Andrew Zhang was a former PGCE student last year, who has completed his first half term as an NQT. We caught up with Andrew to see how he was getting on.
“At the moment it is half term – finally some time to relax and reflect on the past few weeks as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT). I will talk about my first few weeks in a chronological order.
For readers, please note this is only my experience in my current school. By talking to my PGCE classmates, I figured experiences can be similar or different, depending on school types and leadership styles.
The summer holidays
I’d like to start by talking about summer holidays. I did not really do much work even though I was at home all day. I did contact school for more information but was told to relax and enjoy the summer holiday. Induction was postponed due to the pandemic. The only thing I received was a 28-page long NQT Induction Handbook – I sensed there would be a lot of paperwork to do.
In reflection, I could have prepared some PPTs based on each topic or unit in the textbooks, just so I could have had more resources when school started.
The new teacher induction came at the end of August, just a few days before school resumed. Overwhelming is the key word of the day. The Head of School came to say ‘Hi’ and introduced key people in school; Assistant Heads briefed on essential information (safeguarding, fire safety, well-being, etc), Teaching and learning in the school, pastoral information, IT systems etc. Before lunch, the Director of Teacher School explained how we can get through the NQT year successfully. To put simply, in order to be FULLY qualified, I will be attending training sessions, carrying out and receiving observations, attending mentor meetings, collecting evidence collection, etc, apart from teaching a reduced timetable.
After lunch, I had a meeting with one of my two lovely NQT mentors (one German teacher and the other Spanish). Normally NQTs have one mentor, but because my mentors are part time, having two made it possible for them to support me. In the meeting, we went through the classes I would be teaching and the form I would be tutoring. I also had the chance to ask detailed questions about lesson planning and department policies.
One day before students returned, all teachers came back for an inset day.
The big question for the day was how teaching and learning should happen under the current circumstances. Students have been away for 6 months and things can happen. Therefore, the school came up with specific strategies to reignite students’ passion for school, to help minimise learning gaps and to take care of their well-being.
Operation-wise, the school introduced a new norm: staggered break/lunch time; hand sanitiser and face mask rules; students in ‘bubbles’ and new classroom routines, for example, wiping table after use and putting on masks before leaving. In terms of teaching and learning, teachers were advised not to circulate the classroom, or mark books over students’ shoulders (use Google Classroom instead), etc.
I finally had access to my full timetable via SIMS. I have 15 Mandarin lesson across all key stages except Year 11 and Year 13; I am also teaching 3 periods of RE (or PSE) lessons. On top of these, I also needed to collaborate with the Art teacher for CLiL group (where we teach Art in both languages). In total, I have 20-21 hours (Week B and Week A respectively). NQTs normally have a reduced timetable and in my case, a full timetable for NQT is 23 hours.
Although not in the timetable, I was later assigned 1 bus duty (15 minutes after school, on rota), break duty (15 minutes), and lunch duty (20 minute). There are also staff briefings every Monday morning, Departmental meetings on Monday afternoon and staff CPD (continued professional development) at period 6 on Fridays.
A House meeting was also arranged before lunch. Teachers of my house gathered together to look through the pastoral side of responsibilities and how tutor time could be used.
In the afternoon session, I sat down with colleagues and asked them to help with seating plans, more detailed department policies and then continued on to decorate my classroom.
Students of different year groups came back on different days. I had activities and cultural quizzes prepared for all students, although changes are made to suit their age. A big thank you to the PGCE programme at IOE – we had this prepared in one of the sessions. My colleagues also generously shared their resources, which made the welcome week easy.
All students are back. Atypical day goes like this. I usually arrive at 8am and start collecting notices for tutor time (8.40-9am). This is also the time to catch up with colleagues and asking questions.
Monday is a relatively easy day. I have Period 1 PPA (planning, preparation and assessment) time, where I can calm down and tick boxes. Then I teach a normal year 7 group (two lesson a week). P3 is Mentor meeting and I meet with my two mentors to discuss last week’s teaching and school life in general.
Wednesday is the busiest day with tutor time and 6 lessons. Because of the staggered lunch break, I have only 20 minutes for lunch (homemade sandwich and chips). The day flies by and without much time for reflection, I am at my desk again at home and getting ready for Thursday’s 5 lessons.
Each week, I also get to observe one experienced teacher on certain aspects, such as behaviour management, differentiation, etc.
Things seemed to have calmed down by week 4 but behaviour problems came. I had a few pupils in one of my lessons becoming quite loud and less motivated to learn. I contacted my mentors and discussed strategies the following mentor meeting. I tried the strategies with them in week 5, it worked in one lesson but not the second one. My mentors kindly asked another experienced teacher from the MFL department to come and observe my lesson. Then we had a long discussion. I tried some new strategies, but again some worked some did not. The colleague will come back after half term to help again.
Just before half term, the Head of House and I met parents of one of my tutees to discuss strategies to help the tutee in school and at home. I also made phone calls to parents of all my tutees to talk about their child for the half term. It was really a nice bonding opportunity to get to know parents and tutees, very worthwhile.
As hectic as my description may sound, what makes me get up early in the morning and teach every lesson to my best is to see students making progress in their learning and myself building a relationship with them. What I have been doing is not just teaching a subject or doing a duty. I can make a difference to a young person’s life, even only in that 50-minute lesson.
For this half term, I am going to take a good rest, recharge myself and get ready for the new half term.”