Diary of an NQT: GCSE apathy – already!

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We’re still in September, but our NQT diarist is already contending with apathy from some year 11 students...

As we hit the half-way mark of our first half-term, I can’t quite believe how quickly the time is going. At this point, we’re in full swing of lessons, marking and planning.

Hopefully, as an NQT, you’ll be finding yourself settling into certain procedures; I’m finding that slowly but consistently, each of the respective routines are falling into place.

In particular, I’m enjoying tailoring lessons to my own teaching style. There’s a definitive satisfaction knowing that you’ve spent time and energy on researching strategies that you really think will help embellish your students’ knowledge.

Generally, the lessons I’m delivering are being received well. However, I’ve been hit with an obstacle that I didn’t anticipate quite this early in the year: GCSE apathy. It seems that no matter how hard I try or how many hours are spent trying to challenge and push my year 11 students, I’m being met with serious idleness. It’s discouraging to say the least.

I am working in the school I trained in last year, so I have retained my previous year 10 class and am able to see them through to the end of the GCSE course. Last year, they were my favourite class to teach. They were not an easy group – many had been tarnished with the “naughty” label, some had built a good relationship with their year 9 teacher and so came to me with a rather angry vendetta.

As the year progressed, I felt that they were appreciating my efforts more and more and it just seemed to “click”. I could see their potential and tried my best to relate to them. We left on a pretty successful high.

However, since being back, the climate of the class has changed completely. Some have returned dispirited and uninterested and I feel like the constant rhetoric and pressure of GCSE seems to be breaking them.

One student in particular has become a serious concern. It seems to be a build up of minor issues that are wasting valuable learning time. Missed homework, little to no contribution and completing the bare minimum of work just to get by. It’s a complete contrast to how they performed last year.

Despite it being so early in the term, I have thought carefully over the last week about how to approach this. I weighed up the option of waiting the situation out and hoping it will improve.

However, how much of this was just me subconsciously not wanting to confront the issue? It would certainly be easier for me to allow this student to coast through the next couple of months. It would be a quieter life to just carry out in-class sanctions and be done with it.

But before we knew it, the time would be upon us – and I really don’t want to have any regrets come the first GCSE results day. Knowing I could have done more would really plague me, and as it’s my first GCSE class, I want to set expectations high both for me and my students. And so, I decided to nip it in the bud and contact parents.

This was the first time I’ve had to prepare myself for a tricky conversation and it is a scary prospect for all new teachers to contend with. I don’t think anybody particularly enjoys the confrontation, but as my mentor noted, it is an inevitable that we will all have to face. She also noted that in the clear majority of cases you can communicate your concerns much more sensitively over the phone as opposed to an email.

Luckily, the parents were supportive and understood my viewpoint and together we’ve formulated some strategies to help this particular student. It’s also a huge weight lifted knowing that whatever the result, I’ve covered all bases and taken the measures expected of a teacher – and that really is all we can do.

I’ve realised this week how important it is to remember that no matter how we feel towards our classes, we must maintain the responsible adult role. I’ve been afraid of being known as the “bad guy” and I’ve let a number of students drop from my radar. So this will be a major focus for me over the next few weeks and I’m feeling much more confident in my ability to reach out to parents when it is necessary – the one thing I’d been dreading the most!

  • Our NQT diarist this year is an English teacher at a comprehensive school in the Midlands.


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