What I wish I knew as an NQT …

The NUT (National Union of Teachers) states that “Teachers’ workload is currently far too high and surveys show that recently qualified teachers work longer hours than their more experienced colleagues.” Clearly, this is not acceptable but fortunately there appears to be a movement recognising and tackling this problem. No one wants to see teachers, especially enthusiastic and optimistic NQTs, suffering from exhaustion and burn out caused by excessive and unnecessary workload. It can take years for some teachers to find the right balance in their life between work and home life. Sadly, some teachers never find the balance and leave the profession as a result. However, managing workload can be a skill that teachers can get better at, especially with the right support. Hindsight is a wonderful thing as they say. There are some experiences that teachers have to experience for themselves and learn from, for example we can reflect on a lesson that we didn’t feel went well and do things differently next time or ask why the lesson plan didn’t actually go to plan as we hoped for? However, there are lots of experienced teachers, myself included, who are willing to share their stories and offer advice to support NQTs and other educators from repeating mistakes we made. Here’s some advice I have to offer …

Spend time developing subject knowledge rather than creating resources!

This may surprise some colleagues that know me as I do really enjoy creating and adapting resources for the classroom. My first book Love To Teach: Research and Resources for every classroom has recently been published which shares a lot of classroom resources and ideas. As my book explains, resources are only one aspect of teaching and learning. When it comes to resources we need to consider how much of our time and effort we are investing into resources and how that can impact our workload. I share resources with the hope and aim to support other educators around the world as many have supported my classroom practice. One particular challenge in regards to workload that I have experienced has been finding the time to develop my subject knowledge. The term “knowledge-rich” curriculum is becoming more widely used with a strong emphasis on teachers having deep subject knowledge and lessons being driven by content, not just focusing on skills. Of course teachers have the background and qualifications to teach their subjects but not all undergraduate or postgraduate courses provide coverage of the content that a teacher may have to deliver. Many teachers are also being expected to teach subjects that they do not specialise in, bringing additional workload issues. At my current school the history A Level course being taught involved a different exam board to the one I had previously used and one of the topics: Russia 1917 – 1991, Lenin to Yeltsin was completely new to me. Whilst I have general knowledge of this period I have never actually studied the history of the USSR or any Russian history at school or university. This was also a topic I had never taught before either. I knew it would be a challenge to get the level of required depth in regards to subject knowledge and that it would be very time consuming but of course very important and necessary. On reflection, three years later I now feel very confident teaching this course. I am also glad I have widened my own subject knowledge and gained experience of teaching a different period, country, specification and exam board.

What should NQTs do if they find themselves in this position where their subject knowledge is lacking? Firstly, if possible pick the exam/specification where you do have strong subject knowledge that only requires refreshing rather than learning everything from scratch! I did this as an NQT, I was able to teach a course at AS and A2 Level (as it was at the time) were the content was similar to that of my dissertation and ironically at the age of 21 teaching history I was teaching the same A-Level course that I had sat as a student at the age of 18 (I even asked my former history teacher for some of his resources!). If you are unable to teach a course or module that you have in-depth knowledge of then I would suggest putting your time and efforts into developing your subject knowledge and less time creating resources. There is usually a wide range of resources (of varying quality) that are already available, either at your school or online. Don’t spend precious time obsessing over PowerPoint presentations instead spend time reading, watching documentaries – basically building your subject knowledge. Remember, next year you will have taught the course and feel much more confident in your knowledge and can then revisit resources and lesson planning.

Embrace marking strategies that have impact in the classroom and not on your workload

There has been a lot of discussion about marking, as this for many teachers can negatively impact important personal time yet not always have a positive impact in the classroom. Many schools are focusing on using strategies such as whole-class marking to reduce workload and improve the quality of feedback. It has been estimated that “if you price teacher’s time appropriately, in England we spend about two and a half billion pounds a year on feedback and it has almost no effect on student achievement” not to mention the workload consequences for teachers! There is a suggested model by Dylan Wiliam called ‘Four quarters marking’ which consists of the marking being divided up (see image below) into a quarter of work marked in detail by the teacher, another quarter skimmed by the teacher and the other two quarters involve peer and self assessment by the students monitored by teachers. If you are interested in finding out more about this strategy you should read the blog post ‘Four Quarters Marking’ – A workload solution by Carl Hendrick. If your school policy allows this then embrace strategies that have impact in the classroom but don’t negatively impact your workload!

Remember your planning is for you

In regards to planning, the NUT state “planning should be perceived by teachers to be useful to them in their teaching. There should be no requirement for teachers to prepare plans in retrospect”. Once schemes of work are in place you should remember the aim of planning is to support you as a teacher – not for you to be judged on. Planning is important but you don’t need to plan every aspect of a lesson and sometimes questioning can lead to a discussion or raise misconceptions that you did not initially plan for but would still need to address in the lesson. Plan but be flexible with your plan and remember your planning is for you.

Use research to widen your pedagogy

Use research to widen your knowledge of pedagogy to help understand how students learn and this can also reduce your workload. Now, it has never been easier to engage with the latest educational research and I have recently posted a blog sharing ten accessible and must read research papers, summaries and sites that you can view here. Being aware of educational research allows you to focus on what works and will significantly help you and your students. There are a wide range of books available, written by both researchers and educators explaining how research can be implemented in the classroom. There are also a wide range of high quality blogs and articles that can be read quickly but that will be very informative. It may feel like there is no time for reading but for me the more I read, reflect and learn the greater my confidence in the classroom. ResearchEd events have become very popular across the UK and beyond. The events often take place at weekends and are charged at a very low price. Whilst I believe weekends are very important for relaxing, socialising and spending time with loved ones attending a one off event like ResearchEd on a Saturday can leave you feeling informed, invigorated and inspired with a wide range of strategies to cope better with your workload in addition to a friendly and supportive network of educators!

Technology can help you, it doesn’t have to be a hindrance!

Years ago one of my professional development targets was to become confident and competent using the Interactive Whiteboard in my lessons. I absolutely hated the IWB! It was unreliable, temperamental and felt like more hassle than it was worth. I used the IWB in a lesson observation to tick a box but vowed never to use it again because it proved so problematic. Over the years I have become more confident using simple technologies in the classroom and have found that can technology can be very helpful with planning and aspects of workload. I regularly start my lessons with quizzing and there are so many easy to use apps for quizzing in the classroom such as Kahoot, Plickers and Quizlet. My favourite online quizzing tool is Quizizz, an app but it can also be used in browser. Quizizz has a teleport feature where you can view ready made quizzes by other teachers and add their questions to your quiz, if some questions aren’t suitable that’s fine because you can pick and chose which questions to teleport in addition to creating your own questions. Another feature of online quizzing tools are that most quizzes record all the results and data for you. If your school doesn’t have access to devices then Plickers quiz would be suitable as only one device is required, so you could use your device to scan a class set of answers. Technology can become an essential part of your teaching toolkit.

Use social media to network, share and learn!

When I was a NQT social media created some problems, which teachers can still encounter, for example the decision to be friends on Facebook with colleagues or not and finding out how to make your profile settings secure and private because some students like to do a Google search of their teachers! It wasn’t until 2015 that I realised social media was being used by teachers all over the world as a method of taking control and ownership of their professional development. There is a very large community of educators using Twitter, including a community of NQTs that get involved in regular Twitter chats with the hashtag #NQTchat. Pinterest is a treasure trove of teaching and learning resources and displays although don’t be intimated some displays are very over the top and look far too time consuming to create and maintain! If you are looking for inspiration there will be something on Pinterest for your classroom. There are also a range of Facebook groups for teachers of dif-ferent key stages, subjects, exam boards and more where people can ask questions to other teachers and suddenly their network has expanded beyond their school. Even if you are reluctant to share or post infor-mation or resources online, join and sign up to access personal professional development at your finger tips You can connect with me on Twitter @87history and Instagram – LoveToTeach87. I have previously blogged about how teachers can use LinkedIn as another form of professional development online and you can read that here.

Avoid the teacher guilt

As a teacher our to do list can seem never ending! There are always things we could be doing – whether that’s marking books, planning lessons, admin, reading books and the list goes on! Sunday night approaches and sometimes the guilt factor makes us feel we wish we did more over the weekend. It’s important to remember we are human first and professional second.  I took me a long time to realise the importance of taking care of my wellbeing and enjoying my life outside of the classroom. Weekends are your time for friends, family, relaxing and you should not feel guilty about not working but if you want to work at weekends that is fine too. I’ve been mocked for working on a weekend but I enjoy reading books or sometimes I have a very busy social life in the evenings, whatever the reason it is ok. If you do want to Netflix binge in the evening or go out for a meal with friends during a week night that is also acceptable as teacher guilt can creep up on us in the week too. The pressure teachers can put on themselves can be very intense, in the first year of teaching it’s a good idea to establish positive habits and routines in order to prepare yourself for a sustainable career where you can be healthy and happy.

I hope you found this post helpful or interesting whether you are a NQT or not. I have written another post previously about how to thrive not just survive during your NQT year that you can read here. I also enjoyed reading another blog post by Carl Hendrick entitled Five things I wish I knew when I started teaching. If you would like to send me any feedback or if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. You can get in touch with me via the contact page on this site or send me a message via my Twitter or Instagram. My book is available to order now on Amazon here.

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