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Five Things I Knew At The End Of My NQT Year That I Wish I’d Known At The Start: Top NQT Advice To Help You Get Through

NQT advice can be found everywhere online, but with conflicting advice coming from all sides it can be difficult to know who to trust in what can be one of the most daunting times a teacher will face. Fortunately, former Newly Qualified Teacher Sophie Bee (A.K.A @_MissieBee) has been there, done it and got the teaching t-shirt, and she is now here to help with 5 pieces of NQT advice to help you throughout the year!

You know when you walk away from a conversation mulling it over, and about five hours later you think of something you should’ve said but it’s too late? Then, afterwards you wish your current-self was there telling your past-self your new revelations?

Your NQT year is a little bit like that.

At the end of it (and even years later…) you reflect on what you’ve done, wishing you could have gone back to tell yourself all these things you know now. Some things are important to learn yourself, but sometimes it’s reassuring to be told by someone else and to learn from their mistakes.

So think of me as your future-self, telling you things that you will know by the end of your NQT year, but that I’m telling you now to save you some time…

NQT Advice Item 1: ‘Wow’ Lessons Are Unnecessary, And Actually Just Plain Wrong

We all know the feeling: you’ve just settled into your new school, and it’s time for your mentor to observe.

You pull out the document you were given at university with a list of things that make an ‘outstanding’ (or replace with any other hyperbolic adjective) trainee lesson, and you try to shoehorn them into yours, because that’s what you’ve been told is good.

Well, it turns out that this is one piece of NQT year advice that is just plain wrong.

Luckily, it seems that there are many ITT (Initial Teacher Training) providers that have realised this practice is not only poor, but potentially detrimental.

No observation lesson should ever be a ‘one-off’; observations should be a true reflection of your day-to-day practice – otherwise, how can the feedback be anything but futile?

NQT Advice - No Need For Wow Lessons
Believe it or not, none of these are needed for a lesson…

Tasks that can be perceived as ‘exciting’ and ‘engaging’ for the children are often just a waste of learning time. Children get excited and engaged by the act of learning itself, not meaningless activities metaphorically rolled in glitter.

Before you plan an observation lesson, ask yourself:

• What do I want the children to learn?

• How will they learn it?

• How will I know they’ve learnt it?

• And finally:  Would I do these tasks/activities in my everyday teaching?

Once you’ve answered these questions and are happy with the conclusion you’ve come to for each, you’ll realise that those ‘Wow’ lessons really aren’t worth the time!

NQT Advice Item 2: Remember, Children Are Allowed To Dislike You

This is something I really struggled with at the start of my career. I really wanted the children to like me, but sometimes there was conflict between what I knew I should say or do, and what I wanted to say or do in order to stay on the children’s ‘good side’.

It is right that effective teaching and learning cannot occur in the classroom without positive relationships between student and teacher – however, having a ‘positive relationship’ doesn’t mean that the children will always like you.

The Ultimate Maths Vocabulary Activity Guide

The Ultimate Maths Vocabulary Activity Guide

Save some time when planning your lessons by using this guide which is filled with fun and simply maths vocabulary activities. Perfect for those in their NQT year!

You are the adult, and ultimately know what is best – if anyone breaks a school rule, then there needs to be a consequence for that. They will, of course, dislike that consequence, and maybe even dislike you for sanctioning it, but positive relationships aren’t only built on being ‘nice’;  they are built on mutual respect, consistent approaches to behaviour and setting boundaries.

In the long term, this is much more important (and beneficial) than whether Johnny is annoyed at you for the rest of the day because you kept him in at break-time. This particular NQT tip may feel very counter intuitive considering you are teaching children, but as the famous quote from John Lydgate states:

“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

Here at Third Space Learning we understand that whilst your NQT year can be extremely challenging, it should also be extremely rewarding, and that is why we are here to help you achieve all you can with your new class. By using the power of educational technology to bring expert maths tutors together with pupils who need to boost their confidence in the subject, we are working to bring 1-to-1 tuition to more and more KS2 children who need help using modern technologies.

The 5 NQT Tips From Sophie Bee
NQT Advice and Tips
NQT Advice Item 3: Don’t Be Afraid To Ask…Whatever The Question May Be

Ask about everything.

And I mean, everything.

Questions could include, but are most certainly not limited to:

• Do we allow children to go to toilet in lesson time?

• Can I meet with parents straight after school or must they go through the office?

• Do they have to walk to assemblies in silence?

• Are they allowed to eat a snack at break-time? How strict do we need to be on uniform rules?

I must’ve been in and out my partner teacher’s classroom about 10 times a day during my first year. Teachers are always happy to help each other – and there is no silly question. Even experienced teachers will need to ask questions! Use the experience of the TAs, too as they will be more than happy to help you out when you need it.

However, one of the most important pieces of NQT advice I can give is to remind you that asking doesn’t show weakness; if anything, it shows enthusiasm and dedication to learning more about your role and the school.

NQT Advice Item 4: Nobody’s Going To Die If That Thing On your To-Do List Doesn’t Get Done

Your to-do list will never – ever – be completed.

If it is, you’ve probably forgotten something.

It is really tempting to do all the quick jobs (because it’s satisfying to tick a lot off), but that quickly adds up and doesn’t leave time for the potentially more important, but time-consuming, jobs.

I’ve seen many different strategies for categorising a to-do list – the one that works for me is splitting it into ‘urgent’ and ‘not urgent’.

That way, I only really focus on the ‘urgent’ part of my list until I either can’t complete any more tasks or there’s nothing left.

Tasks that tend to stay on the ‘not urgent’ side include: displays, laminating, updating assessment data (unless there’s a looming deadline), making things ‘pretty’ (a trap that NQTs often fall into – thanks, Pinterest), or generally anything that isn’t going to have an immediate effect on the children’s learning that very next day.

And what if there’s too many ‘urgent’ tasks to complete, it’s 7pm and you still haven’t had your dinner and you’re considering missing Bake Off to get them all done?



Don’t pick your work up again. Re-evaluate how you can manage it better next time, so it doesn’t get to this point.

One of the best NQT tips I can give is that marking books will not be missed for one lesson.

Nor will planning – find a worksheet or textbook page that the children can complete; for one day, it doesn’t matter. Never sacrifice your own life and wellbeing. And never miss the Bake Off!

NQT Advice Item 5: Make Sure You Ignore The: “Oh, I Got ‘Outstanding’ In My Last Observation, I’ve Already Had Three ‘Best Teacher Ever’ Hand-painted Mugs And The Headteacher Has Basically Already Said The Team Leader Job Is Mine Next Year”

Never compare yourself.

This is generally a good life lesson (that none of us are very good at), but this is so easy to do in your NQT year. You stay in contact with your uni friends and it’s interesting to find out how everyone’s getting on – however, this can quickly turn into a competition.

Who’s staying at work the latest? (This is not always a good indication of how dedicated or hardworking someone is – don’t be fooled).

Who’s had the most successful observations?

Who’s been offered promotions already?

Who’s had the most complimentary comments from parents?

Who’s been told ‘I wouldn’t have thought you were only an NQT!’ already?

Context really is key.

Sarah might have been offered the role of a core subject lead already, but there are only three other teachers in Sarah’s school.

Jake might brag about leaving school at 4pm every day, but Jake might be taking work home. Or not doing work at all. Or working for a primary school with really efficient planning and marking policies.

Hannah might have had an ‘outstanding’ lesson observation, but maybe she planned a one-off ‘wow’ lesson, and who’s going to break it to her that we don’t do things like that anymore…?

To cut a long story short, make sure you focus on what you are doing and not on what others are, as difficult as that may be. This simple NQT tip can save you hours and hours of unnecessary worry and it is one I thoroughly recommend…

Bonus (And The Most Important Piece Of NQT Advice): You’re Allowed To Make Mistakes!

There are many pieces of NQT advice flying around forums and social media, but the most important thing to remember is that this is your first year as a teacher in charge of a class. You’re not expected to know everything or be the best teacher ever from the start. Instead, start your NQT year understanding that you will have a lot to learn and that mistakes will be made.

Your fellow members of staff will all support you, so make use of their knowledge and expertise. The children you teach will be as excited to get to know you as you will be to get to know them. Even the parents will be happy to see how you get on.

So, to summarise, as you start your NQT journey, be your own person, share your likes and passions and remember everyday why you decided to get into teaching in the first place. There may be the temptation to type the dreaded ‘failing NQT year’ into Google when things get particularly hard, but it is important to use the support network you have around you at times like this. Remember, teachers love helping other teachers out when they can, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. 

Being a teacher is the best job in the entire world, so just keep remembering that!

To learn more about how we can supercharge Maths progress in your school, visit our schools page now.

Further Reading

Do you have pupils who need extra support in maths?
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Since 2013 we’ve helped over 130,000 primary and secondary school pupils become more confident, able mathematicians. Learn more or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to us about your school’s needs and how we can help.

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Sophie Bartlett
Sophie Bartlett
Year 6 Teacher
Sophie teaches mixed age classes at a small school in central England. She is a self confessed grammar pedant and number nerd so we've welcomed her as a regular author and editor for Third Space Learning.
The Ultimate Maths Vocabulary Activity Guide

The Ultimate Maths Vocabulary Activity Guide

Save some time when planning your lessons by using this guide which is filled with fun and simply maths vocabulary activities. Perfect for those in their NQT year!

Download Free Now!

The Ultimate Maths Vocabulary Activity Guide

Downloadable resource

Save some time when planning your lessons by using this guide which is filled with fun and simply maths vocabulary activities. Perfect for those in their NQT year!

Download Free Now!

FREE KS2 maths SATs practice papers

Get ready for SATs with this set of 6 maths SATs practice papers designed to help your Year 6 pupils improve test skills and build confidence.

- 2 arithmetic and 4 reasoning papers that follow the National Curriculum Assessments.
- Mark schemes to diagnose and assess where your pupils need extra support.

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