teaching with 'p' plates on

five i have learnt about…dealing with NQT workload

Posted on: March 23, 2015

When I first set out on my teaching journey, I was always told how difficult the PGCE year was: you will be working all hours, never see your friends, family or the outside world etc etc. Although I’m not one to describe myself as work-shy, these types of comments left a small ball of dread in the pit of my stomach – I thought you only gave up your life when you had babies? Ergh. However, as my QTS was in sight after what turned out to be a quite-hard-work-but-not-nearly-as-life-consuming-as-it-was-made-out training year, SUDDENLY, all those who were telling me that my PGCE year is make or break changed their tune and told me that – in fact – the NQT year is the hardest of them all. That wasn’t a lie.

One of the things I was dreading the most as I approached my NQT year was the threat of a workload comparable to the Himalayas: even teacher-y family members of mine (whose opinions I take remotely seriously) told my boyfriend to not expect an evening or weekend with me for pretty much ten months. Gulp. Determined to not turn from a raring-to-go newbie to paperwork mountaineer, I made sure to pick up some tips from my dear colleagues and mentor to try and savour some of my free time. They might not be revolutionary, but helped me anyways:

“Guess what? You don’t need a PowerPoint for EVERY lesson!”
This was an epiphany moment courtesy of my good friend / second in department. Throughout my training year, I never went without a trusty PowerPoint – I mean, HOW can I teach an outstanding lesson without a range of Blooms-related colour-coded slides complete with clear lesson objectives and a selection of Microsoft Office’s finest shapes containing appropriately differentiated instructions? Well, firstly, I have learnt not every lesson has to be ‘outstanding’ (I was aware of this before, but it’s hard to forget when you are used to your every move in the classroom being watched), but I also realised that not having a PowerPoint doesn’t equal severe punishment from the teaching Gods. Rather, it is quite liberating as well as saving at least an hour of my day! Of course, I haven’t replaced PowerPoint with my trusty board pen completely, but every now and then, it is refreshing to pop a couple of instructions on the board and let the lesson do the talking.

Sharing really is caring
I think I’m pretty lucky to work in a department that is open to sharing good practice, an assumption I’ve made only because any other NQTs I have spoken to – whether at training sessions or because they’re existing friends – tell me all their lessons are made from scratch, which understandably takes up the majority of their time. Pretty standard #NQTprobs. Of course, many of my lessons are my own and I by no means leave school at 3 o’clock and spend my evenings watching TLC (as much as I would love to sometimes), but having access to a plethora of existing lessons taught by my colleagues has helped me manage my time massively. Yes, some may need a tweak here and there to suit my style or class, but looking at and using other peoples’ lessons is almost CPD in itself; I discover new ways of doing the same activities or learn how to improve my own lessons that incorporate similar skills across other topics and year groups. Likewise, I make sure I contribute my PowerPoints and ideas too especially as I have the gift of extra frees – just because you’re an NQT doesn’t mean your lessons aren’t valued. Even if you don’t work in a department that doesn’t tend to share, try sending out a lesson or two that you’re proud of – someone else will almost definitely find a use for it and they will likely return the favour.

Use the golden six weeks to plan your first two weeks
We all love the six week holidays for sure, and whilst they have their many benefits which no-one needs reminding of, they’re also a great chance to get the first few tricky weeks of your NQT year under your belt. I made sure I planned every lesson – PowerPoint, resources, the lot – for my first two weeks back in the first week or so of the break. Of course, the first few lessons after the holidays will be taken up with giving out books and re-writing your name a million times on the board, but a) likewise, your first week of frees will be taken up with dealing with various annoying niggly bits that you could always palm off to a ‘proper’ teacher during your training year and b) your first week of evenings will be a write-off as a result of being too tired to contemplate lesson planning whilst you come to terms with actually having to work again. Honestly, spending a third of my summer sorting my lessons made the first few weeks back stress-free; if you don’t get complacent, you’ll stay two weeks ahead of yourself throughout the year (so you can actually have your holidays and weekends…unless you have marking. Moan.).

You had loads of observed lessons last year – use them!
On top of my three standard NQT observations, I also had the joy of an OFSTED inspection during my first term. Hopefully, you should have a rough idea of whether OFSTED will be visiting your school or not so it won’t come as a shock, but observations shouldn’t be an extra thing to plan from scratch when you have another million NQT things to deal with. A blessing in disguise should come from your training year lessons – think about it: they have a lesson plan, differentiation and you’ll already know what you need to do to improve it. Just re-hash them when you have time (either during holidays or a ‘quiet’ night) and you’ll be good to go for the year. You’ll be especially thankful for this if your school gets the OFSTED call – I was still up until 11pm just doing lesson and seating plans!

Don’t be consumed by teacher guilt
I’m always a bit suspicious if I have the prospect of a night with no work whatsoever – so concerned in fact that I will sometimes make work for myself! It sounds mad (it probably is), but because you’re expected to be working all day every day as an NQT, you can’t help but feel slightly wrong for having an evening ‘off’. Again, another set of wise words from the same friend reassured me that it’s okay to switch off from school sometimes. I have always been stubborn with the work-life balance to an extent, never working beyond a set time and having a night to myself at least once a week, but this was another piece of advice that stuck with me. After all, the world won’t end if I decide not to mark Year 9s books or spend the night in a horizontal position to preserve energy for a full day of lessons ahead. What’s the point in having perfectly marked books and an outstanding selection of PowerPoints if you’re too tired to teach them properly?

What other tips and tricks have other NQTs have picked up for managing workload this year?

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2 Responses to "five i have learnt about…dealing with NQT workload"

Hello, I’m going to be starting my PGCE in September and I too have heard the horror stories and have subsequently been feeling a little apprehensive about what I’m taking on. It was so refreshing to hear that although your PGCE was difficult, it was ok 🙂 Also thank you for the great tips for staying alive through your NQT year. I’m definitely going to remember them and make sure I stay ahead and plan in advance 🙂 Good luck with teaching. All the best, Katie x

https://teachontoast.wordpress.com

Hi Katie!

I’m glad I’ve given you some reassurance – it really isn’t as hard as it’s made out to be as long as you play your cards right!

Honestly, organisation is the key to getting through the first few years – it’s all about strategy 🙂 Hopefully my future posts will just be as useful, but if you want me to blog about anything in particular, let me know!

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