Dip Diary 6 – Experience of recent NQTs

I’ve been receiving lots of messages from newly qualified teachers about completing the Dip/ Droichead process. I asked my followers to contribute to some guest blogposts on their personal experience of the dip/droichead process and to offer any advice to NQT’s. I was overwhelmed by the amount of teachers who agreed to answer a list of questions and I hope their experience will help with your NQT journey.

What course did you complete? When did you qualify?

I completed the PME with Hibernia College. I qualified in April 2017.

How did you find the job search?

Honestly I found the job search very disheartening. I applied for everything I could, post and email and spent a small fortune. After all that I only received one acknowledgment of receiving an application by email and no interview offers at all. However, towards the end of August 2017 I received a phone call from a principal in a school I had subbed in since I finished by degree. He was able to offer me a two month position starting from the beginning of the school year and I was absolutely thrilled. A week later he rang to say he actually had a longer position that would take me to December and I would be able to get the first half of my dip completed. After I had accepted this job I got a call from two other schools that I has subbed in and applied for to offer cover for parental leave for the first few weeks of school also. I explained the situation to both principals and they both said to get back in contact once the contract had ended.

Any advice for teachers currently job hunting?

My advice would be where possible to apply for everything that would be suitable for you. I have friends who took the big decision to move to a different county and that has worked out brilliantly for them, so that is absolutely another option. Personally I wanted to stay where I was to see if I could get a position here. I had all but given up hope that I would have anything the first year and I was happy to take what subbing I could get but it all worked out in the end. The majority of my class all got jobs in the last few weeks of August as well. The initial search is very hard but I found that at least applying puts you on the principal’s radar, especially if you have subbed in that school before. I have learnt that you just have to be patient and it all works out.

What role did you have? (If mainstream – what class?)

I had senior infants, a mixed class of 28. Initially I was due to finish with them at the Christmas holidays and would have the first half of my dip done. However, the teacher I was covering for decided to extend her maternity leave for another few months and I was very lucky to be able to complete my full dip with the one class and the same inspector.

Did you complete the traditional dip with an inspector or the Droichead process?

I completed the traditional dip with an inspector.

How did you find the process?

I really found the process to be very positive. There is a huge amount of work involved which I expected. However, I was lucky to have a great support system in the school, a really supportive inspector and I had myself very organized from the start of the year in terms of my planning. I generally tried to do a few weekly plans every evening. This meant that I usually had all of my planning for the next week completed by Thursday and on Friday I would print them all off and have them in my folder ready for the following week. I would complete the reflection on a Friday as well and then I would put the folders away and I would not look at the again until the following Monday. This system might not work for everyone but I was advised by everyone in the school to try and not leave everything until the weekend and to try and switch off then to recharge. I think this is what helped me to remain so relaxed during the dip process because I never allowed the work to get on top of me. I used the weekends to relax and catch up with friends and I wasn’t stressed going back in on Monday morning having spent the whole weekend trying to get everything covered. I set out an allocated time to get plans covered and that helped me to focus. Some days I did my planning at school and other days I preferred to do them at home. I worked very closely with the other senior infant teacher who was incredibly supportive. I never felt like I was a burden asking for help form any of the staff. I think if you are struggling or finding something difficult it is so important to ask for help or support. The first year is very daunting as everything is so new. There will always be someone there to help. I think it is so important as well to focus on getting to know your class at the start of the year. Find out what they like, where they struggle and plan to suit the needs of your class. Once you have the first few weeks done it will become second nature. I found I was much faster at my planning as the year when on. The inspector I had was also really helpful and kind. He wanted to help and he really focused on the positives. I was part of a facebook group with other students who had him. We were able to share tips and ideas and also track where he was! My principal sat in on our initial meeting and took notes. I found this so helpful as after I was focused on the one negative thing he said about handing out the books too early whereas the principal had an A4 page of all of the positive things he had said. I really found it to be a positive experience and not as daunting as I was expecting at all.

Did you have a mentor or a go-to person to support you in school?

I had amazing support from all of the staff in the school. I also had a brilliant mentor who would check in with me regularly. We set up meetings and she would go through anything I had a question about. She also gave great ideas on different activities I could use for particular topics. Maths was her strong subject while it was one I struggled a bit with, so she organized to come and visit my class one morning and teach a few different activities to the class. I learned so much from that alone and she brought so many brilliant resources that the class loved. One activity involved a large number line that lay across the floor. The class was able to use it to figure out different the answers to different games and it made it really visual and active for them. The inspector happened to be there for one maths lesson that we were using the number line and he loved that all of the children were able to take turns getting up and down and moving around the room. He also liked that it was so big that everyone could see it and that kept them engaged. My mentor was also a big advocate of ensuring I took the weekends off and took time for myself in the evenings. I rarely took correcting home as I tried to correct during the day or in the last hour when my class were gone. My mentor bought me a date stamper which was a godsend because my inspector was very particular about all work being corrected. So if I was having a particularly busy day, with lots of correct and I didn’t have time to write a comment or put a sticker on everything I was able to use the date stamper as acknowledgement that I had seen and corrected the work.

What was the most difficult part?

Initially I found it hard trying to get everything covered in the day. As the infant day is so short I found that I wasn’t always able to cover everything I had planned that day. I learned very quickly though that I wasn’t always going to be able to stick to my plans religiously and I had to be flexible. This helped me to relax a bit more and we always got what we needed covered. I also struggled at the start with “teacher guilt” as my mentor called it. For example I didn’t get to hear everyone’s news one morning. Or I didn’t get to listen to all of the reading for each group. Or I spent longer at the art Aistear table and didn’t really get to see the full role play group. My mentor was very quick to explain that all teachers feel that and it is just a case of maybe spending longer with a different group the next day. Or only asking for news from one group a day and then giving them 30 seconds to whisper their news to the person next to them if they didn’t get to share it that day. These were all great learning curves and it definitely helped me to relax and enjoy my time with the class even more.

How many hours did you do preparing/planning etc.?

I tried to spend just at least an hour in the evenings after school or at home doing plans for the following week. Sometimes it might take a bit longer depending on what had to be done. This helped to make it far more manageable for me. I was still able to have some of the evening for myself and as previously mentioned I tried to have it all done before the weekend so I was able to switch off completely. I completed the long terms and Cuntas bit by bit, alongside by weeklies to make them more manageable also. I came to school early in the morning and did all of my set up then and had all of the books I needed for the day ready. If I had any photocopying to do I would try and do that the afternoon before, usually when my class had gone home. This helped to avoid the queue for the photocopier the next morning.

How did you find the weekly planning? Any tips for NQT’s?

Once I got into my routine I found them quite manageable. I used the NCCA planning tool and worked alongside the other senior infant teacher to discuss topics we were going to cover. We worked side by side so we were able to share resources and ideas. The weekly plans were really helpful to focus on what was going to be covered that particular day. Like I previously mentioned I used to allocate time to complete them in the evenings, print everything and file them on a Friday and take the weekend to recharge. If I had made any changes or added anything a particular week I used to write them onto my plans. My inspector was very happy with that as he referred to them as a “working document” and liked to see adjustments to them as this was real life teaching.

What resources/websites/blogs etc. did you find most helpful?

I used Twinkl a lot for resources. Starfall was great for movement breaks and activities to tie in with a topic we were covering for example shape in maths. We used Go Noodle regularly and they loved that. Class Dojo was hugely successful and we used that for classroom management. On a rainy day if they couldn’t get outside for break time they used to love listening to a story from Storyline OnlinePinterest was also good for art ideas.

I found LittleMissTeacherBlog excellent on Instagram for ideas for the infant classes, especially Aistear.

What advice would you give to a NQT?

My big advice is just to try and enjoy the year. You have done all the hard work during college and this is the time to really put it all into practice. Try not to let the dip/Droichead/NQT year to consume you and take over. Try and get as organized as possible from the start and the will set up a nice routine to follow. Take time for yourself at the weekends and make time to catch up with your friends and family. I always tried to get to the gym or go out for a walk to really clear my head. Getting a good night’s sleep is so important as well.  If something goes wrong one day or a lesson doesn’t go to plan then try not to dwell on it. Every day isn’t going to be perfect but you are doing your best. I think everyone is critical of themselves and I am definitely guilty of focusing on the negatives over the positives but usually you are being far too hard on yourself. Take on board what your inspector or mentor says. Take on their good advice and try to incorporate in if possible but listen to all of the things they are telling you that you are already doing well. Build up a good rapport with the class and parents if possible. Try to get to know your class as much as possible and if they want to spend a bit longer sharing news one day then that is ok. I used to make sure I said good morning to everyone as they were coming in and tried to ask about something that happened the day or weekend before. For example a birthday party, their lost tooth, their cousins coming to visit etc. It shows them that you are interested and it will help them relax and feel comfortable with you also. Remember it is also a big change for them having a new teacher, a new classroom and a new routine. They need a little adjusting time too. Enjoy the year, be proud of your achievements so far and take time for yourself!