“You call it grey hair… I call it stress highlights!”

In the run up to my wedding last year I found my first grey hair, and was filled with many feelings – mainly of the ‘Oh no! I’m so old’ variety. Of course, I am actually only 27 and, despite the thoughts of some children in my class, I am not old. This academic year, though, has seen even more of these grey blighters popping up all over my head. Although this year has been stressful beyond compare, and even beyond what I had imagined, I thought this would be a good time to reflect on some of the highlights of my NQT year so far, with only 58 school days left before the summer holidays.

 

1) I survived my first residential!

Despite sleeping very little, and cooking for 64 fussy 21st Century eaters, I had the most amazing time away with the lovely Year 3 and 4 children: exploring Birdoswald and Hadrian’s Wall; playing Hide and Seek in the dark; and dressing up as a Roman soldier. Another plus for this trip was spending time with colleagues in a less formal setting, allowing friendships to form.

 

2) “I think Sweden has the largest population because it has less mountains and lakes than Norway and Finland.”

This is just one example of a repeating highlight which makes the days brighter: when a child understands what you wanted them to understand. In this instance, we had spent the afternoon looking at physical features of Scandinavian countries. We started solely with maps, thinking about what we would see if we were stood on certain points of the map. We then moved on to pictures, with the children making educated guesses about where each photo was taken. The children seemed on the ball and interested, so I threw them a curveball: “Which country do you think has the largest population, and why?” And they blew me away with their answers – one of which is the above quote. On days like that, it’s easy to be a teacher.

 

3) My first class assembly – WOW!

There are no words, just pride and joy. My children did themselves proud, and me proud, especially when they sang Goodall’s The Lord is my Shepherd so beautifully.

 

The truth is I have been blessed with a lovely class, supportive managers, and hilarious colleagues. Every time the job gets hard, there is yet another moment which reminds me why I’m doing this job: children come to me with their triumphs and tribulations; someone tells me I’ve done a good job; a child suddenly grasps a tricky concept; all of it, so worthwhile. So, you may call them grey hairs, but to me they’re stress highlights. Highlights in a stressful year, but highlights none the same. And I will cherish them.

There’s never enough time in the day.

It has to be the number one issue that faces us NQTs. Time management. How do you conquer the pile of marking and planning whilst also making room for staff meetings, paperwork, teaching and a personal life? Here’s how I’m trying to do it. It might not be perfect, but it is working for me?

 

1) In terms of weekly planning, I only have guided reading, numeracy and literacy to do. All the plans for the afternoon lessons were completed before the beginning of term, so I’m not getting bogged down with unneccesary planning. I use my PPA time on a Thursday to plan for the following week, and use my NQT time to finish anything off which I haven’t planned. For example, last week that was my literacy planning for the Friday.

 

2) When planning, I try to balance it so that if there is marking required in literacy, the activities for numeracy are hands on and don’t require marking. And vice versa. Sometimes that doesn’t work, and those are the days when I just have to suck it up and spend a few hours marking. For example, today children were ordering numbers with up to decimal places. This required marking. In literacy, children were refering back to the text, and brainstorming questions to ask the character at the end of the lesson. One of these lessons required formal marking, the other didn’t. But both involved children learning, and meeting their learning objective.

 

3) Mark whenever you can. Once the children had been set off on their literacy task this morning, they were so engaged that I was able to get half of the numeracy books marked. Whilst the children were doing their extended writing task in silence last Friday, I was able to get all of their numeracy books marked… this meant I didn’t have maths books to mark this weekend. Literacy is a little bit more difficult, as I find it takes longer to mark. I have taken advice from a more experienced colleague for marking the extended writing task –  mark 7 books every evening. As the children won’t read or respond to that feedback until the following week, it doesn’t make any sense to break my back marking them all that first night.

 

4) Turn your lights off. This is probably school dependent, however I work in a larger than average primary school with lots of lovely friendly staff. Unfortunately, that means there are more people who I can be distracted by. At university I learnt that I was naturally quite lazy, and so had to purposefully push myself and not allow myself to be distracted, else I might procrastinate. So… I turn the lights in my classroom off after school. This tricks colleagues into thinking I am no longer there, thus allowing me to crack on with marking/planning/preparing resources undisturbed. Unfortunately, this led to me being locked in school one evening last week… but I did get ALL of my marking done that night before going home, giving me a welcome break midweek.

 

5) Get in early, stay late. This was always my mantra at university, and it worked so well that I decided to keep on with it. Every morning, except Monday when I have a lie in, I get up early and go in to school for around 7am. Every evening, unless I’ve had one of those days, I stay until around 6pm. For me this works excellently, as I don’t have child care issues or any other commitments to rush away for after school. This allows me to get an hour and half of concentrated work done before school, and 3 hours after school. Whilst I still have to take the odd bits home (usually some literacy marking) I often manage to get a lot of my work done in that time.

 

6) Be prepared. Ok, so this one is a strange one which my mentor suggested and which I think works perfectly. The first thing I do after school; before I have a cup of tea; before I do any marking; before I go to the photocopier; I write tomorrow’s date and WALT for literacy and numeracy on the board. I have one of those wonderfully old school rotating boards, with 3 possible screens. One has permanent lines on it, another has permanent squares on it, and the final one is blank. So… I write the literacy WALT, the numeracy WALT, and then I write a list of my absolute musts for the next teaching day on the blank board. Then, one by one, I work through my list of musts, and I know that, no matter what, my date and WALT are done for the following day. I then ready my resources with clear labels on, just in case I’m hit by a car and someone has to cover my lessons, and then I get on with any other jobs.

 

Anyway, a lot of those things are probably common sense. But I thought I’d share them with you all anyway, if not for my own sanity. Perhaps I’ll remind myself to look back at this post in the run up to Christmas when I am undoubtedly more stressed and less clear headed about time management. For me, one thing is really clear: I am being paid to be a teacher. Children deserve the best they can get, and part of that is a teacher who isn’t dead and tired. And so, every evening without fail, I switch off my brain and computer by 9pm. This not only allows me time to rest, but also gives me time with my husband.

 

And it is my husband who supports me; my husband who helps me to be the best I can be.