10 things I learned as a lazy NQT
I was a lazy newly-qualified teacher (NQT). While there were negative aspects to that, there were some definite positives too. I eased myself into teaching, churning out a steady run of "satisfactory" lessons in my first year. I was really well supported by a motivated, organised and inspirational teacher – if she was long-suffering she didn't let it show.
It was only after a good few years of teaching that I began to be a bit more ambitious and hard-working. By then, though, I'd actually embedded a way of working (derived from laziness) that has stuck. So what lessons did I learn from my initial laziness?
Weekends aren't for working
The summer before beginning my NQT year, I got together with my now-wife, who still had two years remaining at Birmingham University. Many a Friday I would rocket out of school to sit in traffic on the M6 and the M5. Many a late Sunday night I would blast back up, windows down, music blaring to keep myself awake. When I wasn't doing that, she was visiting me. Either way, there was no time for weekend working, which was a nice habit to get into.
Things can be done more efficiently
Laziness will always tempt you to make shortcuts. The real skill is finding the most direct route, however – not a shortcut. I learned that not everything needs laminating, not every wheel needs reinventing and that, importantly, one can always spend more time on preparation, often unnecessarily and with no improved impact on learning.
Being organised makes all the difference
My mentor and year group partner was hyper-organised and, although she was a bit over the top (separate drawers for each day's resources, all prepared a week in advance and ready to go), I learned how this approach certainly led to a life of comparative ease. I could go away for my weekends knowing that on Monday morning, everything would be there and ready. It took me a while to become this organised independently but that first year was when I saw its importance.
Life goes on after a bad observation
I had a few not-great observations which, after many positive ones at university (and the one that got me the job when I convinced a panel who had already decided 'no men' that I was the man for the job), came as a bit of a surprise. I wanted to improve, of course I did, and even though I was prone to laziness, it wasn't that I did no work at all. Thankfully, I was able to go easy on myself and didn't expect to be outstanding right away. This paved the way for a pragmatic outlook on observations: if something goes wrong, it's just an opportunity to learn and improve.
It's OK to leave work before 5pm
I was working in a school where that was acceptable. I'm sure sometimes it was frowned upon, but my lazy attitude meant that I didn't really care what others thought. If I couldn't think of anything that needed doing imminently then I wouldn't hang around. These days I often make tracks knowing that I'll set up shop again later at home – going early now means getting to spend time with my young family before bedtime.
Maintain non-school related hobbies and interests
In my NQT year I was not only in love with my future wife, I was also pretty into rollerblading and making music, particularly DJing. These were interests I shared with my best friend (who isn't a teacher) and we spent many a weekday evening pursuing these hobbies. With commitments like that, I was motivated to keep evenings free of work too. Inspired by this, I recently took up rollerblading again and promised myself that I would allow myself regular mid-week skatepark visits – so far, so good.
Kids can actually just get on with their work
Perhaps I shouldn't admit this, but sometimes in class I got quite bored of constantly sitting with a child or group of children. But because of this I soon realised that it was actually quite important for children to be able to work independently at times and that they didn't always need hand-holding. These days I often expect this independence of the children, although I ensure that I'm not idle whilst they're working.
Strong relationships with colleagues benefit everyone
Some of my time in school was spent socialising, especially in the morning before school began – this very morning I have spent time with two colleagues from my NQT year. It's good friendships like these that enabled us to work together so productively. We enjoyed it so much that the work didn't seem a drag at all. These friendships were also nurtured by many out-of-school social occasions. Although relationship dynamics in my current role as a leader are a little different, I believe there's a great deal of camaraderie that, far from being a distraction, means our time spent working collaboratively is highly productive.
PPA time is a time to work very hard
I'm not claiming that my NQT year was easy (perhaps the worst moment was almost being stabbed by a pupil – I was not at my best when I arrived in Birmingham that day), and I did work hard when it was needed. And I didn't waste a moment of PPA time. That was the time to really knuckle down, work together and get stuff done; the motivation was knowing that the more that was done in school, the less I would have to do later – I also just knew I wouldn't be able to do it at the weekends. Even now, my team and I, in a friendly environment where we often will break out and chat about other things, get our heads down and get the majority of the week's preparation done.
Being a teacher isn't a competition
Although I'm massively competitive with some things, as a lazy NQT I felt no inclination to outdo other teachers in any of the usual ways: amount of time spent at work, number of books taken home, inches of classroom wall covered and so on. Teaching was my job and I would do what I needed to do to keep it – not what was needed to score points against my colleagues or martyr myself. It was also something to be enjoyed and I didn't need competition to be fulfilled in my role.
I hope that these days I'm not seen as lazy and that I'm known as someone who works hard and gets stuff done. But I also hope that I'm seen to have a work-life balance and good level of wellbeing. I'm far from perfect but I am proof that you can do a good job without breaking yourself. And whilst many of my (what I like to think of as) efficient ways may be born of initial laziness, I no longer consider myself as a lazy person – just someone who has learned from the upsides of having once been one.