By Alex More
If asked what thing would make the job of teaching a little easier on a daily basis, most teachers would probably say a little more time. Time is something that tends to fly by making it a precious commodity in schools.
Newly Qualified Teachers, for the first year of their training, have a reduced timetable, 10% of time set aside but there is little guidance out there on how best to use this precious commodity. So, this blog is aimed directly at NQT’s and here within I hope to share some advice and ideas which I hope will help you maximise that 10% extra time and make teaching all the more enjoyable in the process.
Drop in and observe a more experienced colleague and do this on a regular basis. Find yourself a ‘guru’
There seems to be a trend of late or perhaps a feeling that lessons should only be observed for 20 to 30 minutes. Personally, I feel that to truly appreciate a great lesson and indeed a great teacher you need to watch the whole performance. Imagine going to a gig to watch a band and just staying for a couple of songs before leaving. To form opinions we must watch the learning evolve. To achieve this we need to be there from the moment students arrive, and be there when they leave.
Find out which teachers within your school have a passion for teaching. Ask the students who the great teachers are what it is they do that is great. Allow yourself to be guided by their responses, trust what they say, after all, they are the main actors in the learning process. Once you have your sights set on this ‘said guru’ approach them and ask if they would mind you popping in to watch them teach from time to time. They might be flattered or they might appear flustered, try to be clear about what it is you want to get out of observing them and tell them this. Like all great actors, they’ll endeavor to show you what you came to see, magic high paced and engaging learning!
Going in with a clear focus on a specific idea that can help you advance your pedagogical skills is invaluable. Perhaps your guru is a flipped learning advocate or has a special way of starting lessons, asking questions or challenging students through solo taxonomy. Tap into the magic and visit them as regular as yours and their time and patient permits. At the end of the process tell them what it was that you learned and say thanks. Teaching can be a thankless profession and your words could open the door to many others experiencing those magic insights.
Find an extra curricular club and get involved
One of the best and scariest things I did from week 1 of my NQT year was running a club. It taught me all about that hidden curriculum, the one that exists beyond the confines of the classroom walls, free from the shackles of academia, deadlines and student limitations. Here is a place you will always be valued, always be appreciated and it can be truly humbling. Give it a go!
Immersing yourself in a club or a fixture will allow you to see students interact in a different environment. It sounds a little clique, but barriers will be broken down and students will view you differently, in a good way! After 16 action-packed years of teaching, I am humbled on a regular basis by students behaviors offsite and away from the classroom. Here is a place you might witness a student who really struggles in the academic setting thrive.
Set up your mini-action research project and share the findings
I wish I had discovered this during my NQT year! Perhaps a controversial suggestion but …
Action research is defined by Cohen et al (2011) as a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action. The primary reason for engaging in action research is to assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions.
I like the idea of being an actor in the process of learning and action research allows you to get hands on. Practitioners who engage in action research inevitably find it to be an empowering experience. Action research has this positive effect for many reasons. Obviously, the most important is that action research is always relevant to the participants. Relevance is guaranteed because the focus of each research project is determined by the researchers, who are also the primary consumers of the findings.
You can pick an idea that interests you and run a mini-action research project. I have outlined a few ideas below. Remember, this is not a full-blown thesis, it’s more about the process that the end product and ultimately it should be fun!
Seeing the school through the eyes of a student. A small-scale action research project monitoring how motivation varies throughout a typical school day.
A small-scale study aimed at interviewing students about Growth Mindset
Focusing on collaboration in science and art. Observing how two different departments provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively on their subject.
Find a hobby, old or new and stick with it
Your NQT year will be taxing emotionally, physically and socially. Teaching is full on and can be exhausting if you don’t allow yourself some ‘you time’. It is possible to achieve downtime during the school day but it is easier to set aside some time in the evenings to see friends, pursue your hobbies and be human.
In-school peace and ‘you time’ I have found solace in a good book at times. I have found silence in the library which doesn’t tend to be the trendiest place kids want to hang out in. More recently, I attended a basic meditation session run by a colleague during lunchtime which was amazing. Some simple breathing exercises and a little space to relax will chill you out and calm down the fuzz that school’s naturally create. If none of the above works, pop your headphones on blast through your favourite playlist for a little time out. Any time out is good and you’ll be amazed at how good you feel afterwards.
Out of school but not out of touch. School life has a way of sucking teachers in. Don’t fall for it. Yes, marking books, planning lessons and checking emails all have a place but that place needn’t be every evening or even during your free time at work. Be creative, make some plans with other NQT’s, work colleagues and those who have no ties to teaching. Keep a balance, get out to the cinema to see the films you live, eat out, work out and keep that work-life balance firmly in check. All the research is synonymous is suggesting teachers struggle with work-life balance so start how you mean to go on, on your terms. I am not advocating for a minute to shirk work whilst at work but use your time to network and expand your horizons.
Smile, laugh and help people out This one doesn’t cost a thing but is invaluable to those who need it the most, it’s giving a little time to save them time. This is so easy but rarely administered in my experience. Why not be that agent of change? You might be thinking how would I go about this? There are a thousand ways to be kind but here’s just a few …
Offer to fix the photocopier or grab some paper and drop the copies off to a colleague who rushes into the staffroom to make some photocopies and doesn’t really have the time to fix the jammed sheets or empty toner.
Offer to take another’s break time duty so they can put their feet up and chill out for 10 minutes
Smile when no-one else around you is happy. Smiling is infectious and your efforts will soon catch on.