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How to Destroy NQTs

August 2, 2012

A lot of NQTs don’t qualify. A lot of NQTs who do manage to qualify do so only after changing schools. The supply teacher circuit is full of people still trapped in their NQT year who, having left their first position, are hoping to get a long-term supply contract or a permanent job where they can qualify. Behaviour is the usual reason. The first year of teaching is tough, and some schools make it impossible. Too often those running schools would prefer to see a teacher go under than admit there is a problem with behaviour in the school, or that there are too many challenging classes on that teacher’s timetable.

However, some go under because they’ve taken bad advice. Advice that means they will not be able to cope for as long as they believe it. I thought of this recently when I read this blogpost. If you are an NQT have a good look. If you believe this is true, and you are going anywhere that is remotely challenging, and you plan to actually teach your classes rather than just entertain them, then this will probably destroy you.

If you haven’t worked out what’s wrong, then I will begin by referring to the key error. A description is given of a class who go from lesson to lesson sometimes behaving and sometimes misbehaving. In the ones where they misbehave the teacher is in a bad mood. He’s the one who shouts most often. This is not the case in the lessons where the children behave. There the teachers calmly ensure that the class know the rules. In one, where the class are greeted with a smile, they are given lots of freedom to work independently, and yet are still able to behave well. There you go, evidence if any were needed, that if you are nice your classes will behave and if you are nasty then they won’t. Bad behaviour is the result of the poor temperament of their teachers. Smile and it will all go well.

Or not.

A common logical error has been made. If you can’t spot it, have a listen to this:

Got it now? If not, let’s rewind a bit and consider the evidence. Where the class behaves well, the teachers don’t shout. Where the class behaves well, their teacher is happy to see them. Where the class behaves well, they are trusted to work independently. Where they behave badly, the teacher dreads seeing them. Where they behave badly, the teacher is angry. Where they behave badly, the teacher is known to shout at them.

Is it clear now? There is a strong possibility – one might even think a staggering obvious inevitability – that behaving badly for a teacher has an effect on that teacher’s mood and disposition. To believe that causation is acting the other way (a mistake I have previously discussed here) is fatal. When you believe that behaviour results from your negative disposition you can create a cycle of personal destruction. A class will be unpleasant to you. You will become upset. You will blame yourself for becoming upset. You will focus on changing your behaviour not the class’s. They will see that you will not stand up for yourself, and your attempts to but a brave face on being mistreated will be seen as weakness. They will behave worse. Lesson by lesson it will get worse, and no matter how positive you are they will behave worse and hate you more. You will end up seeing how punishment you can endure and blaming yourself when it gets to you. They will see how far they can take it, i.e. see how much harm they can do to you without you fighting back. And psychologically there is an equally destructive cycle going on. If you are unhappy and you blame yourself for being unhappy, rather than doing anything about the cause of the unhappiness, it will simply get worse.

Don’t believe me? Have a read through this thread on the TES forum from an NQT on the death spiral. Started by someone in the February of her NQT year, she begins by talking about the approach she’s been told to take:

I make my lessons as interesting and interactive as I can – they take ages to plan – but nothing seems to work. My marking is always up to date, I always praise good behaviour and try to make them feel positive about themselves. I make sure I don’t do whole class explanations talking for more than 2 minutes as advised.

She describes how she’s not surviving. Despite objections from the management and consultant class, she is advised by a lot of the TES behaviour regulars to concentrate on their behaviour, not her attitude (while members of the SMT/consultant class posting on the thread throw abuse at anyone who tells her this) and begins to improve but is still at the point where she is taking punishment and blaming herself for her feelings when it happens. In particular:

I had a weak moment when I saw a note a student had left in my bag. I thought we had a good lesson, the students were starting to appreciate me but it said they wished I got raped and killed! No idea who it’s from and I know it’s not personal but it hurt my feelings.

When your reaction to extreme abuse becomes a matter of blaming yourself for being upset by it, you are doomed as a teacher, as this NQT was, because trying to put on a brave face will not stop it; it will encourage it. Teachers who get upset about little things will struggle, but in the long term most effective teachers do care about the little things. Teachers who try not to get upset by the big things, and that example is a very big thing, give a clear signal that it will be a fascinating experiment to see how much it takes to upset them in front of the class. The story in that TES thread is the story of 100s, maybe 1000s of NQTs each year.

Now, returning to that original blogpost, apart from encouraging a teacher-destroying mindset, not all the advice in that blogpost is bad. Some certainly has the wrong focus. While it is true that planning and organisation is key to survival, it is not because they will behave if you have ensure “they will enjoy what you have planned or that they have been shown the purpose of their learning beyond the classroom”. It is because you will teach better, and be less stressed, if you already know exactly what you are going to be doing, particularly what you are going to do about behaviour. Consistency and using the behaviour system are very important (but watch out for the two discipline systems and make sure your record-keeping is very good so that when you use sanctions that you can justify every decision). The “reprimand in private” advice would be perfect if you were teaching a class of 5, or if misbehaviour was virtually unknown in your school, but virtually impossible to implement in most schools and should be considered an ideal rather than a practical suggestion.  “Praise in public” should be okay, but can backfire with some children in some classes.

I did write a blogpost aimed at NQTs previously which includes advice on where to seek further help and advice.  Remember that it does usually get better after Christmas and the ones who put on a brave face and claim to be coping are often the ones who drop out, and those who find it challenging at first are often the ones with the high standards who will persevere in the long term. Most of all, work out early on who are the liars and the charlatans in the behaviour field, and what level of mistreatment by mentors and SMT you are prepared to tolerate, so that in a worst case scenario you will know when to say “enough” and stand up for yourself.

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27 comments

  1. A while ago I joined a discussion about classroom behaviour on an internet forum. The NQT was having a nightmare but had implemented practises that were simply ineffective, for example for each minute she had to wait she took a minute off their lunch. I expect my class to be quiet within five seconds, with a countdown (after having warned them of how much time is left in any given task.) I suggested that she change her attitude as she said she dreaded them and felt she had to shout a lot, and make sure her lessons were engaging. I was shot down by other members of the forum, saying my advice was unhelpful and shouting was a necessity.
    I work in a school in a deprived area with several behaviour issues, and I rarely shout but manage to keep my class under control. There seems to be a lot of useless advice floating around with a refusal to change teaching styles, assuming the class is unteachable.


    • In tough schools countdowns don’t work. The kids just yell “blast off” at the end and then continue talking.

      And, unfortunately, shouting is sometimes a necessity in some schools (although it is completely ineffective in the worst schools) and I don’t really have much time for people using it as a gauge of their moral superiority or disciplinary expertise: http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/shouting/


  2. I’ve been a teacher for 10 years. What you write here PERFECTLY describes how I have been feeling these last two weeks. With luck, your words may have released me from the poor sleep, anxiety-related dreams and general physical lethargy I have been suffering from.

    I am NOT always the able teacher referred to in your ‘double thinking’ piece either, and I have experienced all the ‘it’s your fault for not making your lessons interesting enough’ crap from SMT.

    Sometimes, and with increasing frequency, being a teacher really is horrible.


  3. In a piece of doublethink I find myself agreeing with you *and* with the post you’re referring to. Of course, if students misbehave it’s simply down to the fact that they’re poorly behaved kids – no matter whether they’re better in other lessons or not. You are quite right that teachers shouldn’t be shouldering some sort of burden of responsibility about the way these kids have arrived in their class, and they should, without doubt, expect strong support from colleagues and managers in order to deal with it.

    That said, if kids don’t know how to behave then clearly they’re not going to magically acquire this knowledge without adult guidance. Therefore, you’ve certainly got to enact the ‘my word is law’ approach backed up with sanctions but this will only work if you’re also demonstrating trust in the class in general. There’s no reason why you can’t be an unrelenting disciplinarian and still make the kids feel that you believe in them (although demonstrating belief without discipline is a recipe for disappointment and disaster!)

    I know that every time I had a nightmare class my own mistakes were a) giving too many initial chances – the fatally easy way out, b) getting grumpy and shouty and ‘disappointed’ as things started to disintegrate, c) suddenly snapping and going all machine-gun with detentions and d) making it quite clear I no longer liked or trusted the class I was teaching.

    I’m not saying you have to pretend to be delightfully happy every time they misbehave – that would be bizarre. However, what you *do* have to do is demonstrate an unending trust that things can and will get better. When kids realise that, underneath it all, you really believe in them and you’re absolutely not going to budge with your behaviour boundaries, good things start to happen. Incredibly hard to do, of course, and I certainly didn’t always get it right – I don’t know anyone who does.


    • The problem with the post referred to is not that the ideas are bad per se, but that in many schools they won’t work for reasons that are nothing to do with the teacher.

      The blog post referred to ends up with something like “send the pupils to the time out staff member” being the last option.

      This tells us two things.

      Firstly that the school has a discipline system – many schools will simply not have anything like this because it is either an admission that there are problems or it is wildly impractical (because the time out to senior staff will have ludicrous numbers of pupils sent there – it only works if it happens infrequently or if you set up a whole section for it) or that the senior staff simply don’t want to do it.

      Secondly, it tells us that the other blogger is in a nice school. In a tough school you can’t have this – you’d have some many kids going there the staff members would be swamped.

      Something I have noticed is that every teacher thinks they have badly behaved children. It’s just the bar is at a different level.

      If you have spent all your career in nice schools you think that the child who enthusiastically shouts the answer out without putting their hand up once is Atilla the Hun, the child who cant do calculus at 16 is failing miserably, and the slightly eccentric child who is obsessed with stamps is a potential Serial Killer.

      This is perhaps understandable, but what isn’t understandable is they tend to preach at teachers in tough schools about how behaviour is easily managed (and implicitly all the teachers fault therefore) if only they did xxx or yyy – what the post linked to is doing.

      They seem (astonishingly) unable to empathise with the teacher in the tough school.

      The reality – if they were dropped into the tough school they’d run out screaming inside half an hour.


      • Exactly as an nqt struggling with behaviour in a tough school I was recently at a staff meeting and a member of slt told me that if lessons were well enough planned and taught there would be 0 behaviour problems. This same woman ironically I happened to observe before and the behaviour in her class was not brilliant!


  4. Ann, that something works for you, with your pupils, in your school, is wonderful for you; but it would be a mistake to presume that its failure to work for another teacher is somehow their fault, as though no other variable exists.
    I read through the TES thread and was cheered to see that the previously crushed and defeated NQT had, by post 180, recovered enough spark to tell JamesTES to shove off!


  5. Old Andrews take on this is 100% spot on and I’m heartened that some in education and government are slowly beginning to agree with him.

    Its sad though that NQTs are still dealing with these abusive hurdles.

    David, I think you offer sound advice there but my experiences tell me kids, in the vast majority of cases, know precisely how to behave already.

    How do I know this? Because when I was a starting teacher and had an unruly class they all suddenly ‘knew’ how to behave when the head teacher walked in.

    All of suddenly they shut the hell up, they put their hands up to ask/answer, they minded their ps and qs.

    Why sorcery is this I pondered to myself?

    But now I’m that teacher- if I there is a riot occurring down the corridor with some poor supply teacher or struggling NQT I simply have to step foot in the room and all of a sudden the lions turn into lambs- polite and co-operative behaviour suddenly ensues.

    How do you do that they ask me? Whats you secret?

    I say: “all you have to do is be a middle aged man whos been here for way longer than they have…”

    “oh- so all I need is a sex change and a time machine”

    Im joking with the last line of course but the ‘being an established figure’ can help provided the school isnt a complete zoo and you are firm but fair.

    So how does an NQT do it- in short its nigh on impossible to get the same levels of student compliance as established competent teachers have till your 2nd year at best.

    In the meantime please remember its NOT YOUR FAULT if the children behave like animals. The SLT should be severely punishing any abusive behaviour.

    If a child tells you to ‘f off’ that MUST mean external exclusion. If a student makes a comment which is personal and threatening you shouldn’t have to see that kid ever again- hell the police should be involved (which you can do by the way).

    Some teachers who have been in places a long time forget how hard it is for new teachers- lesson plans and smiling may work for the established guys but wont work for the newer teachers- they often cannot see that.

    If they went to a neighbouring difficult school- trust me- they would struggle too.


    • ”Some teachers who have been in places a long time forget how hard it is for new teachers- lesson plans and smiling may work for the established guys but wont work for the newer teachers- they often cannot see that.”

      Exactly which is why it is ridiculous and dangerous when established teachers attempt to advise new teachers on how to get discipline like it’s easy, im an nqt and my mentors and hod would tell me in times of bad discipline just ‘praise the child’, ‘be nice, be positive’… it didn’t work. Also a teacher told me in times of defiance to say ‘Are you refusing to do as i ask’ as ‘it would deter students’ and they’d just say ‘yes’.


  6. Rob, that’s exactly right. I was an NQT (not that the initialism back in the 1970s) in a girls’ grammar school, where behaviour was excellent; I moved from there to a London comprehensive, where there was one class, a low-ability Year 8 (the school was heavily streamed), who destroyed my confidence completely. (Mind you, their behaviour would now be regarded as amazingly good compared to much of the stuff which goes on now, 30+ years later.) The response of the management, in the person of the Deputy Head, was: “8S? Oh, I don’t have any trouble with them.” The following year, I was given a low-ability Year 7 class as my tutor group and to teach, and had no trouble with them whatsoever, while still struggling with 8-now-9S: meanwhile, other staff were complained about my Year 7′s behaviour!

    In other words, once you’re not regarded any more as the incomer, things tend to improve. Middle age and rootedness has its compensations…


  7. Not sure where my methods fit in but having a face like a bulldog licking a wasp and a bit of classroom presence seems to work wonders.
    So does trying to make the material interesting.
    That’s as a UQT of course. Maybe if I ever did obtain QTS, a magic wand would wave to make my NQT year more of a struggle.
    I also think playing football with the lads at lunchtime is an underused trick.


  8. did you mean “face like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle”?

    I must look it up in 100 Great English Quotations….


  9. I do think commenting ‘they are no trouble for me’, when an NQT complains about a class, is an unforgivable sin.


  10. Absolutely. It happened in 1978, and the memory still stings. It did, though, teach me that when a young teacher tells me that she’s having trouble with such-and-such a girl or class, my first response is always something like “X? [Or '9X'?] Yes, she’s/They are a bit notorious!”

    This may explain why I’ve never managed to attain the heights of SMT, SLT, or whatever they’re calling them this week.

    That thread Old Andrew linked to – wasn’t it heartbreaking, though?The poor girl who ended up leaving the school and possibly teaching altogether because of the stress and the abuse she was suffering from the pupils…and then a contributor called ‘James’ informed us that we’d been taken in by someone making the whole thing up. Which showed that (a) someone in denial will stay there however much proof he’s given, and (b) that ‘James’ is unable to recognise authentic agony when he sees it.


  11. OA has hit the nail on the head with this, I’d also suggest that this is true for many teachers at various points in their career, new schools and the like. When I was an NQT I had these issues at the school I was at and I left in the 2nd term. I did supply and was able to finish my induction that way, but then I experienced it all again. Both times I was working my backside off trying to do my best and it wasn’t working, the second time it happened it got effected me that much I needed some time off with stress and I was ready to leave teaching completely.

    I think this sort of thing, combined with the theme OA’s blog post about Dylan Williams, plays a large part in what’s making teaching hard on a number of us. I’ve been on supply since I left my last post, it took me a good few months to get my confidence back and a year to get over my stress completely. Supply has been great for building a range of behaviour management strategies and a nice teflon coat for when the kids really act up.

    Getting a class to behave well takes effort and experience, and even with experience you don’t always get it right. New teachers (thats new to the school or the profession) should be given practical help and built up not the sort of drivel that OA writes about. The destructive advice needs to stop, all it does is reinforce how the advice giver is so good and and should be admired. Practical advice and support is needed whilst the teacher needing the support finds out what actually works for them.


  12. Wow, that TES thread should be required reading. What’s amazing is how nasty the two SMT/SLT types turn. As soon as the poor woman makes clear that it really is a problem, they suddenly tell her she sounds “emotional”, and that she’s unreliable and can’t be trusted to relay what her school management are telling her. Meanwhile the actual teachers on the thread are being supportive – it’s an object lesson in the us-vs-them that they won’t admit exists.


  13. How about a follow up post called “how to develop NQTs”? (or whatever the appropriate verb is, that sounds a bit ’21st Century Skills’-ish)


  14. Wow! What a read. I suspect Andrew you might appreciate the conclusion of the article I wrote for the TES on precisely this teacher “abuse” issue in February. Nothing I’ve seen or heard since (and certainly not the Michael Wilshaw’s reply the following week) has made me change my mind. Apologies if you’ve already seen it.
    http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6179246


  15. [...] have recently been browsing the blogs offering advice for NQTs when I came across this one: http://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/how-to-destroy-nqts/. This one particularly caught my eye as my thought process evolved so much through the process of [...]


  16. Being an NQT in a tough school is basically like being stress tested to destruction. If you are a manager or mentor and an NQT under your supervision is failing, it is just as much YOUR failure as it is theirs. The behaviour of the kids in their lessons will be 10 times worse than in lessons with more established teachers, purely because bad kids find it entertaining to try to give new teachers a nervous breakdown.

    If you find yourself saying “well, they behave fine in their other lessons…” to an NQT, then you are a shitty manager.


    • ”Being an NQT in a tough school is basically like being stress tested to destruction. If you are a manager or mentor and an NQT under your supervision is failing, it is just as much YOUR failure as it is theirs. The behaviour of the kids in their lessons will be 10 times worse than in lessons with more established teachers, purely because bad kids find it entertaining to try to give new teachers a nervous breakdown.

      If you find yourself saying “well, they behave fine in their other lessons…” to an NQT, then you are a shitty manager.”

      Woo brilliant post and i totally agree, i myself am an nqt and when i went to my manager about my behaviour problems he blamed it on me and said they didn’t act that way in other lessons.His support was rubbish and for ages after i kept thinking in my naivety that he had to be right and i had to be nicer to the kids and ‘let things slide’ which i did and ultimately the behaviour got worse and my classes were spiralling out of control. In essence, he had me believe that I was in the wrong and if i ever told him about problems he’d do little to nothing. It was only when he went away on a few sick days that i took the courage to ring parents of 2 misbehaving classes and detain them for an hour[something he would never have allowed considering the behaviour was ''my fault'] and i saw big improvements in them classes following that. Ultimately if you have misbehaving classes and a bad manager then stay away from them and do the punishments yourself-because often times the only person that gets in trouble is you ironically. Going to other teachers also for support is not near as effective as carrying out the punishments yourself and letting the student know who is boss. Consistency in rules is the key to getting control and if you keep enforcing them with no exceptions then you will see improvement-but remember just be patient, when kids know there will be a consequence then even the worst will respond. Only you can get control in your class at the end of the day and don’t ever believe for 1 second that the behaviour is because of you-it’s career suicide and a lie told by incompetent managers to naïve inexperienced new teachers . It’s like anything in society-if there are no enforced rules with consequences and consistency people will not respond and do as they please.


  17. [...] at its nemesis, the ‘bad’ group. Old Andrew deftly describes how bad groups are created here. He says, “When you believe that behaviour results from your negative disposition you can [...]


  18. I left teaching after my NQT year in 2004, feeling like I’d never be any good as a teacher. I left feeling demoralised and a failure. I’ve since gone back into teaching and now feel pretty confident about what I do. When I look back I wonder how I ever survived the year – the odds were totally stacked up against me. A few things spring to mind….

    1. Being told by my NQT mentor (whose opinion I really respected) at the start of september not to go through the rules with my new classes, because they would get bored as a lot of teachers would do it. Awful, awful advice. I realised that when I shouted at my nightmare year 7s in october “You know what the rules are!”, and a nice clever one said to me “actually sir, you never told us.”

    2. Going to my head of dept on more than one occasion to tell him that I was REALLY struggling with behaviour. Asking for help, practically on bended knee. He did basically nothing. Apart from sit in with my worst classes when Ofsted came in, so they were exemplary. I remember the Ofsted inspector saying to me “Does he normally sit in on this class?” “Quite a lot” I lied. Why should I have lied!?

    3. Having very little behaviour guidance in my PGCE, which was at a top university. I had loads of wonderful ideas about the pedagogy of history teaching, but I think behaviour was basically one two hour session over the whole year.

    4. A humanities system which meant I had to teach RE and geography of which I knew nothing. I started in september with RE, standing in front of bemused year 8s, one page ahead of them in the Hinduism textbook (sometimes only one sentence ahead). Totally out of my depth. Also, the humanities system meant I had to plan and deliver 20 separate lessons a week, many in subjects I knew little of. Crippling workload.

    5. Being given a year 7 tutor group. They looked to me to be in charge. I was still learning how to be in charge. I really struggled with them, and was faced with the prospect of four more years of them as my tutor group, with the feeling that I was failing them.

    6. When I handed in my notice, no-one actually took the time to talk to me about WHY I was leaving. No-one seemed to have noticed that I spent most of the year on my knees, and maybe could do with a little help. A potentially good teacher (at least a hard working one) walked out of the job and no-one seemed to care.


  19. A lot of this makes me really sad reading, partly because I recognise some of it from my own expperience or that of others I have seen. I a now a fairly experienced teacher – although in a new and relatively good school. Inner city but reasonable behaviour.

    Amongst all the nonesense advice I was trying to decipher what would be good steps to take, and I think the slightly more exp/high status teachers do have resp- of course. Bt I’ve started wondering if some of that shouldn’t just be about advice/observation? Of course these are important but can get a bit too much. Think the teach first and nqts in my dept get routinely observed about Once a fortnight, good but adding more isn’t necessarily best thing. I’ve started experimenting with team teaching even for short parts of the lesson – as my timetable is not that compatible with my mentee. The idea is to model things of course, but also to present to the students we are a united front, I hate the idea that some teachers have that their authority is compromised if shared. Also it means (I hope) the nqt feels not isolated… Im aware of risks in this, but its something just trying for a bit to evaluate. Would be interested in others thoughts on this.


  20. As an NQT mentor if either of my charges (I have 2) is having a bad day with behaviour I take it as my responsibility to step in, advise them and more often than not remove the pupils causing the trouble to my room (I teach Y6 full time and am the deputy head). It is a failing on my part if they are unable to teach the good lessons I know they have spent hours planning due to the poor behaviour of a few. My job is to ensure they get through the toughest year of their career – they will both be excellent teachers and it would be a travesty for the profession to lose them. Last year I started to mentor a failing NQT in her second term and by the end of the year she was deemed good with outstanding aspects – she just needed a break from behaviour and time to establish her own “teacher personality” and way of doing things. We wouldn’t expect children to know what to do without modelling first – so we have to do that for NQTs!!!


  21. […] How to Destroy NQTs […]


  22. […] at its nemesis, the ‘bad’ group. Old Andrew deftly describes how bad groups are created here. He says, “When you believe that behaviour results from your negative disposition you can […]



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