From one NQT to the next

Since its National Digital Learning Week (I know I haven’t blogged probably within the last year) but since reading my NQT final report and realising I have 6 short weeks left with my first ever class I thought I would share my advice for the new NQTs.

 

Don’t panic – just trust

 

For some NQTs they do not get their first choice of local authorities, others do not get their first choice of stage. I was in the second category, after an extremely enjoyable placement in P1 P3 in my third and fourth year of university, I really wanted to stay in the infant end of the school. My new school placed me in P6 and I think I spent most of my summer in blind panic at how I was going to cope. Whatever situation you are in do not panic. Your school have been doing this for years and they probably know the challenges you need more than you do yourself. I know can’t imagine being out of upper school, I probably wouldn’t have achieved half of the things I did this year with a younger class. Nevertheless, I look forward to the next challenge.

 

Do not spend your whole summer planning

 

The children will lead their own learning. This is one of the biggest things I have learnt this year. Now that you do not have to have paper plans to stick to, you will go off on tangents far more often when you get comfortable with your class and those hours you spent planning over summer will not be needed. Some school may give you set topics and you do not want to have drafted plans for a topic you do not even get to teach. Be patient, get to know your class and enjoy the journey and new experience of planning alongside them.

 

Do something to engage in your school journey

 

My school are on a big digital journey and it was my weakest area of practice going into my NQT year. I remember thinking the Google Drive and Classroom lecture I got a university was a big waste of time because I had never seen a school with enough computers for one each per child. Never did I think a year on Google Drive and Classroom would be an everyday feature in my class. It has had the biggest impact on my NQT just because I thought I better give this ago after a CPD/CLPL to engage with the school. My class now have their own set of Chromebooks to see how far we can develop their digital skills. Yes, I said we and by we, I mean the children and I because 9 times out of 10 they are leading their own learning. This last week alone I have had visitors from another primary school in to watch my practice, presented my practice at the Tayside Regional Collaborative (with my learners) and been featured three times on Education Scotland’s National Digital Learning Week Blog because I gave something I was scared of a go. Next week HMIE are coming to observe. The biggest message, even if you think it is going to go down like a lead balloon, at least give it a go first. You never know where it will end up. If it does go down in flame, great reflect on it with your mentor and use it as a learning opportunity. If it doesn’t, then let it flourish.

 

Ask for advice

 

This is what your mentor is there for. They want to help, support and guide you because they want the best for you. I cannot believe how lucky I got with my mentor, she has been amazing all year round and there’s been no silly questions or judgement because I didn’t know something. Just ask if you don’t know.

 

Appreciate your colleagues’ knowledge

Ask questions! Similar to your mentor, they have probably been doing this for several years or at the school for a year or many more. They know the way things work in the school. They have tried different things; they have resourced ready which my colleagues have been wonderful with sharing. If you don’t ask the answer will always be no.  I would not have achieved half as much without the support of my colleagues, they are fantastic and I am so fortunate to have been blessed with my school encouraging me along this year.

 

Get to know your learners and what works for them

Everyone is an individual. They all have things which work for them, spend time getting to know them all. I had 29 learners to begin with, all unique all with a different set of needs all needing to be challenged in a different way. I have become so proud of them all in different ways because I have got to know all their talents. They’re your first of many classes potential but give them your all, show them you care about them as individuals as well as about them as a whole class and they will do the same back for you. My class love the Chromebooks, they engage with them so well and that is the sole reason I continued to try out new things and go home in my own time to learn about it.

 

Make a to do list for your days out

Simple. And priorities it with what needs to be done first otherwise you will sit and procrastinate. I was fortunate to have two other NQTs in my school to learn alongside and support each other but on days out sometimes we had to separate ourselves to stop us from just chatting. You have to make the most of them, you only get them for one year. Observe good practice, take online CPD, mark your jotters, write reports whatever it is that needs doing use these days to their full potential.

 

Self-care is key

In the first term you will want to do EVERYTHING and you will soon come to realise it just isn’t possible even with the best will in the world your to do list now and will forever be endless. However, you need to make time for yourself. In the first term I got so consumed in work I forgot to have a work life balance. You need to work smarter not harder or you will burn out so quickly. It is a long but quick and exhausting year. Make sure you make plans with friends to force yourself to have time out because you will want to make a great impression on your school. You do not need to spend all your time working to do that. It isn’t a placement anymore, you have a whole year to prove yourself. Yes go in with great intentions and smash your goals but have time out and a time to leave work at work.

 

NQTs

You are all in the same position, whether this be your friends from university, other NQTs in your school or at the NQT days – ask each other questions, learn from each other and support one another. It isn’t a competition you will all have different ideas of what works in your class and it might work in yours as well.

 

Enjoy

It has been the hardest but most rewarding year of my life. I have enjoyed watching my class grow and learn new things. I cannot believe I am almost leaving them, but I hope each and every one of them have learnt or taken away something for their future. Just enjoy spending time getting to know them – you’ll never get another first class!

 

Good luck and enjoy your journey!

 

I apologise now if any of it doesn’t make sense, I am exhausted!

 

End of an Era

I felt I would leave this post slightly later than I had originally thought; back at the end of November I posted “Writing my thesis and co-fighting cancer”. At the beginning of fourth year, I made the decision, with the support of my 6 best friends and my year convenor to continue with university despite the circumstances my Mum was unfortunately put under. Today, we have both finally achieved our goals for the year which is why I left this post until now! This is my mum ringing the bell in radiotherapy ward after her final active treatment. This is me handing in my thesis in January and over the last two weeks I’ve found out my degree classification, my school and my class. It is all over, cancer treatment and fourth year. We are heading for graduation, the one goal the two of us set, 9 long months ago.

Now do not get me wrong, it was the hardest year of both our lives. In September when I decided to stay on at university, I knew it would be hard, but I could never have imagined just how hard it would be. The work level, the commuting back and forth to be home to see my mum and how horrible chemotherapy is. However, the last few weeks has shown me with hard work and dedication to a goal, anything is possible.

The hard work was not from me alone. There were countless people who helped us both along the way. From the fantastic staff at the University of Dundee, an unforgettable final placement school and a great mentor to get me through my final year of university to the staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy wards and the countless charities; Clan, Maggies, Anchor and Look Good Feel Better who have supported my mum in her fight. I wanted to take this time to reflect on the year and thank some very special people for their support.

Last month, I wrote a letter to the external examination board about my experience at the University of Dundee and I was genuinely teary eyed my time at university was over. I was teary eyed because of the fantastic staff who created a wonderful experience over the four years. In the letter I wrote “Whether the staff be newer to the team, such as Linda Lapere, Nikki Doig or Liz Larkin, staff who have left us during the four years, such as William Berry our MA 1-2 year convenor or Erika Cunningham or staff who have been by our side throughout the four years: Carrie McLennan; Mary Knight; Richard Holmes; Anna Robb; Derek Robertson; Patricia Thomson; Caroline Cottrell; and I think, as a year group, we would highlight Brenda Keatch in particular, for their full support over the four years to name a few. All the members of staff on the undergraduate course have supported and challenged us to no measure. The teachers we will become will be down their support and the support of the fantastic placements we have been given over the four years.” However, Anne Marie Moran, my interviewer in 2014, my first assignment marker and my first placement tutor; I wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to attempt this course without her belief in me four years ago.

Whenever anyone speaks to me about considering primary teacher undergraduate or university in general, I can never speak highly enough of University of Dundee. The content has challenged me academically and I cannot wait to put the content of the four years to action with my own class next year. The four years has shaped me as a teacher and as a person, it has developed my professional and personal interests; pointing me into the direction of my future to hopefully studying for my Masters in Outdoor Learning at Moray House in Edinburgh someday, thanks to the Learning from Life placement in second year at Adventure Aberdeen.

There are two teachers in particular who have shaped me as a teacher; Diana Mitchell and Paul Gordon my third and fourth year placement mentors. I could not have imagined how lucky I would have been when I was placed in their classes for the continued support and encouragement they always gave me. I was blessed to observe their wonderful practice with their classes but also with me. They have shown me how to be a great teacher, left me with lots of ideas to think of and lesson quality to aspire to. The two of them also showed me how to be a great mentor one day to a student. I feel ready for the next chapter with my own class thanks to both of them!

With over 100 appointments in nine months, my whole family received comfort and support from numerous charities and staff at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. However, for myself I think the biggest comfort possible was one of my best friends Annah being one of my mum’s radiotherapists. I knew for a fact my mum would be in fantastic, caring hands. Annah and Findlay have both been there checking in with me throughout the whole nine months. I knew coming towards the end of a long nine months of treatment and hard work for my mum radiotherapy would be the light at the end of the tunnel but the staff in the ward and the Anchor charity ladies has made this experience a lot easier for her. I look forward to carrying the Anchor badge with me throughout my NQT year to remember how fantastic they have been!

Finally, I cannot thank five people in particular enough who were there from start to finish emotionally and academically throughout the year; Stephanie, Shannon, Marcus, Katie and Jenny. Stephanie has lived with me for three of the four years at university and always been one of my biggest support systems and cheerleaders throughout. I could not have expected the amount of times I would end up in her room with a story to tell, she always listened and was always there with a hug! Shannon, Shannon is simply my best friend whenever I need her she is a phone call away and never fails to cheer me up no end. Marcus for the endless chats, tea and keeping me with the motivation to stay at university. Marcus has been the one person who never failed to make me smile, make me a cup of tea and give me a hug! Katie has cooked me countless dinners when coming back from Aberdeen and I have had no energy to do anything and alongside Jenny has kept me on track with any deadlines throughout the year. Jenny and I handed in our first assignment together and our thesis at the end, much to her shock we have been together since day one and we have supported one another through every piece of work we’ve ever submitted.

However, without ‘Vanilla’ as a whole, the degree wouldn’t have been half as memorable! Poor Ruairidh, stuck with me for next year and the start of the next chapter as a Newly Qualified Teachers!