I completed my training year when the world first went in to lockdown in March of 2020. Teacher training in the UK is already a tough year, but add in the elements of working from home with little to no real contact from the training provider, with the expectation to carry on online teaching (which was even new to me) and try to stay sane in a world that has turned upside down in a flash, it was a challenge for even the most well equiped and organised people. For me, the real worry was my NQT year. Through hardwork, organisiation and support, I breezed my teacher training. However, although I had passed with flying colours, I had not had the opportuniy to teach any GCSE classes. (Luckily enough I had the fantastic opportunity to teach A Level Language and Literature and team-taught one GCSE Language classc during my training year.) Starting my NQT year in September 2020 brought nerves and excitement. I’m not usually the type to get nervous, yet the thought of teaching two lots of exams (Language and Literature, separately) was a lot to comprehend after the whirlwind of the last seven months. What if I was no good? I hadn’t taught the Language paper before, and had no experience of teaching the non-fiction or the creative writing according to the exam specification, and I was not overly familiar with the texts on the Literature paper, enough to teach with exorbitant confidence, anyway.
My go to answer? Fake it ’til you make it. I found myself in a position which I’m sure lots of other trainees/NQTs are not so fortunate to have; I worked as a cover teacher for a year upon completion of my degree. I had to be resourceful and have the ability to think on my feet with 30 pairs of eyes glaring at me from across the room. So, acting with confidence along with hardwork outside of school hours to ensure my subject knowledge was seamless was my plan. It paid off. Being thrown in at the deep end, in my case with three very able “top set” groups and one very challenging “lower” (but actually very mixed, I don’t often like referring to sets as setting can both inflate and squash egos and attitudes), was the best thing for me.
Interestingly, although my training year was turned upside down and observations and mentor meetings and traditional training stopped, the NQT year went ahead as normal. Not only have NQTs had to adapt to new school policies due to Covid, changes to the school day, changes to classrooms, changes to departments, changes to every aspect of school life in general, changes to assessment and teaching and learning, changes to behaviour management (a tough one, in many cases), changes to “blended” learning, more changes to assessment and teaching and learning among many other drastic measures that were taken to ensure the safety of staff and pupils, but NQT observations, meetings and assessments continued as if nothing had even happened.
I’m sure many of you reading this can relate to the stress that is the NQT year. I am proud to say that my current school has an excellent support system, and mental health and wellbeing is paramount among staff and students. However, I know that this is not the case in all secondary schools, or schools in general in Britain. I realised the true importance of leaning on your department and colleauges when you need the support, reasurrance, even just seeing friendly faces every day (which was very much missed during the January lockdown). It is easy at such a junior level of teaching to go into your own bubble and not reach out to those around you when you are struggling, perhaps there is also an expectation that once you have trained you should know everything and be super confident and crack on with barely any issues. Everyone is busy. You don’t want to pester your colleagues with what they might consider trivialities. But there is that one particlar student in that one particular class who just doesn’t “get it”, or who just won’t listen... This is so far from the truth. Having “Qualified Teacher Status” essentially means nothing when you’re suddenly on your own after being out of the physical classroom for seven months, flung into a nearly full-time timetable.
Ask the questions. Build dialogues.
You do not stop learning and changing and adapting your techniques after your training year, and I think the pandemic has definitely taught everyone in education the importance of learning.