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A Message to NQTs Everywhere

Associate Martin Illingworth is a senior lecturer on the Sheffield Hallam University PGCE programme. Here is his message to the NQT class of 2020.

I am writing to you on behalf of all your tutors to wish you well as you complete your course and begin to embark on the next stages of your careers. We would much rather see you all face to face to say cheerio but these strange times don't allow for this. I'm hoping that in years to come you'll all have a good story to tell in the staffroom about how your training year was curtailed.

For those of you starting your NQT year in September, schools are going to be very different from the ways that they operated as you began your first placements back in September last year. I am hearing about all sorts of different contingency plans to make sure that children are able to receive their lessons in one form or another. I suspect that you may well end up teaching part of the week in school and a part remotely. I think pupils may well take it in turns to be in the building or being taught at home.

It will be a nerve-wracking time for you. Starting a new job is a challenge at the best of times. At this time your colleagues will also be facing new ways of working and the certainty of the swing of a school year will not be there. The personal responsibility you might feel will be great. You won't be training anymore, you'll be a fully qualified teacher and the children will be looking to you for a lead. Hopefully this new status will bring with it new freedoms to make decisions about the education that your pupils need. You, after all, are a professional, and professionals are paid to make decisions and to take charge of their situations.

I know that you are looking forward to being your own bosses.

For a long time now, my rule of thumb has been to ask myself if the lessons I am offering are worth having. What is in it for the children? Why should they listen and interact, engaging with the topic in the room? What are the lasting impacts of the hour they have just spent with you? There is great merit in letting the pupils know why they are there and what is to be gained. Your lessons will carry more weight if the pupils feel a sense of ownership of the learning. When I went to school as a pupil I don't think it really dawned on me that I could get something from going to school. I just went along because that is what we kids did. You had to go. Teachers told me about the exams, but so what? They weren't a part of me, they were measurements of me. Let your new pupils in September know that what you are doing is purposeful and that it is for them and that it matters. Matters more than an exam, lasts well after the exams are done and gone.

Let them see your passion for your subject and your passion for their progress.

This September has the added responsibility of adults having to re-introduce children to their 'normal' lives. Your pupils' experiences of isolation will differ greatly; some will have enjoyed long hours of leisure with their interested parents, some might have suffered any number of types of neglect in families that found the situation overwhelming. Tread carefully. Some children will want to share their excitement about being away for so long. For others, grief might be their lot and that can be a private thing for quiet moments.

Your classroom can be a place of safety and hope. You are a new teacher in a whole new world. The smile on your face and the interest you take in your new learners will earn you credit and space to manoeuvre.

Enjoy. [ITL]

About the author

Martin Illingworth

Martin Illingworth

Martin is an English specialist with many years as a teacher who is now a Senior Lecturer in Education at Sheffield Hallam University. As well books written around his subject specialism, he has also written Think Before You Teach and the controversial (but highly post-Covid world relevant) Forget School.

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