BE GOOD TO YOURSELF
Your NQT year can be a tough slog. That’s no secret. Even those teachers in training who haven’t reached the NQT year are likely aware of this reality. We’ve covered many of those realities in this series --- being stressed out by the sheer amount of information to remember, trying to get along with new colleagues, listening and taking in the breadth and depth of experience all around you, trying your best not to despair when you make mistakes. It has a cumulative effect, and that’s why our final piece of advice is so important.
Remember to be good to yourself.
How, if at all, am I being “bad” to myself?
It’s not a conscious mistake, but NQTs are prone to blaming themselves when things go wrong and treating themselves harshly by holding themselves to impossible standards that no one could manage. You emerge from your teacher training as a qualified educator, and you gain a placement in one of the country’s many schools. You want to make a good first impression; it’s understandable. You stay at school late and are up all hours of the night finishing your work, and then up at the crack of dawn to get in early. There’s no denying that all this makes for a good impression, but you also run the risk of burning yourself out.
The fact is that every time you let yourself feel overly guilty for your mistakes, every time you lose hours of sleep or deny yourself recreation so that you can spend more time on work matters, you are being bad to yourself.
What can I do to be good to myself?
You probably already know the answer to this, but that wall of guilt you put up to motivate yourself into working more or reflecting on work problems all the time is blocking it out. Here are some great ideas for the NQT to unwind and de-stress after a difficult day in their new school.
1. Give yourself an absolute work cut-off time at night
Saving for some kind of genuine emergency, you should be able to say to yourself at, for example, 10 pm that enough is enough. At that time, you should put your work aside and put yourself into relaxing mode. Watch the news, read a book, have a glass of wine, whatever you like. Those couple of hours before bed should be exclusively reserved for R&R. In any case, you won’t do good work when you’re zonked anyway, so it’s not worth pushing on into the night.
2. Meet up with (non-teacher) friends
Maintaining a healthy social life is very good for your sanity and overall mental health. If you can, try to spend time with non-teacher friends, since this is the best way to avoid shop talk. Only by having a genuine break from work affairs can you gain the benefits of your rest time.
3. Stay physically active
Taking physical exercise is another great way to relax. You don’t have to become a gym rat or an outdoors nut. An evening walk or casual run a few times a week will do wonders for your health and also give you critical time to think and process things. There’s many an issue that can be resolved in the mind after some exercise, or after one of the next items.
4. Eat and sleep well
Having a balanced diet free of junk food or deep-fried food will keep your mind and body in good shape. As a teacher, you have to be alert, fresh-faced and ready to work hard. Proper diet and a good amount of sleep at night will go a long way in that respect. Cooking for yourself in the evening is also another therapeutic activity (and more affordable than take-away or eating out).
5. Remember advice item no. 2 --- Be ready to get things wrong
Finally, being good to yourself is remembering that everyone makes mistakes, including all NQTs. You are going to get things wrong sometimes, no matter how much you prepare or how hard you try. When you are ready to accept that truth, you will be able to deal with mistakes in a more effective way and also save yourself days, weeks or even months of self-torment.
We come to the end of our in-depth series of tips and advice for NQTs in their first year. We hope that our pieces have been instructive and useful for new teachers out there. Whatever happens in your first year, just remember that you have many years after that, so you don’t have to let any negative experiences define you, nor do you have to reach any kind of peak of achievement. Just remember that as an NQT, you may be “qualified,” but as any experienced teacher will tell you that the qualification is merely the beginning of the story.
We wish all NQTs well in writing the long and meaningful story of their educational careers.