NQT/ECT Advice #1

What can I do over the summer to get ready?

This was requested by @Miss_Grimmer on Twitter, and it’s actually been quite nice to reflect on what I did last summer, what I didn’t do and what I maybe should have done! I hope there’s something useful in here for soon-to-be NQT’s thinking about the summer ahead.

In no particular order, here are some things you could think about in preparation for September. Bear in mind that I am a primary teacher in a single form entry, village primary school, so I’m not best placed to give advice to secondary NQT’s!

1. Get to know your school

I didn’t have this hurdle to jump last summer, having spent my final placement in the school where I’ve spent my NQT year, but that’s not to say I haven’t learned since being a student! There are some things I never needed to know as a student (and some that I really did – you should definitely try and check if people have favourite staffroom chairs, before parking yourself anywhere!)

It might be harder with schools being closed, but see what you can do, regarding getting into the building and getting to know where things are. Art resources, PE equipment, first aid kits, where the spare tea bags are kept in the staffroom – because woe betide you if you don’t restock the tub after using the last one!

2. Get to know your colleagues

You should be able to spend some time in school before the summer holidays, in usual circumstances – again I’m not sure how this will work at the moment – to get a feel for the daily running of the school. Use some of this time to get to know people: your mentor, your year-group team (or key stage team, if like me you’re heading into a single-form entry school0 and office staff. Office staff are often overlooked, as is the site manager, but these people are the engine room of a school; believe me when I say you’ll get nowhere fast without them!

If you can find out which TA you’ll be working with, if you’re lucky enough to have one, then definitely spend some time with them. They will be like your right arm in the classroom and may already be familiar with the children you’ll be teaching come September.

3. Make your classroom look the way you want it to

The time you get in school this summer will likely be the most time you get all year to create that Pinterest-worthy learning environment you’ve dreamed of during your training. I hate to break it to you, but once the term begins, there will be precious little time left to decorate. That said, don’t be afraid to make changes once the year has begun.

I received some really useful advice while I was hauling tables about last summer – don’t feel that they have to stay where you put them. It may be that once the children are back in the room, what you thought would be perfect turns out to be a logistical nightmare. Example: I had to move a table after less than a day, when it turned out I hadn’t considered that my class would still need to line up…

It can take a while, at least it did for me, to come to terms with the classroom being your own, and the freedom that comes with that. You really can change it as you need to. It’s your space to make work for you and your children.

4. Planning

Others may disagree with this, but I don’t recommend doing a huge amount of planning this summer. You don’t know your class and where they’re at, yet, so it’s hard to know where to pitch your teaching. That said, you obviously need to plan something, so here’s how I went about my planning to begin with. If you have a year group partner or team, your experience may look very different to mine!

I did a lot of talking with the previous Year 1 teacher about where her class were when they came up from Reception. From there, I accessed the school’s Google Drive of planning and resources to find the previous year’s planning in each subject. For the first unit, I followed these fairly closely, making changes largely down to personal preference and teaching style. Sometimes, you see something in another teacher’s planning and think that not in a million years could you see yourself doing that. It’s not a case of their planning being good or bad, but individual confidence varies and everyone has their own way of doing things. I would say that especially as an NQT at the start of Autumn 1, you’re perfectly entitled to play it safe if that’s how you feel like playing it.

As your knowledge of your class grows along with your confidence in your new role, planning will get easier. At first, it will feel strange not to produce in-depth lesson-by-lesson plans like on placement, and purely work from medium-term or weekly plans. I promise you won’t miss the in-depth planning – you definitely won’t have time for it any more!

5. Daily Routines

If/when you get into school, either before the summer or right before the start of term, key knowledge to gain will be the official and unoffical routines in the school day. Official routines are things like timings: non-negotiable cornerstones that your day has to fit around. The unofficial ones are the ones that baffled you as a student that suddenly you’ve got to be clued up on: unspoken rules that no-one ever mentions but everyone seems to know. Are there one-way corridors? Which door does your class use for breaktimes and hometime? Who takes your class to the hall for lunch? Are children expected to be silent when walking into assemblies?

Above all, learn when it’s your break duty! There is little more embarrassing, let me assure you, than forgetting this and having to do a sprint dash back to your classroom for your coat!

Something you’ll need to think about too, apart from routines, is all the in-between stuff that experienced teachers make look so easy (I am definitely not in this club!) What are your expectations for lining up, sitting on the carpet and going back to tables? How will you get everyone’s attention? Are there going to be monitors for classroom jobs?

6. Time for you

It can be really tempting to go flat out this summer, to cram in as much as you can before September comes around. I do understand this, but you have to use this time to look after yourself as well, whatever that looks like for you. If self-care hasn’t been a huge part of your life before, it’s about to become one! Maybe use some of this summer to work out what helps you to wind down and find peace with yourself in difficult times. Stress will come during the coming year, so it can be really helpful to know yourself and know what works . (I say this, having not fully worked it out for myself yet!) Self-care is not all bubble baths and facials, though I’ll admit they certainly have their place. Spending time with family and friends, walking the dog, getting fresh air and even stretching every once in a while at your desk can help you feel fresher and more prepared to work.

I wasn’t big on naps before my NQT year; they were something for poorly days exclusively. But I have to say, a well-placed nap can be extremely restorative and extremely necessary! (If my staffroom is representative of the wider population of teachers, this is not just true of NQTs…)

I definitely did not do all of the above when I was preparing for my first term. To a point, it is about feeling your way and working out what’s best for you, but I hope the points I’ve made here are helpful in some capacity. Other teachers are welcome to leave comments with further tips, too. I know this time last year (when I hadn’t even secured my NQT post yet) I was eager to soak up as much information and advice as I could. Just don’t forget, it’s your year, and it won’t look exactly like anyone else’s. Good luck 🙂

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