By Rachel Andersson
You’ve successfully completed your initial teaching training and are now seeking that all-important first teaching job as an NQT. Your placements whilst training probably exposed you to a variety of school environments, some of which you enjoyed or at least found rewarding, others perhaps not so much. What those placements had in common is that they were for finite periods. In the end, for the majority of teachers, training placements are pigeon-holed as discrete, often difficult, experiences that had only a tangential effect on the type of teacher they eventually became.
However, it’s an indisputable fact that teachers learn most about their craft in the classroom. Therefore, where you end up for your NQT year is crucial. For some of you, a successful placement may have segued straight into employment in that same school. On the other hand, you may be using a less positive experience to help you filter out certain types of school from your job search. Either way, it’s important to understand the implications of the choices you make. In the current climate of burgeoning teacher shortages, it’s a sellers’ market; NQTs are an attractive option to schools with squeezed budgets, so you can afford to be discriminating.
So, what should you consider?
This probably seems obvious, and it’s likely that you already have an idea about roughly where you would like to live and teach. Perhaps you’ve researched housing costs and even the catchment areas of potential schools. Remember, though, that the manageable 45-minute off-peak journey you will make for an interview may soon pall when you’re repeating it at peak times, twice a day, five times a week, when you’re tired and still have work to do when you get home. On the other hand, while a 10-minute walk to work may be appealing, the downside may be a blurring of your professional and social lives. Do you really want your pupils to see you greeting the postman in your pyjamas on a Saturday morning, or to check out what’s in your trolley while you’re shuffling around the supermarket?
There are many benefits for an NQT working in a large school, not least of these is team planning. You get to share ideas with more experienced teachers and pool resources, so the planning and preparation burden is vastly reduced. There is obviously a much larger team of people to turn to for advice and support apart from, of course, your mentor, so it stands to reason that you will be exposed to a wider variety of examples of good practice.
A small school may lack some of these opportunities. You may be the only teacher in that year group, or perhaps even have a mixed year-group class. In this case, it is a good idea to check what provision will be made for your support. You may want to ask if the designated mentor has worked effectively with NQTs in the past.
Small schools do have their advantages, though, including their strong sense of community. You will soon become an integral part of the teaching team working closely with all your colleagues, and knowing the names of all the children in the school is a distinct advantage when you’re on playground duty or taking an assembly!
When should you take on additional responsibilities?
The first year of teaching can be intense, which is why NQTs are entitled to additional non-contact time. During that period, it’s a good idea to take full advantage of all the additional support offered to NQTs while taking on as little additional responsibility as possible. The job advert you have responded to may well state that willingness to take responsibility for a particular subject may be an advantage. While you may feel able to take on a ‘small’ subject alongside your classroom teaching duties, be wary of launching in straight away with a core subject like maths, English or science. In an interview, you should be able to say that you would like to take on a subject coordination role in the next year or so but that to begin with you would like to focus on developing your classroom management and teaching skills. If a school is keen for you to take on responsibility straight away, this may be an indication that they don’t fully appreciate how much support they should be offering you during this first year.
These are just a few things to consider. Ultimately, the right ‘fit’ between school and NQT is as important as anything, and this can often just come down to ‘feel’. Take advantage of opportunities to visit schools prior to interviews. You will be less nervous and will probably take much closer notice of how things appear to run and the ‘vibe’ within the school. This can often be quite telling, so don’t necessarily ignore your instincts.