10 tips for computing NQTs who are joining a new school
You have landed your first teaching job. Excellent, that is fantastic and you should feel rightly proud of what you have achieved. It is an exciting time for you but for some it can also feel very daunting. The excitement of becoming an NQT has slowly been taken over by the realisation that you will have less support than during your training and to top things off you also have to get used to a new school and all its individual quirks and peculiarities.
You have a couple of weeks to go before the start of the new academic year and it is worth planning ahead and also spending a few days in the school getting to know your new surroundings before the year really starts, to soften what can be an overwhelming experience. Our ten top tips can help computing NQTs who are preparing for their first teaching role in a new school.
1) Get to know the school rules
Ask for a copy of the official handbook, if they have one, and school policies or find out where they are located so you can obtain a copy yourself as early as you can. The next step is just as important but many people seem to forget. Once you have a copy of the handbook and policies, read them. Make sure you pay close attention to things such as attendance, homework, marking and discipline policies so you know what the school expects from you.
Make sure you know contact details and procedures in case of illness and what you should do for fire drills such as where to meet and what you should be doing.
Know the timetable of the school day and print it out, write it in your planner and enter it on your phone so you have a copy in several places.
Also find out about the photocopier procedures. Some schools allow you to make your own copies and you may or may not need a code for this, but other schools expect you to submit requests to a member of staff who will make the copies for you. Do not leave your photocopying until the last minute as you may find you run out of time and will not have those essential handouts you expected for your first lesson.
2) Get to know your school layout
Most schools are open for staff at certain times during the summer holidays. Building work has generally tailed off by the end of the summer holidays so the last couple of weeks is often the best time to try to get in the school if you can. If you are unsure if your school is open contact your head of department or you could email or ring the school to ask but be prepared that they may not answer immediately so don’t leave this until the day you want to turn up.
Once you know the school is open, travel using your usual method so you can become familiar with the route you will be taking and the parking or transport links you will need.
Have a wander around the school. Find out about the different entrances, where the pupils will be during break times and lunchtimes, find the nearest toilets to your classroom for both pupils and staff and also find the main staff room, your department’s staff room (if they have one) and the photocopier room. You will also need to find your classroom(s), tutor room and the best route to walk your students to the main hall for assemblies and the nearest exits for when the fire alarm sounds.
Also find out where you are expected to go for break times, lunchtimes and staff meetings and walk the route from your classroom to these key places so you become familiar with the layout of the school. It is also worthwhile finding out where other areas of the school are such as the English, maths, science and arts block, library, sports halls etc so you can help pupils if they are lost.
It is worthwhile obtaining a copy of the map of the school if they have one and sticking it in your planner or taking a photograph of it on your phone until you are familiar with the school layout. Try to get to know the whole school rather than just your little bit but don’t worry, you don’t need to know it all by September, just try to explore a little bit more each week until you feel secure in your surroundings.
3) Prepare your classroom
Computer rooms are not as flexible as other teaching rooms so you may not have much of an opportunity to alter the layout of the furniture but you may be able to make some small changes if you need to.
Make sure any alterations you do make are safe and will leave no training cables, objects to bump into or blocked doorways.
Think about how you will use the room as that might have an influence on your lesson planning. Is there a central table for the pupils to work around? Can you see all the monitors or are there blind spots you will need to keep an eye on? Where will pupils bags and coats go? Can pupils work in pairs and small groups easily or does the room layout make this more difficult?
Draw a sketch of the room, noting where the computers and seating is so you can use it later to draw an accurate seating plan.
Make sure your desk is set up as you wish and you have an adequate supply of stationery, a power supply for your laptop and any cables you need to connect to the projector and speakers.
Add decorations to bulletin boards or hang posters about topics you will be covering during the year. I made the mistake of once hanging things from the ceiling but they kept setting off the motion sensors so had to remove them after an irate caretaker informed me they were getting called out in the middle of the night to turn off the alarms.
You can download my list of key words and descriptions for free from TES if you want to add a computing dictionary to the walls of your classroom and there are many other free resources and wall displays you can use to brighten up your classroom.
4) Get organised
Think about how you want your classroom to run. Will you use folders or exercise books to keep pupils work organised, do you have a stock of spare stationary for pupils who have forgotten their pen, will you be using USB drives, rubber ducks etc. and where will these be stored when not in use?
Do you have text books? Where will they be stored?
Headphones will also need to be accounted for. Will they be connected to a computer all the time or will you banish them to a cupboard when not in use? How are you going to stop the tangle of cables if they are put away?
If your school issues you with a laptop, make sure you collect it early so you can check it is working and set up as you need.
5) Get to know your software
Be sure you log on and become familiar with the technology before the start of school.
Check login procedures and passwords for both yourself and your students as they may be different. Know which platforms your school uses daily such as the attendance system, behaviour tracking and marking systems and if possible try to log into them and become familiar with how they work before school starts.
Ask the technicians to let you look at a student’s account, if you do not have student IDs set up already, as their accounts may look very different to a teacher's account. This will allow you to find out the location and versions of the software that is available to your pupils and even take a few screen shots that you can save and use in your lesson planning.
Find out the drive and folder locations of where the pupils are expected to save their files and the names of the shared drives for pupils and teachers etc.
Get your accounts set up for remote access to the homework tracking tools, school drives and email and reporting systems. Test them from home and school and notify the technicians early if you find anything is not working as you expect. Don’t leave it until the first day back as they will be swamped with requests from other teachers who have not tested it early.
6) Plan your lessons
Make detailed lesson plans for at least the first two weeks of school as this will help you get over the nerves and feel prepared. Make sure all your photocopying is done well ahead of time. Include the start and end times of each lesson and have them taped to your desk until you become familiar with the timings of the school day.
Make a seating plan but be prepared to change it as you get to know your pupils. Expect to scribble on it and alter it in the lessons as you see fit. This is an ongoing working document and should be seen as such so there is no point laminating it!
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7) Attend the staff training days
Before the pupils start, you will need to attend either one or two days of staff training. Dress casually and comfortably and take coffee and sweets with you to stave off the tedium and malaise of the endless meetings. You will not have a lot of time during those training days to set up your classroom, some schools give you a couple of hours but most of it will be taken up with the series of meetings and information overload.
Take a notepad, your planner to note important dates and a pen and expect to be bombarded with statistics on the GCSE results from summer, Ofsted and government announcements and the embarrassing honour of standing up so everybody can gawp at the new members of staff. You will be given a heavy pile of student planners for you to issue to your new tutor group and endless bits of paper with lots of statistics you don’t really care about but the deputy head has spent ages compiling and collating on different coloured paper, so you feel obliged to read them.
There will also be the obligatory training session where you will be working in teams and have to do something with either post-it notes, sheets of A3 paper and/or mini whiteboards which can be useful but is often quickly forgotten once term really starts.
The only advice I can give is to take every opportunity to top up your mug of tea or coffee, eat your own body weight in biscuits to give you the sugar rush to get to the end of the day and take toilet breaks when you can. There is nothing more distracting when you are trying to listen to what your head teacher is telling you while you are forced to shuffle in your seat waiting for the meeting to finish as your bladder screams at you.
8) Get to know your tutor group
Arrive at school early on the first day so you can get settled in your classroom. Make sure you have your materials organised and ready to go so you do not have to hunt for anything after the bell rings.
Often year 7 classes arrive a day before the rest of the school. If you have a year 7 tutor group you will need to collect them and take them to your classroom. Much of the morning will probably be off timetable as you hand out planners, talk to them about their timetables etc. They may or may not have an assembly that first day but otherwise you will have to entertain them so it is worthwhile having a quiz or other “get to know you” activity up your sleeve in case you need to use it.
Make it a priority to try to learn your tutor group's names as soon as possible, use them when you can and try to add to your list of names every day until you have learnt them all. Of all the student names you need to learn you should learn all your tutor group as soon as possible.
9) Teach something in that first lesson
Stand at the door, smile, and warmly greet students as they arrive.
Try to learn the names of a few students in each class and a seating plan really helps with this. Use their names whenever you can to help embed them in your memory and make them feel welcome.
Remember, you are setting the tone for the year. Smiling does not mean that you are a weak teacher but that you are pleased to meet them, so forget about that outdated adage “don’t smile until Christmas” and make your pupils feel valued and welcome in your classroom.
Go over the rules for a computer room as they may be different from the other classrooms and then get them to log in. Even your year 11 classes will have many pupils who have forgotten their user ID or password so be prepared for the cries of “I can’t log in”. It is a good idea to have a list of user IDs for each class so you can remind them of the correct ID.
If you have been allowed the admin rights to reset their passwords, do so, otherwise they will need to line up with the multitude of other students outside the technician's room waiting to get their password reset.
Make sure you teach something on that first lesson and don’t just spend the entire lesson on housekeeping tasks. Get them logged on (which may take much of the lesson) and then try to teach them something, no matter how small, to let your students know that your classroom is going to be a place of learning from day one.
10) Relax and enjoy it
This last tip may seem difficult, near impossible with the many things you need to think about, but it is incredibly important to plan time to relax and have downtime away from school. Organise an evening out with friends, maybe not for that first school night but soon. Book a mini break for the first half term and promise yourself not to take any school work with you. Have a bubble bath and takeaway that first night, pamper yourself and don’t try to be a superhero. Nobody is expecting you to be an expert and do it all. You are an NQT and it is expected you will ask for help and take a little while to find your feet.
Remember, this is an exciting time. You are doing a job that makes a difference to people. Not every day will go brilliantly, however, it is possible to find some small achievements to celebrate and reflect on at the end of every day if you look for them. A pupil who smiles at you when you smile at them can brighten your day and is not something to be mentally dismissed. A student who gives a sideways glance at your display means your work has not gone unnoticed even if it goes against a teenager's nature to show they appreciate it. A pupil who holds the door open when you are carrying a mountain of paperwork or a colleague who passes you the biscuit tin at break time shows you are a member of the school community and you are not alone. Embrace the madness of working in a school, the pupils who make you smile even if they don’t mean to and the staff room banter showing you are all in this together. Don’t lock yourself away in your classroom. Join the throng of people who are working together in the school and be social to spread the load. Ask for help when you need to and offer help when you can and feel good about what you are doing.