All good stories have a solid starting point, don’t they? My NQT story began in September 2019, and thanks to my meticulous journaling habit, I can piece together a fairly accurate account of my first month as a teacher. Maybe it will be useful to someone just embarking on their NQT journey (provided, of course, that normal life resumes in September 2020!) On the other hand, maybe it will raise a smile from those of you with experience, nostalgic for your days as an NQT… Yeah, I don’t think that’s too likely!
Today was an anxious day. I spent all day hiding it. (Badly.)Tuesday, 3rd September 2019
It’s no secret that I am one of life’s worriers. The second and final inset day in that first week was overwhelming to say the least. I was drowning in information, spinning too many plates, and I wondered what on Earth I had gotten myself in for. And this was after I had spent my final placement in the same school, too!
But as I discovered later, almost everyone falls somewhere on the anxiety spectrum, the night before school starts, no matter how long you’ve been in the job.
In September, I made sure to put a lot of focus on small moments of happiness, like sticking photos from my graduation on the wall. The pride and strength in those smiles carried me through some really difficult days. Little acts of kindness meant a lot that month too – a text from my NQT mentor the night before my first day, that was so lovely it raised tears to my eyes, and a cup of tea made for me by my headteacher while we went through some safeguarding procedures (even if it was a little too milky – that’s one thing you should know about me, I drink my tea STRONG.)
I hope Sundays always feel like this… Is this what it is to be in love with your job?Sunday, 8th September 2019
Don’t get me wrong, my first week was a challenge. I couldn’t find the classroom presence I needed, I didn’t stand as firmly on behaviour as I should have done. I think I cried to my parents (I still lived with them at that point) completely ashamed that I had the loudest class in the school and convinced that my colleagues must have been judging me terribly for not managing them better.
Despite all of that going wrong, most of which carried on for most of the month, I loved my job. This innocent optimism also carried on throughout September. Finally having a classroom of my own was eye-opening and difficult, but it was also a gift. I had worked for two years of A-levels and three years of university to achieve this. I had made it, and I was on cloud nine every Sunday night, ready to start again.
[My NQT mentor] reassured me hugely… reminding me that I’ve only been a teacher for eleven working days so I shouldn’t beat myself up for things not being perfect… I won’t make any promises though, because “don’t beat yourself up” has been a common theme for about eight years, but I will try to keep it in mind.Wednesday, 18th September 2019
In the third week of term, I finally gave up the brave face. If you’re a soon-to-be NQT reading this, don’t be a hero when it gets hard. Don’t stick it out and carry on. Talking has the power to put things way back into perspective.
I have always been a perfectionist, I think. I thought I could keep that up, despite what people were telling me, that it wasn’t physically possible to maintain both a perfectionist streak and your sanity as a teacher. It would seem though that many teachers fall foul of this personality trait. By virtue of the profession, we want to make a change for ‘our’ children and we want to get it right for them. I wanted it all to fall into place and go right straight away – my own impossibly high standards were my downfall. I would like to think that by now (April) I have made peace with things not being perfect. But I am still reminded regularly not to be quite so hard on myself, so it is very much still a work in progress!
I feel like death.Thursday, 19th September 2019
Those were the only words I wrote on that day. NQT flu is real, people! And it likes to kick you when you’re down, and come back for infinite more rounds. There’s not an awful lot to be done to avoid it – maybe it is easier in an older, less tactile class than Year 1, I don’t know. But believe me, you will learn very quickly, which of your colleagues has the reputation for being a walking pharmacy!
By the end of the month, I had been poorly for around eight days of September’s thirty. On paper, that doesn’t seem long. In my memory, the germy period was much longer than that – I guess time has no real meaning when you’ve got no voice but you’re still trying to be heard over a class of Year 1s.
But I retained that initial optimism for the whole month, give or take a little. September was a rollercoaster. Though perhaps, more accurately, it was a rollercoater within a rollercoaster – I can’t say I’ve managed to exit yet!
Future NQTs, it will be hard. Find your support in school. Be proud of your successes, be excited, because this is a precious time. Be as excited as I was, at the end of my first day. And yes, I really did write that sentence three times, with increasing degrees of emphasis.
I am a teacher. I. Am. A. Teacher. I AM A TEACHER.Wednesday, 4th September 2019