10 things I wish I had known as an NQT!

Jasmin Choudhury

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

NQTs always have a special place in my heart. Teaching is a vocation and most people who join it, are ignited by a passion and determination to make the world a better place through education, and do want to empower long-lasting and effective change for the better.

Even educators who are no longer teachers and have left the profession will still be able to voice why they became teachers. I am always curious to hear their story and journey as everyone who wants to become a teacher- starts with a burning desire to make a difference. They still may have that fire but perhaps get disgruntled or destroyed by the processes that we have to endure and are underpinned by these days.

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My days as an NQT seem far away but I remember my first year as a teacher as clearly as if it was yesterday. Things like NQTs didn’t exist in my day and instead, we had probation. I was lucky to have fantastic mentors who trained me well and there are things I know now that I wish I had known when I started. Here are some of them:

1. Being September ready does make you less stressed

Spending a week in the summer holidays with a clear, planned strategic approach pays dividends. That one week (although, it depends how fast you work or how much needs to be done) can help you prep for the year and certainly the tricky and very long Autumn term. Make friends with the premises and the office staff and the resources manager! Er… they rule the roost and things get magically done if you get on with them!

2. There’s no such thing as “winging” it!

When you see experienced teachers and leaders walking into any classroom and being able to teach off the top of their head and control that difficult class – know that it has taken years of practice of excellent teaching. Don’t be fooled! Ensure you are well organized, well-resourced and prepared as great teaching is all about having excellent habits!

3. Quality feedback and marking and excellent subject knowledge reduce workload

Yup – the marking and planning don’t stop! It can get overwhelming sometimes. However, if you spend time knowing your subject, embedding systems where pupils self-assess, peer assess and respond to feedback in a quality way, you do reduce the marking and the need for lots of planning.

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4. “Don’t smile before Christmas” actually works!

Being strict as long as you are firm and fair is always the best strategy. Children initially hate you for being a strict teacher but lay your boundaries and as long as you are reasonable and just, they know not to mess with you. Children love to know where they stand and “a strong hold on loose reins” is enough in the end.

After a while, your reputation will precede you and even the most challenging of pupils will become putty in your hands. Besides, remember you also have that inherent skill that all us teachers seem to have – “eyes in the back of our heads!”

5. Those challenging pupils who give you hell, do come back and search you out!

They drive you mad and they may not listen to you and even walk out, swear at you etc. However, don’t give up. Be the P's! Be professional, persistent and persevere. Be pragmatic and create your own philosophy of what you will take on and what will make you think- enough is enough.

Trust me, they do come back and seek you out and thank you. It is great when I see my old students who give me toothy grins and fist bumps or give me a warm welcome when I suddenly see them. I remember their full names which always gives them the heebie-jeebies. They even have a meltdown when I say they can actually call me “Jasmin” now and not Ms Choudhury! It makes me laugh my head off!

6. Difficult lesson observations or lessons that go badly do not define you as a teacher

Don’t let it get to you. It is another day of the academic year. Get back into the driving seat. It happens to the best of teachers. Reflect, analyse and self-improve. Ask for help and talk it through with trusted colleagues and people in your life.

Teaching is a craft and the best teaching is built on continuous self-improvement. Rise from the ashes like a phoenix and be like the unicorn! Enthrall students with the magic and charm of your teaching and learning.

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7. Network and get to know people- the world of education is small

Get to know everyone as everyone is useful. Down to the cleaner who cleans your room to the headteacher. Share your ideas with people as they keep you fresh and will regenerate creativity and innovation.

Support struggling teachers and share best practice. Remember to always act with integrity. That always wins through in the end. When you become a leader, remind yourself how hard- day to day teaching is and be compassionate yet firm in your approach.

Meet people from other schools and organizations and link up and connect and schedule meetings in person. Nothing beats the human connection and who knows what opportunities may arise.

8. Get to know fantastic recruitment agents

Nobody will push your career as you do. Drive your own CPD and be prepared during performance management discussions. It should be a dialogue and not just about you delivering results. Voice your ambitions- personal and professional and a good mentor and PM reviewer will help you realise them.

When the time comes to move on, get to know great recruitment agencies. Good recruitment agents are priceless and can help shape your choices.

9. Leave one day in the week early – i.e. 4 pm as you need to remember you work to live, not live to work

Put yourself and your family’s needs foremost! Teaching is endless and the work never stops. Once every week, try and leave early and make it a habit. We educators forget to look after ourselves. Any leader worth his or her salt will encourage you to have a good life and will also be open should you wish to be more flexible with the way you wish to work.- As long as you are reasonable.

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10. Pursue your “ikigai “relentlessly and have a plan B!

Remember to research your happiness and what makes you tick. Find your “ikigai”. Yes, teaching is a vocation but it has transferable skills. Do make an effort to develop other interests and passions and work hard with your loved ones and champions to achieve them. Life is too short and precious!

While I have different roles now as well as being an educator, I continue to be passionate about the education sector and addressing its needs and know what a difference an excellent education and great teachers can make.

However, I also know what a loving, stable home can do for my birth daughters and for my foster children, who have the opportunity to thrive and succeed emotionally, physically and academically. This will hopefully complement their experience of education and enable them to aspire and overcome challenges.

As an educator and foster parent now, my classroom and office have moved to my home- and meetings etc. are held at Choudhury HQ. It took several bereavements to make me think harder and deeper about how things can be done differently. My life is, even more, richer now and I love spending time with my very diverse, crazy family who keep me on my toes.

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Now the teaching, learning, life chats, positive influencing and difficult conversations happen at home through picnics, family meals etc. I am no longer Ms. Choudhury but Mez, a family nickname and used by my foster children!

Yes, it is a bit Mary Poppins in our house or Mezzy Poppins as they call me. (I like to think it is about the magic and thrill but my birth daughters who are well versed as to how things are run at CHQ, are adamant that it is more about “spit spot” and getting things done to an excellent standard! Old habits die hard!

According to them, I am Mezzy Mulan when I am talking to them about relationships, human rights and girl power. While we do have our moments of hell, we mostly have moments of harmony. The girly shouts of laughter and banter with Spotify blaring with a Polish Mrs. Doubtfire & Babcha (Grandmother in Polish.) who works for us and is part of our family, in charge, (By the way, Babcha bosses me about completely) –are priceless. What's not to love!

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Nowadays, in my other life, I am also just as passionate about recruiting for other professions and get called Ma'am instead of Ms. Choudhury. I see the same passion and integrity and desire to make the world a better place on candidates' faces when they speak to me and it is humbling. Candidates I interview are just as eager and wanting to make a difference as the teachers and leaders I have recruited and trained.

My training as a teacher and a school leader has allowed me to grasp and develop other opportunities and pursue my ikigai!

So here’s to you and your journey wherever it takes you - if you are an NQT or an early career teacher or even the experienced teacher. You may even be a teacher who has decided they no longer want to continue the education journey. Once an educator, always an educator.

Keep enjoying what you do and don’t be daunted by anyone or anything. You are part of one of the best and most honourable professions in the world and follow in the footsteps of esteemed teachers like Buddha, Aristotle, Anne Sullivan, Jesus etc. As Mark Twain said, we are “miracle workers”! We just forget this ourselves sometimes and need to be reminded as it helps keep us sane and the all-important passion burning!

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About our Community Expert

01_JASMIN

Jasmin Choudhury
Community Expert

Jasmin has extensive experience of working in a variety of settings which have included being recruited to work schools in special measures and concern as well as outstanding.

Jasmin has been qualified as a teacher for over 20 years and has been a Deputy Head, working mainly in some of the most deprived and challenging schools in the UK.

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