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Confessions of a Cr*p NQT

Feel as if you’re finding it harder than expected as an NQT or RQT? Most teachers would say they’ve been there. Caroline Locke writes how she went from a struggling NQT to commanding her classrooms.

Let me introduce myself first. I’m Ms Locke. The one you call when that Year 10 just will not stop throwing things. The one who talks you through that new pedagogy and shows you her techniques. The one who’s lead us through mixed attainment teaching and had her Year 8s voluntarily go away and come back with a knowledge of matrices. That Ms Locke.
I’m not saying that to show off, I just want to give you context for what I say next.

A friend of mine was teaching her Year 13 class and mentioned me to them. They groaned. My friend asked them why. They told her that they had hated having me as a maths teacher. My friend was stunned, given everything I am now, and came to ask me about it. I said, yes, they hated me and were right to. I had taught them in my NQT year when they were in Year 8 and I was not good.

I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to manage a class or how to talk to students or even really who I was as a teacher. This lead to lessons where no-one learned, or where students ran the lesson not me.

I learned. The hard way. It took two or three years for me to really hit my stride. It’s true for a lot of NQTs, even the really good ones.
That said, there are some tips I can give you to get up and running sooner than that.

  1. Learn your students’ names and use them. It’s so important. That rapport that you build with them has to be built on what they share with you, not what you share with them.
  2. Follow up everything. All the time. Don’t leave it to chance, don’t hope it will go away. It sucks and it’s annoying, but once you start doing it consistently, the problems go way down. By my fourth year of teaching, I rarely had to give a detention because students knew about me and knew that I wouldn’t put up with them.
  3. Start the class officially. Don’t let it amble into a lesson. Some time within the first five minutes, start the class and quickly address them all.
  4. Sleep and eat properly. And know when to switch off. You can’t be full force magic teacher all the time if you haven’t slept and you are starving.
  5. Know who you are. This is the big one. That’s what took me so long to get good at. I was by the book correct in my NQT year, barring the little things that always just need practice, but I didn’t know what kind of teacher I was and I vacillated too much. Now, I know. I am Ms Locke that always has a reason and will give it. Ms Locke that is strict but reasonable. Ms Locke that follows through and will make time for you if you need it. Decide what kind of teacher you want to be and live up to it. Easier said than done, I know.

Teaching is a hard job with a steep learning curve. But it’s also the most glorious job in the world. Remember to reach out to people and talk things through. We are all compassionate and caring people, or we wouldn’t be in teaching. And don’t forget that the students are people too, with their own things going on.
Best of luck to you, whoever you are reading this!

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The author

Caroline is a KS3 Coordinator for Mathematics at an inner London all-girls secondary school. She completed her masters focussing on improving the attainment of white British working class students in mathematics. Caroline became a teacher 5 years ago and has taught across the age spectrum from KS3 to KS5 mathematics, as well as KS5 economics. She is currently working on her Chartered Teacher certification through the Chartered College of Teaching and is becoming a regular attendee at conferences this year. She blogs about her experiences of teaching and of education research at

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