Inside the NQT classroom: A roaring observation fail

A teacher’s job is unique in that it brings great stress yet reward and humour. Though the humour found in the classroom is more likely to be appreciated on reflection as opposed to during the moment. As any teacher will confess, this is magnified enormously during your NQT year. The first few weeks as a new teacher can be overwhelming but exciting, however, once the shine of the new school year has slightly dulled and the dark days of autumn take root term one can be tough. There is a quick realisation that work life balance does not exist as everything blurs into a mirage of meetings, trainings, assessments and lesson observations. Nothing appears to go to plan and the unexpected also seems to show its face at the worst possible time.

The initial experience of failure or the perception of failure can sit deep and heavy as a dull pain in the pit of your stomach. It clouds your judgement and tarnishes the perfection you seek but before you register with a recruitment agency I can assure that your current experiences are merely the foundation building for a possible long and successful career.

I cannot say that the start of my NQT year was set up in the best possible way. I was timetabled between two departments and my classroom was not in the safe comforts of the main building surrounded by colleagues but outside in a pod of mobile units. I was attached to one of my subject leaders and across from my other subject leader’s long term ally. There was a no bell system and behaviour support was limited and any behaviour issues were seen as the fault of the teachers’ teaching.

I’ll start with the strangest but not most memorable of my classroom fails. The class was a top set but they were my most difficult. Behaviour was erratic and challenging and they quickly became my highest detention issued class. I can’t say it was all bad as there was a strong core of great students who just wanted to learn. However, the stars aligned and this class were chosen for my final NQT observation by one of my subject leaders. The words “nervous” and “terrified” were understatements. It felt as though my entire career hinged on ensuring that I could make progress with the majority of the group in sixty minutes without anything crazy happening. The day came, and then the lesson and it started surprisingly smooth.

The first part of the lesson was fantastic. There was a good interaction amongst the pupils, my toughest boys were participating and class discussion was provoking and challenging. It was pleasing to see how the pupils respected the situation and it demonstrated a year of hard work setting a positive classroom culture. In the mist of my enteral sunshine a noise from the middle of the class roared out piercing the tranquil learning environment. At first I thought it was merely a figment of my imagination until it roared again this time bringing the cascading laughter of hyenas. I shuddered as reality began to creep in that my notorious pupil for causing a year of sleepless nights had reared her head. She was now standing up with her arms tucked up imitating a velociraptor. My career began to crumble under each of her steps as she moved stealthily around the classroom and then stood firmly in front of my subject leader.

This was a moment of truth. Will my dinosaur pupil respond compliantly to my subject leader and return to her seat or will she continue to roam about her new domain? The standoff lasted for a few seconds before the mighty raptor roared loudly and scurried under a desk. The next ten minutes were surreal as school security and senior leaders poured into my classroom to end my nightmare. My dinosaur did not go quietly or easily but she soon was removed. I can’t say normality reasserted itself but I was able to complete the end of the lesson with somewhat success.

As the pupils were dismissed I watched them leave one by one thinking that this was the end. My subject leader sat me down and said little. There was no mention of our prehistoric friend or the ensuing armada of school support. Our meeting ended but my career did not. The horror of the lesson fail helped me grow as a teacher. Not as a one off incident but as part of a series of experiences that helped to shape my approach to teaching. Each good and bad experience has added a new layer of learning and richness to my understanding of pedagogy, behaviour and school in general.

By adopting a fixed mindset you ignore the importance of reflection and learning from those moments in moulding your teaching practice. I firmly believe that my dinosaur observation fail and the many other moments of what seemed like failure has helped and enriched me as a teacher. However you cannot make improvements to your practice working in a silo. The working relationships and trust you build with colleagues is necessary to truly reflect on your performance. It can be difficult and sometimes you may feel exposed but like vocal coach or sports manager their feedback can provide the marginal gains to help you develop key habits to make the right improvements.

My short message to all new teachers is to stay positive and keep learning as each good or bad moment in the classroom makes the next one brighter.