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Advice for independent sector NQTs: “Don’t expect angels…” August 25, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, Leading Schools of the 21st Century.
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Around 1000 Newly Qualified Teachers will this week take their first professional steps inside classrooms in independent schools across the UK.

To help ensure their first year goes as smoothly – and enjoyably – as possible, we teamed up last year with the Independent Schools Council Teacher Induction Panel and the HMC to publish Newly Qualified Teachers and other entrants into teaching – the fourth title in our popular Leading Schools of the 21st Century series.

To throw some light on the sometimes confusing, daunting, frustrating, challening – and exciting – few months of teaching, here we republish some of the thoughts and advice given by co-editor Judith Fenn, also head of school’s services at the ISC.

WORKING IN THE INDEPENDENT SECTOR

Choice and opportunity attract new teachers into the independent sector, but once there, what can they expect? The rewards of teaching are great, but so too are the challenges. It is not a profession for the faint-hearted, perhaps because it is half-profession and half-vocation. The first year can be unbelievably tough and tiring, and there will be times when the cycle of preparation, planning, delivery, reflection and marking seems unending and unremitting.

Yet the emotional lows of the first year are more than matched by the highs. Yes, the emotional carapace necessary for any teacher’s survival is not yet fully formed, and hence NQTs are more vulnerable than their more experienced colleagues; but the joy of delivering a successful lesson, of forging a relationship with a class over time, and of seeing the results of efforts made, produce a euphoria which more than sweeps all the negatives away.

Independent schools contain a mix of nationalities and religions which provide a welcome international and multi-ethnic perspective to education and, because of this, they promote an understanding of, and a tolerance for, other points of view. So, for example, teaching modern history to a sixth form set comprising Chinese, Japanese, Lithuanian, Dutch, Iranian, English and Scottish students brings a syllabus into far sharper focus, especially when you are told by one of them: “You teach Mao as history, but for us, this is how we live.

The sector looks after its teachers by providing an environment conducive to pupil learning. The low pupil:teacher ratio gives its schools smaller class sizes and allows the teachers to teach, rather than spending time fire-fighting disruptive behaviour. These two inter-related factors are the most frequently cited reasons for working in an independent school.

A small note of caution ought to be sounded here: this is not to say that a new teacher should expect a class of angelic children whose perfect behaviour is matched only by their perfect grades. Children are childrenwherever they may be, and the subversive, bored, bright child in the back row on a warm Friday afternoon is a particular independent school challenge for the NQT.

The opportunity to teach a completely different curriculum is a professional development opportunity that is virtually second to none for secondary teachers. Even with the recent syllabus changes at GCSE and A level, it is so very easy to slide into an annual rhythm of delivery and results (via re-sits), but a new curriculum brings a new ethos and provides intellectual stimulation and often a much needed review of pedagogic practice.

If something is hard, and if something takes time, the rewards seem that much more tangible and lasting. Teaching in the independent sector is not an easy or soft option, and the challenges which exist take time and effort to overcome, but once conquered the job (or vocation, or profession) is the most rewarding that anyone is likely to have. Having it also happens to be a privilege.

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