It’s such a long time since I’ve written one of these blog posts, revisiting my NQT year with an eye to finding something useful to share! When I flicked through my diaries to find what I wrote in December, I wasn’t sure how any of it could become something useful to an up-and-coming NQT. Though the pages are in my handwriting, it feels as though they were written by somebody else – I have changed enormously since then, through my own determination and due to events in and out of school.
“The hierarchy that exists at work melted away once we all sat around a table for dinner. We were just friends […] sharing a good time.”2nd December 2019, writing about the leaving do for our headteacher on 30th November
To NQTs reading this, don’t expect your December to start anything like mine: two consecutive weekends of social engagements! For an un-party animal, it was intense, but it really helped me feel like a proper part of the team, something I found really difficult, having been a student teacher in the same school for most of the previous academic year.
“The introverted part of me was at war with my GAD, which was also fighting with how much I wanted to remember the night for good reasons and have a good time […] I wanted the ground to swallow me up got most of the night […] But the last hour was incredible. We danced, we sang and I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the night.”8th December 2019, writing about the night before (my first Christmas do…)
I cannot be the only person on this planet to have been the NQT not looking forward to the Christmas do. I’m just not good at partying! But know this: you’re not any less of a teacher if you don’t go, and it doesn’t have any effect on your ‘participation in the wider school life’ if you elect to give it a miss! Equally, there might be bits that you enjoy – I just wish my enjoyment hadn’t come after so much anxiety first!
“It’s four years since I interviewed for Hope. I’m not feeling enormously reflective but I am proud of how far I’ve come in that time, even if I do tend to crumple into a heap after too long in the dark.”9th December 2019
Much as I hoped that November would be it as far as physical and mental health difficulties, it was not. December is a crazy time in school with very real power to drag you under in both capacities. NQT flu will do the rounds until early spring if you’re not careful, and it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come.
When December came around, I was tired. Early starts and all-consuming days were my reality: with preparations for Christmas and ad hoc timetable alterations on top of still juggling the business of learning to teach, I felt as though my feet didn’t touch the ground for most of the month.
I did, however, have the presence of mind (usually) to recognise that I had made progress. I definitely recognise it now, having explored my journey to teaching on a podcast and having re-read the blogs I’ve written so far about the autumn term. And you should recognise it too – stick it on a post-it somewhere visbile if you have to, so that when you’re in your classroom and it’s dark already (because it will happen) you have a reminder that you’ve made it so far already, and as long as you’re doing your best, you are enough.
If/When the lack of daylight starts getting to you
- Try really hard to get outside at least once during daylight hours. Break duty, PE, or an impromptu run around the playground (which can be super useful when the little one have lost focus in the afternoons)
- Think about getting yourself a daylight lamp. I couldn’t function without mine in the winter months. They’re not hugely expensive to buy online but they can make a real difference to your energy levels and state of mind, by mimicking the brightness of sunlight and tricking your body into making a few more happy chemicals. [Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional, just a convert to the daylight lamp! If you find yourself really struggling mentally in the winter months, definitely see your GP to see if there’s anything they can do for you.]
- Fresh air can have magical reviving properties in a stuffy, centrally-heated classroom.
- Try to plan at least one day a week when you don’t leave in the dark (this is the hardest in December, but so worth it.)
“I owe it to myself to tell someone I’m not feeling okay. Bottling it up isn’t helping.”11th December 2019
With the gift of hindsight, I do regret being so open when times were hard. I will never be ashamed of my mental health (or occasional lack thereof) through my own actions, but the actions of others can change everything. I would never, never advocate for bottling thing up to the detriment of your wellbeing though. If you’re an NQT and you’re struggling to stay on top of things, of course you should speak up. My advice is this: be certain that you trust the person you open up to. Sometimes that trust is better found outside of school.
“Friday morning (yes, all of it!) was my NQT assessment. And I’m not doing awfully! There are things I can improve, of course, but that was always going to be the case.”14th December 2019
I will definitely write more about my experience of NQT assessments in the future, as there’s probably a blog’s worth and more that I could say! However, the notable point here would be that I was so worried about this assessment meeting and what I might need to prove or disprove. As are many of the things I worry about, this was not anything to worry about. It was an opportunity to go through my professional development so far in person, and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience.
“In that moment, hugging my gift basket to my chest and feeling wrapped up in loveliness, I realised that I matter.”20th December 2019
Christmas 2019 was the first in three years that saw me make it to the end of term without missing any festivities. I saw it all. I lived and breathed Year One levels of yuletide hysteria. And I enjoyed every minute. Granted, I then slept for thirteen straight hours to recover, but I am proud of my autumn term. I changed, but more importantly, I changed things for ‘my’ children.