One of the joys of supporting English Teaching in schools across the country is the opportunity I have to work with NQTs who are truly passionate about their newly chosen vocation. It was a pleasure to meet with two such enthusiastic and dedicated newly qualified English teachers at Greenfield Community College in Newton Aycliffe, as they embarked upon their teaching careers.
Amy and Hannah had very different experiences as trainee teachers. Hannah is convinced that the success of her ITT year was because she had brilliant mentors. “In both placements, they were both amazing. They were always helpful, and whenever I asked for something they had a solution. When they observed me, it was never overly critical, it was always suggestions about how my practise could be improved, but it was always framed in a positive way.” Hannah had had a brilliant year, with very supportive mentors in both placements, where she had made ‘friends for life’ with a fellow trainee. Whereas Amy had felt somewhat isolated, although she has used this experience to make her more determined to develop as a professional and ensure that she has a successful year no matter what. Ironically, this sense of isolation had enabled her to develop her own personalised ideology and pedagogical approach to teaching and learning in the classroom. There are clearly issues with the consistency of the support given to our ITTs. Without this personal resilience, it is often the case that where a trainee teacher receives poor quality support they may fail to see their training through to a successful conclusion. It is therefore crucial that trainee teachers receive as much emotional and academic support as possible during their trainee year. This must form our attitude to ensure that teachers join, and most importantly stay, in the profession.
Most teachers can remember the first room that they had ‘ownership’ of and to Amy and Hannah that former pressure of having to change rooms in between lessons as a trainee was something that they were pleased to say goodbye to. They both felt that their days were so much more enjoyable and productive because they had their own classroom. Feeling ownership over their environment was a real positive for them and it became a theme throughout the interview. They both stated how thrilled they were to have their own set of exercise books for their class. They were not ‘borrowing’ a class and having to deal with the suspicions and emotions of students who had ‘lost’ their teacher. As NQTs they owned the classes, and as Amy stated, “The students can now put my name on their exercise books, they are mine!”.
At a recent NQT Conference they were told, “You will cry and you will break down.”, but they are relieved to note that because of the support they are receiving, their own experiences have been much more positive and not so emotionally overwhelming. Hannah said, “I can totally understand where it could take over every hour of every day, but if you have got support, it is much easier.” They both agree that Martin, their Head of Department, gets is just right. He will discreetly pop in and checks that everything is going smoothly. They feel that this is always conducted in a supportive manner and that he always takes the time to discuss any issues and provide professional advice. Interestingly, they do not enjoy the SLT Learning Walks because they feel like they disrupt the flow of the lesson and that it would be more productive if they gave feedback or offered constructive support. Maybe schools need to consider the impact such approaches can have on their new members of staff?
Currently, as NQTs together at Greenfield College, both Amy and Hannah receive a package of ongoing support, advice and guidance. but underpinning this structure was their overwhelming enthusiasm to teach experimental and creative lessons. They were both convinced of the importance of encouraging talk and independence in the classroom and understood the benefits of adopting a variety approaches in terms of engaging the students in their learning. Central to their philosophy was their shared passion for using creativity, drama and student presentations as part of their everyday lessons. Hannah described a lesson where she explored the status of women in Jacobean times and linked it to Macbeth. Even though many of the girls offered to perform, she only chose the boys, to the cries of ‘sexism’ from the girls. This gave them the opportunity to see a visible representation of how only men and boys could perform on stage in Shakespearean times. Often a physical representation can provide the most memorable lessons. Amy described how she dressed up as Dickens and had a ‘Meet the Author’ session. It is reassuring to note that new teachers are taking ownership of their classes and have the confidence to try creative and more engaging approaches to enthuse their students.
Sharing resources can be invaluable and allows new teachers to access different approaches and styles of teaching. Nevertheless, they both firmly believe that they should then have the freedom to adapt these resources to best fit their own style of teaching, as well as the needs of the students in their classes. As new teachers they want to feel some ownership over what they are doing. They are both happy to share and have left their ppt at their ITT schools, but Amy always add notes to the bottom, with the rationale alongside the task itself. They are relieved to have the freedom to have significant input in to their lessons. They feel that this is important because they want to create a professional style and identity of their own.
Professionally, Amy and Hannah acknowledged the importance and benefits that being a member of a professional body like NATE can bring. They valued the opportunity to share ideas with recognised professionals and of being part of a network that has national support which could widen and enrich their teaching experiences. They both had a refreshing openness in their professional approach to teaching which centred upon a willingness to share ideas, creative approaches and classroom experiences with colleagues in order to improve the learning experiences of their students.
We wish all NQTs the best of luck at the start of their adventures in teaching. Teaching can be demanding, but never lose sight of how rewarding it is to have the opportunity to inspire and connect with our young people.
– Get to really know your students – (Arrange a theatre trip, this is a great way to get to know staff and students.)
– Make use of your mentor – (If they are not hugely helpful, find an unofficial mentor in the school.)
– Ask for help – (Work out who you can trust and ASK for support before things get too difficult.)
– Prioritise and manage your workload. (A daily to do list is useful. Always begin with something straightforward to get started! Cross off what you have achieved at the end of the day.)
– Embrace advice
– Take ownership of your environment – (Work on your displays.)
– Maintain a life outside of school – (ALWAYS have at least a Friday night, all day Saturday and Saturday evening off!)