A letter to my NQT self – Emma Turner

When you first close that door on that first day in the draughty classroom and you realise that you have no mentor with you and no training provider to call on, you’ll feel a sense of both exhilaration and utter terror. But be reassured that you’ll feel this every year. Regardless of how long you’ll have been teaching, it’s still such a daunting privilege every year to have these young lives entrusted to you that you’ll always somehow doubt whether you’re up to the job. But you will be. You will work incredibly hard producing lessons, refining behaviour management and learning from experienced colleagues that your skills and knowledge will progress at a frightening pace and as they grow, so will your confidence. You’ll berate yourself for the things you get wrong but some you win, some you learn – you develop more from the things you get wrong than the things you get right. 

Don’t forget to look around you. Look to colleagues who are breathtakingly brilliant but also to those who are quietly getting on with the job, both sets of colleagues have so much you can learn from. Look around you at the children; they are your most important work and everything else is extraneous. If it helps the children to progress then do it; if it’s just window dressing to look flash then leave it and put your efforts elsewhere. 

Don’t forget to be more than just a teacher. Ensure that on your to do list there are also some things to “be” – to be with friends, family, to be part of a club or a hobby. All work and no play makes for exhaustion and burnout and a lack of authenticity. Teachers are humans first, teachers second and you need to model this work life balance to your colleagues and your pupils. 

Ensure you don’t look for quick wins over deeper learning. There is many a flashy resource or activity which looks like it’s a cracking thing to do but remember that schools are not just for things to do but for deep and enduring learning, thought and development. By all means have fun but know that fun and learning aren’t always two sides of the same coin – just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s learning. Try therefore to focus less on the quick win popularity of being the “fun” teacher and look instead to being the teacher who forges excellence in relationships and encourages the pupils to take pride in their achievements as well as providing occasions for the fun and sheer delight of schooling. 

Be mindful that not all children or families will have a positive attitude towards school; others may have cultures and backgrounds vastly different to your own experience or that of the locality. Be mindful of the needs of all the learners in your class and model tact, kindness, tolerance and inclusion in all you do. Be the teacher who welcomes and champions difference and diversity. 

Make your classroom and your school a welcoming and supportive haven for everyone who enters and take the time to understand every child in your care and the experiences they have outside school and the richness this can bring to your classroom. 

Be the teacher who listens, who supports, who encourages and believes. Don’t let the cynicism of others chip away at your optimism and love for the profession. And when you close that door at the end of each day and you wave each child home, be happy and take pride in having done your best because that will be what you always give. 

Welcome to the best job in the world.

NQT Self

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