Newly Qualitied Teachers undoubtably bring energy and enthusiasm to the classroom.
But their first year of teaching is often the most stressful as they come face to face with the many challenges as a novice teacher.
Read on to find out the four most common problems an NQT may face, how they can prepare for difficult situations when they arise and the solutions which can make their first year of teaching significantly easier.
NQT Common Problems
1. How Do I Deal with Disruptive Students?
The Challenge: Classroom management is most notably the area of teaching which is the biggest worry for an NQT. Indeed, they can even develop an intense fear of not being able to control a classroom well before they have even attempted it. Dealing with disruptive students can seem overwhelming to many and disruptive patterns come in many forms. The most common disturbances can come from low-level disruption such as chair rocking, pen tapping and humming which can have a high impact on the learning atmosphere within the classroom.
The Strategy: Low-level disruption:
Fidgeting: Unsettled behaviour can develop when a student disengages with the lesson. Ask yourself: Do they understand the work? Is it too hard? Did they have enough time to complete it? Talk to the student and encourage them if you feel they are struggling.
Boredom: Refresh the previous lesson. Do a quiz to see whether students are engaging with the work.
Uncooperative: Rather than teaching classes based around textbook learning in a lecture style format, try cooperative or project learning strategies.
Give students ownership: This personal empowerment can often see the greatest impact on a student’s change in behaviour. Encourage them to meet their individual goals; where rewards are given for meeting goals, and punishments issued when they do not.
Rules: Acknowledge lateness but do not re-start a lesson for a late student. Set clear expectations of punctuality and ensure that lessons start promptly every time to set a class standard.
Welfare: Don’t be afraid to seek help. Provisions are in place at your school to deal with unacceptable behaviour. Make sure that you follow procedures as soon as a student’s behaviour becomes unacceptable to yourself and your other students.
2. Will I know the answers to all my students’ questions?
Students enter the classroom with very high expectations of their teachers. Yes, they should respect their teachers as authority figures, but with this high regard they often assume that you are an expert. Newly Qualified Teachers can often feel flustered, embarrassed and anxious at the prospect of dealing with difficult questions that they fear they won’t be able to answer; disappointing their students’ expectations and losing their trust in their abilities as a teacher. However, students can come at a topic from many different perspectives, so you can never predict what you may be asked.
Accept: The solution here is to accept that you will never truly know the answer to everything, and to understand that not knowing an answer is perfectly acceptable.
Enlighten: The joy of teaching comes from students asking questions which make you think in a different way about a subject you have studied for years. Looking at it from this perspective, how could you ever view a curveball question in a negative way? And why would you even need to worry about it happening?
Never answer with ‘I don’t know’: Firstly, complement the student on their good question and secondly, encourage them to research the answer after class and report their findings in the next lesson. This strategy encourages a student’s forward thinking and takes away from any anxiety over your perceived lack of knowledge.
3. How can I get students to engage and talk more in lessons?
Teachers all experience those awkward silences where participation from their students feels non-existent. It can be uncomfortable to watch students struggling as they desperately try to come up with an answer under pressure. Students do need time to sit and think and work through the ideas in their head, but for an NQT it can be tempting to jump in and work through the problem solving for them in order to solve a problem quickly.
Patience: When you ask a question to the class don’t expect an immediate answer. Give your students some time to gather their thoughts and really think about their answer. If you still don’t receive an answer, then try to simplify the question or break it up into sub-questions.
Inclusion: Students often feel more open to discussion if they feel comfortable with the other students in the class. Often starting with smaller discussions is much easier than asking questions to a whole class from the outset.
Ice-Breaker: To help the class to engage and feel comfortable with one another you could try some fun activities where all the students introduce themselves and share a piece of personal information such as their favourite book, a hobby they enjoy or something relating to the subject you teach.
Teamwork: Encourage classroom debates. Formulate a question which requires students to pick sides or a point of view. Divide them into teams and have them debate and discuss their views with one another.
4. How Do I Plan Lessons for Mixed Ability Classes?
Mixed ability means classes where there are significant gaps in learning proficiencies and where the strengths and weaknesses of the varying students are notable. Mixed ability classes can be challenging for both the students and the teacher. Participation in mixed ability classes can also see stronger students engaging more than the less advanced students and NQTs worry that the work they set for the students may be too hard, or too easy respectively. Mixed ability classes also require more preparation time and more creativity which can seem challenging for a new teacher.
Adapt: You need to ensure that your more able students are being stretched, but you don’t want struggling students to be left behind either. The key here is to recognise abilities and differentiate your teaching accordingly.
Define: One easy way of achieving this is to set three different question which are often colour coded. The student who is working on a blue level will answer the blue question for example. More able students will have more layered questions where they need to access advanced resources, or they will tackle more complicated and diverse themes.
Engage: Group discussions can help struggling students to gain better understanding from their more able peers, whilst giving more able students increased confidence in discussing their ideas.
Reward: Mixed ability classes learn a lot from each other. Although the work you put in may be increased, the output from your lessons, and what is achieved as a class, can be extremely rewarding.
Being a new teacher isn’t easy. You will face plenty of struggles along the way but if you follow the strategies described above it will make that first year of stress something that you can learn from.
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