I wrote a short post, a hot headed response, to an article that I stumbled across from the Daily Mail, yesterday. It’s not an uncommon response, to read and feel my teeth grind, when I find myself engaging with that paper, truth be told- however this one story really really hit a raw nerve. Reading it I could feel the heat creeping up my neck, face. I felt anger.
This is a re-blog post originally posted by Natalie Scott and published with kind permission.
The original post can be found here.
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I felt that teachers, leaders, unions were betraying our young colleagues and once again, albeit unintentionally, shaming our beloved profession. The article was about NQTs and the fact that – according to a number of head teachers, surveyed by their union- they just aren’t up to the job.
I’ve been pretty stunned by the response from that post, the direct messages that I have had regarding it have been predominantly but not wholly from those in their first fragile years of teaching. The same bunch that the Independent told us, this very week that 40% of would leave the profession this year. Anxious, tired and broken no doubt. What has the job become? Where are the mentors? What are the leadership teams doing other than moaning? At what point will we as leaders accept a little responsibility? It seems it wasn’t just me who felt a burning angry white hot fire in my belly at this lack of support for our newest generation of teachers. Others, with experience and hindsight, commented too.
At what point did these heads last teach the timetable of an NQT? Where is the empathy? It’s still a tough job for me and I’ve got 15 years of resilience, countless tricks up my sleeves, I know how to control a class and have a skin thicker than a rhino. But me the NQT? The one in rose tinted glasses, fresh faced, ready and willing to change the world for kids just like Robin Williams did in Dead Poets’ Society.
Would I have coped in the current context? Would I make it today?
If I’m honest, I’m not at all convinced that I would. The press constantly demonise us and the teachers who shaped me, taught me, trained me, helped me the most are no longer with me, either watching the news and cursing at the current government, sat retired and demoralised on understated sofas remembering when punishments and curriculums were both far more creative- or even worse, they have gone, too early like many who work in education. Those bright, shiny, vivid renegades who inspired the kids and bent rules. Who taught so much more than just books and disagreed fundamentally with the labeling of a beautiful child with a target level or number. From the age when reports were handwritten about that student, not cold numbers pulled from the last data drop.
Oh. My. Life. It’s happened. I knew it would one day. I’m reminiscing about the good old days…. I’m one of the ‘back in my day..’ ‘I hate change’ crowd. Gosh. Surely not..?
But seriously- I wouldn’t have been the teacher that I am today without that grounding and support. I still struggle to manage my workload- the to do list will (I now know and accept) NEVER end. The marking will keep coming, as will the rest of my job. I generally manage it but how would I feel if I was teaching 27 lessons a week instead of 8, marking 7 class sets of books instead of 2, planning lessons for 7,8,9,10,11 and 12- rather than having two year 11s who are sitting the same exams? Add on top of that, duties and form time and meetings, CPD, trips… And all the admin.
Is it actually a surprise that these teachers are tired, disillusioned and in need of a holiday? Is it a surprise that they are keen to get out? Why don’t we cut them some slack? At what point did anyone (who was it?! Come clean!!) decide we need our NQTs to be outstanding after week 2 in September? Do you remember when lessons took you longer to plan than to deliver? When you needed a script in order to brave the students for a double period? When AOs, bands and levels weren’t ingrained in your mind? What on earth are we doing to them? They have (according to my current employer’s documents) until MPS 4 to be ‘good’. So nurture, build, support, energise, challenge and coach them. Talk. Question. Try. Direct them to read the recent blog on wellbeing and stress, his uncomfortable friend, by @astsupportaali and get them to engage with @martynreah and his wonderful #teacher5aday. Invest time. Teach short cuts that don’t compromise integrity or learning. If it’s not about the kids then cut them slack. If NQTs are doing well don’t reward them for rolling with the punches by giving another punch. Let them manage. Let the confidence grow. Allow experimentation.
I’ve been going over this in my mind whilst driving to work this morning. And now, on the ferry with my black coffee (extra shot), I feel the heat once more.
Two analogies keep running through my mind.
The first is the one that has been on loop now for 24 hours. It’s of the frog who when sat in a pan, of cold water, which was slowly heated was eventually boiled to death. Whilst a second frog, if thrown into the near boiling water will jump straight out- and usually survive. Have we been in the pan so long that we fail to see how hot the water is getting? Are NQTs right to jump out and save themselves?
The second? It’s slightly less disturbing. Whilst driving down the A3 this morning I noticed how brightly the newly laid cats eyes shone. They sparkled and glowed when my Fiat 500’s headlights lit the way forward. Once left behind me they dulled and faded. Our NQTs are learning, they need our guidance, our headlights, our warmth. They will come alive and be wonderful while we keep them at the front of our minds, but if we drive too fast and let them fall behind they are gone. Without us they can’t yet self sustain, nor should we expect them to.
My suggestions and questions for the heads in that survey are listed below- should they be interested…
- Work more closely with ITT/ITE providers rather than blaming them. Build links, with ongoing CPD but also with the delivery of training courses and the selection processes. Get on the panel. Go and share your expertise.
- Ensure mentors are strong practitioners but also strong ambassadors of well being. It does matter.
- Do not overload NQTs who do well. Let them enjoy a sense of success.
- Empathise. Always. Remind yourself how it is to teach a 5 or 6 period day every so often… By doing it.
- Plan career paths with newly qualified staff, organise careers interviews, get them into other schools modelling best practice in their subject area, cover them so they can work shadow your HODs, HOYs and SLT. Build on their aspirations and ambitions. Invest in them.
- Ensure all staff induction is timely, meaningful and relevant. Not just for NQTs, but for all new staff and those returning from maternity…
- Don’t add extra meetings unnecessarily- differentiate the calendar if required.
- Team teach with NQTs- both parties will benefit.
- Ask them what they have read recently that had informed their practice or who to follow on twitter. Their fingers are frequently more on the pulse than ours!