10 tips to help you survive your Computer Science NQT year
You are about to embark on your NQT year. You have finished your initial teacher training and managed to get a job as an NQT in what you hope is a nice computer science department. The past year of assignments, observations and lectures is over and you will finally be let loose on a new bunch of students that you will totally be in charge of.
Your NQT year will be exhilarating, exhausting and emotional and in September the summer holidays feel like a lifetime away. How will you ever survive? We are here to give you 10 tips which we hope will make that journey a little easier.
1) Create consistent routines
Decide on your routines early on. Do the children come straight into your class or would you prefer to make them wait outside until you invite them in? Are they expected to log on and get on with a starter activity first or do you want to call a register and explain the lesson before they get going? Make sure your classes are aware of your expectations from the beginning. The first time you meet your class, make sure you are waiting by the door and take a moment to explain who you are and what they need to do immediately i.e. “Hi, I am … and I’m your new Computer Science teacher. Come in and put your bags on the centre table but don’t log on just yet as I am going to tell you where you are sitting in just a moment.” Keep if brief and be prepared to repeat is for those who were not listening or couldn’t hear you because of the chatter in the corridor.
2) Learn your student’s names
Learning names is probably one of the most important skills for building relationships. Spend time trying to learn a few names per lesson, you will not be expected to learn them all overnight, but you should aim to know the majority (if not all) by the first parents evening which in some schools is only a few weeks into the autumn term. Find out if your school has photographs saved for each pupil that you can access. The new year 7’s will not have photographs at the start of the year but the system should have photos of the older year groups. Use them to help you put faces to names.
Seating plans help with learning names but be prepared to move pupils around if your plan is not working and update your seating plan to reflect this. If you move a pupil somewhere in one lesson update your plan when you get a moment in that lesson as you will never remember it later and it can cause problems if the student is adamant they are sitting in one place when your plan says different. Until you meet your classes you will not know which combinations work well together so don’t worry about trying to get it right first time. Create a basic plan and change it as necessary.
3) Noise Levels
Decide on the noise levels and behaviour you will find acceptable and think about how you will make your expectations clear to your classes. Can the children talk quietly while working on individual topics and are you going to insist on some silent time and how can you communicate which is in place at any one time with the class. If the noise levels creep up think about how you will grab their attention early and keep on top of it. Your students don’t know you or what you think of as acceptable and it is your job to communicate this clearly and constantly.
4) Grab your class attention when you need it
There will be times when you need their focus. Give them notice as it is very frustrating when you are half way through a sentence and somebody wants to talk to you. Tell them it to finish the sentence, line of code etc. they are on and then face you so you know they are ready but be aware of those that will push the boundaries. Give a second warning that people are waiting without identifying those that are still delaying and finally identify individuals politely as they may be so engrossed they did not hear you in the first place.
You will want your students focusing on you whenever you are addressing the class, in which case how can you stop them from getting distracted by their monitors? They can switch them off, some schools have software which freezes the computer monitors of the pupils or you can simply explain you are trusting them to pay attention when you ask for it. Maybe you could stand in one particular place whenever you are addressing the class which means they have to swivel their chairs away from the computers to face you but this is not always practical in some classroom layouts.
When students are working and you need to grab their attention, plan what you need to say to avoid having to interrupt your class every couple of minutes. For some pupils it can take a long time to pick up where they left off and constant interruptions will make it difficult for them to make progress.
5) Smile and show you like them
There is an old saying “Don’t smile until Christmas” but of course you can smile. It tells your students you are happy to see them, that you are proud of them and it sends a far stronger message then words alone. Just make sure they are genuine smiles otherwise it may come across as creepy.
6) Be consistent but flexible
One of the hardest things about behaviour management is balancing consistency with flexibility. What may work for most of your pupils may not work with everybody. You might have a student with Asperger’s who finds eye contact extremely uncomfortable but will still listen while facing away from you. In which case talk to your SENCO and find out ways of supporting a student’s individual needs and respect their differences. Make your expectations clear to these students without singling them out by drawing attention to their differences to the rest of the class. Most students quickly pick up when one of their peers has special educational needs and understand that the same rules don’t always apply to everybody as long as you give the impression that it is planned and it is deemed fair. Children have a very strong sense of what they see as fair and unfair and it will destroy their trust in you if they feel they are being treated unfairly.
7) Get to know your students
Become an expert on the special needs of the children in your class - SEN matters. Find out from your SENCO and other teachers if there is anything you should be aware of with individual pupils and take this into account. Some children are careers and have to look after younger siblings and so staying after school will never be an option for them, others have a parent who is ill and may find it difficult to control their emotions with so much going on.
Most primary schools will give some details about the new year 7 pupils who are moving up to your school, take time to read the teachers notes and make a note of anything you think may be important.
Find out what individuals are interested in and talk to them about it. This is especially important in tutor time where you should be aiming to get to know your pupils in a more informal setting. Find out about sports or activities they do outside of school and celebrate successes in the classroom. Even a student who can be very rude to you in lesson time would still love to tell you, as their tutor, about how big the fish was that they caught with their Grandad at the weekend or the strangest stunt on YouTube they have seen.
8) Plan lessons that will work
It is disheartening when you spend a long-time planning what you think will be a brilliant lesson for your class to say to you in the first ten minutes “This is boring”. If you are building up to a fun activity, tell them that what they are doing is the ground work for what they will be doing later in the lesson.
If the lesson really isn’t going as you expect then change it. Lesson plans are not set in stone they are only your plans and if things change during the lesson then adapt to the circumstances. Even when you are being observed it will never go against you if you deviate from your lesson plan. Adapt to the situation you find yourself in.
Once you know your classes more, think about adapting your lessons to suit the individual classes. You cannot expect the same lesson plan to work for a quiet studious year 9 class on a Monday morning and the same lesson plan to also work for your boisterous year 9 class after lunch on a Friday. You may need to cover the same objectives but you also need to think about how you will tailor the lesson to suit the time of day and class personality.
When you plan your teaching for the week, consider the marking workload you're creating as well. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting homework for 5 different classes on the same day that will all need to be marked and given back by the next day. You will not be able to mark it in time and students will resent you making promises that you can’t keep.
Make sure you know your subject matter. You need to sound like you know what you are talking about if your class are ever going to respect you as the authority in the room. If you are struggling with some of the more technical aspects of the syllabus there are ready-made schemes of work and GCSE workbooks which include the theory, activities and the answers saving you time and sanity as you get to grips with the subject matter from www.nicholawilkin.com. These are great for filling in those gaps in your knowledge.
9) Ask for help
Everybody wants you to succeed and sometimes you may feel so overwhelmed you will forget that.
Make friends with your mentor and take time to talk to them. They are there to help you, listen to you and help you plan lessons or deal with students. They will probably not have the same subject specialty, but this can be helpful as they can help you look for alternatives and methods that you may not have considered.
Talk to your head of department. Let them know what you enjoy and what you are struggling with. They want to help and would love to hear about your success stories no matter how minor. The fact that a student you have been struggling with for the last couple of lessons actually smiled back when you smiled at them it a huge achievement and needs to be celebrated. It is very easy to only focus on the negatives when you are under pressure but make sure you consider the positives too.
Talk to the parents or carers of your students and keep them informed of the pupils progress. They would love to hear that their child is doing well so tell them, they may also be able to give you some tips on things you had not considered if you are finding it difficult to find common ground with the pupil. Don’t leave it until parents evening to tell them how well their child is doing and likewise you don’t have to wait until report time or parents evening to highlight a problem.
Talk to your own friends and family, they may not know what you are going through but they can still help. Often friends and family see you under pressure and don’t know what they can do to help. Tell them what you need and more often then not they will be more than happy to help you out. Maybe they can do something practical such as mowing the lawn while you get on with marking or it may be emotional support you need such as listening while you weep as you describe a lesson you think didn’t go well.
10) Look after yourself
Your NQT year is a frightening, exhausting and frantic time. You will be mentally and physically shattered and therefore it is easy to let your own tiredness show. Although it is tempting to work through your break times, DON’T. Take time to sit and talk to others over a coffee and a biscuit. It will help you recharge your batteries. There is no point in going straight from one class, working through your break and then launching into teaching another class. You will be tired and irritable. Your classes will quickly pick up on it and behaviour will start to dip.
Although you will have lesson plans to write, worksheets to laminate, homework to mark and PowerPoint presentations to perfect in the evenings and weekends you need to plan when you will take breaks. Plan a night out with your friends, book a holiday for the February half term break (you will need it by then) or even sit down to watch a film without a pile of marking on your lap. Whatever you do, make sure you have some dedicated time in the week for yourself, plan to do it and do it. Your time will quickly be eaten away if you leave it to chance and before you know it you have worked non-stop for weeks on end and are at breaking point. There is no way you will be able to control a class if you are snappy so make it a priority that you look after yourself to be the most relaxed, rested and responsive you can possibly be.
Save time and effort by using ready-made resources. Nichola Wilkin Ltd. (www.nicholawilkin.com) has plenty of resources for KS3 and GCSE which are ideal for non-specialist teachers or NQTs who don’t feel confident with the subject matter. This will give you more time for all the other things you need to do and will give you that vital breathing space knowing that at least some of your planning has been done for you.
Good luck with your NQT year and don’t forget it is only a year and next year you will be able to reuse a lot of those resources you have developed and life will start to get much easier.