Saturday, 6 May 2017

10 Things I Still Do Today That I Learned As A Lazy NQT

I was a lazy NQT - that's for sure. And whilst there were negative aspects to that there were 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 and 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 seems to have stuck.

So, what long-lasting lessons did I learn from my initial laziness?

1) Weekends Aren't For Working - the summer before beginning my NQT year I got together with my now wife and she still had two years remaining at Birmingham Uni. Many-a Friday saw me rocket out of school to sit in traffic on the M6 and the M5 (oh, that terrible junction). Many-a late Sunday night saw me blasting back up, windows down, music blaring to keep myself awake. When I wasn't doing that, she was visiting me. There was no time for weekend working -  a nice habit to get into.

2) Things Can Be Done More Efficiently - laziness will always tempt one to make shortcuts. The real skill is finding not shortcuts but the most direct routes. I learned that not everything needs laminating, not every wheel need reinventing and that, importantly, one can always spend more time on preparation, often unnecessarily and with no improved impact on learning.

3) Being Organised Makes All The Difference - as mentioned 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.

4) Life Goes On After A Bad Observation - as mentioned I had a few not great observations which, after much more positive ones at uni (and the one that got me the job which 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 its not like I did no work at all. Thankfully, for whatever reason, I was able to go easy on myself and didn't expect myself 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. 

5) It's OK To Leave Work Before 5pm - perhaps I was working in a school where that was acceptable, although 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.

6) 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 in to rollerblading and many aspects of 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 that I wanted to keep 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.

7) 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.

8) Strong Relationships With Colleagues Benefit Everyone - some of my time in school was spent socialising, especially in the morning before school began. I have this very morning spent time with two colleagues from my NQT year (now happily married) and it's good friendships like these that I think 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 (and banter) that, far from being a distraction, means our time spent working collaboratively is highly productive.

9) 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 Birmngham that day!) - I did work hard when it was needed. And waste a moment of PPA time I did not. That was the time to really knuckle down, work together and get stuff done; the motivation was of course 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 together and get the majority of the week's preparation done.

10) Being A Teacher Isn't A Competition - although I'm massively competitive with some things, as a lazy NQT I felt no inclination do 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 to martyr myself in the sight of others. It was also something to be enjoyed and I didn't need competition to be able 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 levels of wellbeing. I know I'm far from perfect but if anything, I would like to be living proof that one can do a good job without breaking oneself. 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.

And then, after writing all of this, I begin to doubt myself and worry about how it does look to others. But teaching does that to you - have to ignore the constant feelings of guilt...


  1. I found this really interesting, Aidan! I am someone who I have to say has never been lazy, and in my NQT year I think I risked working far TOO hard and exhausting myself. I considered quitting around Christmas, and promised myself that if I still felt as drained by Easter I WOULD resign, but actually by Easter I felt a bit better, by the start of my second year MUCH better, and in fact I ended up staying in the profession for 30 years, and I think I got better and better at getting the balance right, even though I always worked hard (hardest of all when I was a head).

    It is about finding a sustainable way of working that suits you, your family and friends, and I'm glad that you learnt so much in that first year which stood you in good stead as the years passed. I ABSOLUTELY agree with your comment: "I would like to be living proof that one can do a good job without breaking oneself." It has to be possible or the profession really is in trouble.

    And it's clear from your writing that you are now FAR from lazy, but you do have a sense of proportion and perspective that will make you a better teacher and a better leader (and perhaps a really good head in due course....) Rereading this comment, I realise I may have overdone the CAPITAL letters!

    1. Thanks for this comment - very encouraging for me!

      I realise we all have different starting points - definitely not saying mine was the best but I think however our career has gone it is worth reflecting on it and learning lessons from it.

      I'm definitely not lazy any more (I hope) but I think I am quite efficient and I dislike pointless stuff that some schools seem to do!

      I discovered this quote after I wrote this (someone in a totally unrelated conversation mentioned it) but it seems pertinent:

      Bill Gates — 'I will always hire a lazy person to do a hard job, because they will always find an easy way to do it'