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Culture Club: Creating a Positive Classroom Environment as an NQT

Starting as an NQT, Mr.E had a ‘colourful’ group of pupils. In his blog he lists the things he did to turn his class around and make his kids want to come to school.

I’m an NQT. I work in an imperfect school. Chances are that you do too. Therefore, you are going to have put in the leg work to ensure your children come into a classroom where they can switch between states of focus, activity and energy at a moment’s notice. However, culture is not a quick fix; it is a constant. You must always be vigilant for signs of change and resistance. You must set the tone, be the adult, the leader. It is exhausting. It is challenging. It is worth it.

Firstly, let me paint you a picture of my classroom; a then and now if you like.

Six months ago, I walked in to a school as an unqualified teacher, fresh out of university, and given responsibility for 24 Year 4 children from a ‘deprived’ council estate. After a honeymoon period of precisely five days, I anticipated another cracking week that following Monday. I was wrong. Over the next six weeks, chairs were thrown, tables upended, swear words shouted, arguments raged, tears flowed and misery ensued. “How do you keep smiling?” one of my more biddable students asked.

Before I began teaching, I’d read everything on behaviour. Bill Rogers. Tom Bennett. Paul Dix. My dissertation focused on classroom culture. I knew it would come. I waited. Then, one day, late in May, something changed. As my most challenging student declared I was a ‘massive bumhole’ for the umpteenth time, his deputy cried out, “Leave Mr. Evans alone, we are bored of your behaviour!” The tide had turned. Where once, 65% of children were on board, they were now all with me. They had their moments, but they were with me. They still are.


Tom Bennett’s 2017 review of behaviour** reported that schools with successful cultures:

  • applied rules consistently and fairly
  • enacted well-designed routines
  • demonstrated commitment to pupils’ wellbeing and academic achievement.

So, I did this. On my own, without an LSA, I did this. Since September, I have designed lessons which are purposefully crazy. They met the challenge. I have asked them to silently read texts designed for Year 5. They met the challenge. We can switch from independent reading to a quick rendition of Baby Shark and back again at a moment’s notice. Children help each other; they smile; they tell me ‘I can learn now’. I haven’t heard the phrase ‘I hate my life’ for at least six weeks. They still act out on occasion, especially for cover teachers, but we’re working on that, one step at a time.

We may be ‘just NQTs’. We may work in imperfect schools. Yet, there is so much we can do to support all children in our care. The tough ones. The ones who ‘just get on’. The ones who we like. The ones who are that bit harder to like. Never underestimate the power of ‘warm-strict’ (thank-you Barry Smith) for showing children just how much you care about them.

My favourite poem, ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, reminds me daily to ‘keep your head… trust yourself… and hold on when there is nothing in you…’. Teaching is like that sometimes. It can be a lonely job. But, despite the trials and tribulations, it is still a job I look forward to each day because I walk into a classroom of children who want to be there and think, I did that.

You can do it too.


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The author

Mr. E’ is an NQT in a year 4 primary class. He states his interests are ‘all things reading, writing and behaviour’.

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