Surviving your NQT/Probation Year as a Teacher

John McMillan
John McMillan

Scottish Computing Science Teacher with an interest in digital literacy and the use of digital technologies to make education exciting, engaging and accessible.

Editor’s note: Even if you’re still a student with exams to pass and decisions to make, have you ever thought about being a teacher? John here writes about surviving that first year.

Surviving maybe isn’t the best word to use. It makes it sound like a battle. However, you will battle. You will battle with your emotions, your understandings and your own opinions. This first year of teaching will change your life if you take it for what it is, the start of the rest of your life.

This blog is mainly how my year went, as well as advice I wish someone told me beforehand. There will be anecdotes and there will be, hopefully, comedic moments but take it for what it is, a story about my own journey! Good luck on yours!

Make Friends

Okay so this seems like a pretty obvious one but it has to be said… or written.

Make. Friends.

Not colleagues, but genuine friendships. Build a relationship with them, find out what they like and dislike and let them into your bubble! Being able to just talk to someone during school time can help you get through the day, even if it’s just a brief chat about the Love Island episode the night before.

Know your support system

There are the obvious people within the school that you can seek help and advice from. Normally, there will be a coordinator in charge of mentoring/monitoring the NQTs/Probationers. This person can be fantastic at solving mundane problems.

My biggest fear was asking ‘stupid questions’. I know, I know, there’s no such thing however lets be honest… sometimes a person can ask you a question that seems so obvious you have to question yourself as to whether they actually asked that question… anyway, find someone that you can go to in order to put your mind at ease.

You will have questions that you, yourself, deem ‘silly’ but if you don’t ask you’ll never know. My mentor was an absolute saviour during the last year and I cannot imagine how I would have survived without them answering my questions…

I mean, at times I asked them to proof read an e-mail… AN E-MAIL!

However, if you have the right person/mentor then there won’t be an issue and you will be better for asking. At least now you know the answer and are able to help others when they feel as you did. Trust me, it’ll happen. 

Find a teacher soul mate

Okay so I’m being slightly over the top with this sub-heading. There will be one (possibly more) teacher(s) that you just click with.

That one teacher that can have a conversation with you across a classroom, using just facial expressions.

The one you can vent to, listen to, learn from, teach, and sometimes just have a good laugh with! I would not have survived this year without the friends and colleagues I have engaged with. Some of them have become friends for life (Shhhh… I haven’t told them that yet)

Volunteer before you’re asked

You will be asked (at times, expected) to engage with a lot of whole-school/extra-curricular events. Not all will be enticing to you. Some will not be your cuppa tea but you should get involved.

Joining in with events out with your classroom/department allows you to widen your teacher presence across the school; you meet and get to chat with other staff members; pupils that you don’t teach and let me tell you – it really does make a difference.

Pupils get to see you in a different light, away from the comfort of your own classroom. It allows you to learn new things, for example, talking with teachers informally allows you to gain understanding into some pupils learning.

We can share practices and approaches in order to help enrich the pupils learning in our classroom. And after all, the pupils always come first.

Offer your own skills, create your own presence in the school

You are an asset. During this year, you will learn more than you ever thought you possibly could. From working out the best way to take a register to learning how to create the most enriching assessments for your pupils.

However, as much as you will learn from others, you are able to teach those same people. You are new. You are fresh. This means you will have ideas that others may never have had.

For example, during my Probation year I was very interested in using technology to make my learning and teaching more effective. This involved using resources such as…

  • Kahoot.com for assessments and quizzes
  • Microsoft Teams for assigning homework and interacting with pupils outside the classroom
  • One Drive to ensure all my lessons were at my fingertips regardless of where I may have been displaced due to timetabling.

This caught the interest of a number of staff members and led to me hosting my own CPD showcase during one of the INSET days.

Let me tell you, standing in front of 30 children is breeze compared to standing in front of 20 of your colleagues, some who have been teaching their entire lives, some even in senior positions.

However, I realised that not only are the pupils going to school to learn…but so are we.

We don’t say ‘Learning AND Teaching’ for no reason. I was able to share my passion for technology in education and help staff members take this to their own classrooms so that they could flourish with it.

Sharing our talents helps to ensure that our pupils are getting the best possible experience.

So share, share, share!

Go and observe your mentor/fellow probationers/NQTs – formally and informally. 

Firstly, how dare you go and observe your fellow NQTs. This year is hard enough with the formal observations from PT’s, DHT’s, HT’s etc. you shouldn’t be adding to that stress!

What I mean is go in to their lessons at times and just see how they are with the pupils, and let them come and see you in your lessons – it’s a great way to further develop your teacher presence and your learning and teaching skills. 

I cannot tell you how much I learned just being in my mentor’s classroom while they were teaching. Now, I know this isn’t always applicable but honestly – some of the simplest things I learned enabled me to develop my classroom management, or even my curriculum understanding. It’s great to see our colleagues in action, and it’s just as great to show what you have to offer. 

As I come to the end of my first Summer Holiday experience (six weeks is not enough but it is fantastic) I think about the trials and tribulations of my Probation year.

There have been ups and there have been downs but I can say with 100% confidence that I have found my place in this world. I am not saying I’m a great teacher, or a bad teacher, but this is where I am meant to be.

I’ve always struggled to find what my ‘thing’ was.

Others had their passion, their talents and I just felt like I was floating.

However, I can say now that teaching is MY passion. It is MY talent. And it is MY profession.