and attend Parents Evenings, coach a rugby team, attend courses and … (the list goes on) one can appreciate the increase in work load from PGCE to NQT. Also all NQTs must produce another evidence folder to satisfy a whole new set of standards. Actually satisfying these standards is almost always just part of the job anyway, but the difficulty is remembering to log the event as evidence by printing off that relevant email or getting a colleague to sign a little piece of paper confirming that a standard has been met. The more worthwhile activity is taking the time to reflect on a particularly good or bad lesson. Producing the evidence folder is not difficult, just time consuming, but as I’m sure you have now gathered, time is the most precious commodity for a new teacher. The key to not letting evidence gathering get on top of you, is to be organised about it from the start.
As I look over the last two paragraphs there seems to be a lot of moaning about all the trials NQTs must endure and it occurs to me that I am writing this a day or two after the end of a long term and that is when all teachers are most drained. But I should point out that, with the exception of marking, all of the tasks mentioned above offer a great satisfaction and provide the essential support for the one aspect of the job that teachers love the most – teaching. I have only been teaching for a year and a half and I am the first to admit that I still have much to learn. However, when I compare myself now with how I was a year ago I really notice the changes. Having had the basics of teaching drummed into me (use praise, ensure “hands up”, correct pace, etc), they have now become second nature. Now that I am more confident I can start focusing on other ways to improve my teaching and most importantly my pupils’ learning. I am confident in my classes now and I am more likely to try out new techniques and strategies.
A notable difference between my PGCE and NQT years is that the classes I teach really feel like my classes now. I know all the pupils well and for better or worse I am very much involved with their progress in my subject. As an NQT, I get a real sense of achievement when my pupils successfully grasp concepts or perform well in tests or exams. Likewise, when things aren’t going so well, there is a real urge to address the problem. Getting to know the school in which you teach properly is something every PGCE student should look forward to. Forming relationships with pupils and staff brings lasting rewards. When things do go wrong there is still plenty of professional support except that now it is all centralised at the place you work, not split between your school and your PGCE course provider. As well as your induction tutor and head of department you now have a wealth of colleagues who you can turn to for help and advice but have now gained the experience to appreciate who will be most helpful in any given situation.