Things you need to find out today:

  • Homework  How is homework to be marked?  And how is that marking to be recorded?  One of the things that you will be assessed on as part of your NQT programme is that you keep proper records and that you can use that assessment information in your planning and teaching.  You will also need this information for parents’ evenings and for writing reports. It will also help you to keep an accurate picture of what each pupil can do – it’s amazing how skewed our perception of them can become without something concrete to base it on with so many new pupils to get to know.  You probably don’t have to give a grade as such to every piece of work, but check. Your Head of Department will be able to tell you.
  • Assessment activities If you haven’t been told already, or it’s not clear in your scheme of work, make sure you know where your current unit of work for each class is heading.  Is there a specific assessment activity that pupils will have to do in 3 or 6 weeks’ time?  If you have that clear in your mind now, it will help you work out which direction you need to go in with your teaching in the meantime.  But be careful!  Focusing only on the assessment activity can encourage you to forget to develop pupils’ linguistic competence in other areas, such as coping with the unexpected, using classroom language, or writing skills (if it’s an oral assessment), or speaking skills (if they need to write).  Maintain balance!

Things you need to do today:

  • To do Start the habit of writing “to do” lists.  There will be so many demands on your attention during the course of the average school day, so many people asking if you received their e-mail, so many people telling you what you absolutely must not forget… that you will forget.  Although things will get added to that list as fast as you tick things off as “done”, you won’t find yourself in the stressful situation of getting half-way through your lesson and finding you haven’t got half of your materials, or the embarrassing one of someone senior ticking you off in your first week.
  • Expectations  Put it in your diary for the beginning of week 4 to be ready to restate your expectations with your classes if you need to.   Make sure you’ve got whatever you need (powerpoint / visualiser sheet, etc) to hand in order to be able to do this.  From the point of view of the class, the novelty will have worn off of the new teacher and the new term/school and it’s often when challenges to your authority will occur.  Be ready and you will respond better and you won’t be surprised.
  • Informal peer observation  Check that others are happy with this first, but if you can, go and sit in the back of a classroom in your department and observe what goes on for a while.
  • Rough plan  So, the weekend is almost here!  At last!  And what will you do with it?  The answer, probably, is work (although more on this in a moment).  Before you start, it can be very helpful, and ultimately save you a lot of time, to draw up a quick grid of your week next week and plot out very roughly what you want to have achieved with your classes by the end of it (very little detail at this stage), and work backwards through the lessons of each class to put in what needs to happen in each one.  This is much easier than starting with Monday lesson 1 and planning forwards, and it will help you to be more decisive.  Try it!

And finally…  17 years ago I started my first term as an NQT.  I’m not proud of this, but this is what happened:  On Friday night I would mark Year 10 books.  On Saturday morning I would start planning Year 8 (my first class on Monday), I would plan their first lesson making all the materials, then move on to Monday lesson 2 (another year group).  And so it would go on, all day Saturday until a friend came to rescue me at about 8 o’clock and drag me out of the house.  Sunday afternoon, the same process continued.  The result was that by Sunday night I had all of Monday planned (although a tense quarter of an hour on the photocopier with a huffing and puffing queue behind me still to come), but it had taken me two days to do it.  So on Monday night, there was all of Tuesday to plan, but I didn’t have two days before I got there.  Every night felt like a cliff edge, and there were some very late nights.  Not surprisingly, within 4 weeks I was shattered, classes were starting to misbehave because the novelty had worn off, and I was too tired to respond well to what was happening in the classroom.  When the half-term holiday came, I remember working at least half of it, trying to catch up and trying to get ahead.  I won’t tell you how many hours I was working each week, it would be embarrassing.

One day shortly after half-term, the Head of Art and I bumped into each other in the corridor.  A kindly sort, he asked how I was settling in and getting on.  I tried to smooth over the difficulties, but he’d seen this before.  He asked me what I did on my day off at the weekend.  Day off?!  What day off?!  I insisted it was impossible to take a day off at the weekend.

I still remember his forcefulness and I thank him for it: I remember him saying it was “scandalous” not to have a day off at the weekend, not just because it wasn’t good for your long-term health not to, but “the principle of the thing!” –there was no need to work 7 days a week.

That chance conversation in the corridor freed me.  I was working very, very hard, but much of it wasn’t quite as necessary as it felt at the time.  Hopefully, as you’re reading this, you’re thinking, “of course you should have a day off, everyone should, I was going to anyway!”, but maybe you’re already overwhelmed by all there is to do.  Remember that this is the sort of job where it’s never finished.  You can always do more, but it doesn’t mean you should.  You will be much more use to your classes if you are in better shape because you had some space at the weekend to do and think about something else!  There are no prizes for keeling over exhausted by week 4.  When you’re new and you’re keen to show you’re conscientious, the temptation to overwork is considerable.  And also, to be honest, it takes some time to get the knack of managing our time and balancing it with our workload.  Or am I alone in that?!  I won’t kid you that from that moment I never struggled with work-life balance again, far from it, but that conversation was a huge turning point for me.

So, whatever else you do, have a day off.  One complete day off is better than two half-days off.  See your friends (before you lose them), go out, but have a day off when you don’t check your work e-mail or get your planner out.  And on the other day, start off by working out exactly what you need to achieve by the end of it, then break your day up into blocks and stick to your time deadlines ruthlessly, just like you did in exams.  It might mean that you don’t get to do an activity exactly as you want to this time, or that worksheet or flipchart or powerpoint isn’t quite as pretty as you wanted it.  But ultimately it’s about what pupils learn (and there are many different ways of achieving that) and keeping on top of the other bits that come with working in a team (like admin). Oh, and by the way, don’t have your school email on your phone, or you’ll never switch off from work. Opening school emails only when you’re in your classroom is definitely a good way to go.

So well done, you’ve made it to the end of the first week!  I think that deserves a celebration…