This September more than 20,000 teachers will begin their NQT year. If my own experience is anything to go by, their heads will be full of big questions for the next two months: “how should I arrange my classroom?”; “what resources will I need?”; “how am I going to cope with the workload?”, and of course, “should I smile before Christmas?” These new recruits would do well to read Victoria Hewett’s new book.
Hewett tells it as it is, setting out in frank, and at times bleak, terms how she initially struggled in teaching. But her story is a hopeful and often uplifting one. She recounts how close she came to quitting and shares the practical and transferrable lessons she gained when she turned the corner and fell in love with teaching again. For example, she explains to new teachers that if they find life untenable working in one school, they might find it more fulfilling and manageable elsewhere. She goes on to list a whole range of options for shifting phase, sector and role, including options that never occurred to me when I was leaving teaching.
Making it as a Teacher provides detailed ideas to make the job manageable, satisfying and productive. Hewett reminds teachers to consider their values and purpose. She then moves on to the core basics of setting up a classroom, planning, managing behaviour and marking and feedback. In each section she sets out the benefits of different techniques. While some suggestions might jar in certain settings, the range on offer means there is something for everyone.
Helpfully, Hewett offers real-life examples of how she has applied the strategies she describes. She is particularly good at going beyond generic, feel-good suggestions. For example, rather than simply imploring teachers to “be organised”, she breaks down what this means in practice and provides suggestions that could easily pass by the average NQT, right down to how to organise files and folders.
Encouragingly she goes beyond what could have been a rather depressing guide to “surviving” in teaching by following up chapters on coping with ones on how to “thrive”. She recounts, for example, the joy of building up an engaging professional network and how this can bring personal, as well as occupational benefits. Although some of her practical and well-researched advice will date quickly – for example guides to Twitter chats – it is relevant for now.
One of the strengths of the book is how personal it is. You quickly feel that Hewett is the mentor you always wish you had. She writes in a friendly and accessible style. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost in terms of engagement with evidence and means that it should probably be read alongside more research-based texts, particularly on pedagogy.
Buy this book for a friend who has just qualified and the chances are you will improve their lives. However, if you are already a teacher, most chapters are likely to feel a bit basic or irrelevant.
So back to that all-important question: should you smile before Christmas? Hewett’s answer is a resounding yes and, with her advice and guidance, it could help many more NQTs who
currently risk spending the summer somewhat terrified, to smile also.