I love a bit of good advice

Thursday 5th January, 2023

I'm on the cusp of starting a new career and with a mixture of nerves and excitement about what's to come it has made me reflect on the last time I started a new job and what I experienced. The last time I was in this situation was as a newly qualified teacher but now, years later I'm moving on to a new venture.

When starting my career as a teacher, I was optimistic about what was ahead and ecstatic that after completing my training had bagged my first proper teaching job. It was after a 'lucky' tip (in hindsight I don't know if I'd call it luck.) The tip came from the headteacher of the school where I had my last placement. His 'mate' as he put it was hiring at the school he was Head at. He put me in contact, and after a phone call I was asked to interview and then after the interview (where I didn't need to teach a lesson) …yes, I am that amazing, I got the job.

Now, I was just thrilled to get a job and not worry about going to interview after interview. If I were to give any advice to new teachers it would be to maybe question an interview process that starts with a mate recommendation and doesn't require them to see the skills you have, which essentially is teaching children. Strange management style.

As a new teacher, you may be qualified, you may have endless enthusiasm, tricks up your sleeve, dreams of the amazing displays you are going to create and the children who will love you from day one whilst rainbows and fairy dust sparkle around your head. The reality of being responsible for your own class is very different.

My first year consisted of lots of blagging it, pretending like I knew what I was doing and what levels EVERY child was at, crying, and trying to avoid any staff member on a management level as much as possible. If you don't talk to them then they might not work out you don't have a clue.

Newly qualified teachers, although qualified still have to pass the first year of teaching. To do this you are assigned a mentor to support you throughout the year and they sign you off at the end.

To say I was mentored in my first year would be quite a loose phrase because the person attached to me as a mentor I wouldn't want advice from on how to make a cup of tea, let alone how to become a good teacher and support children. But hey ho you work with what you've got and luckily, I was grouped with two other new teachers. We ended up forming an alliance and managing ourselves which I must say was much more successful.

My first year had some fantastic moments and the team I worked with was what made me stay as long as I did, however, there were a few things that year which were:

Number one; Having to arrange and run a school trip for thirty 6-year-olds to the local RNLI station. If you want to get those anxiety levels rising then this is a good one.

I had been teaching my class for 4 weeks, that's only 20 days. I was responsible for getting them on and off public transport NOT a private coach, taking them near open water and getting them on a boat. To top this off having a group of parent helpers join along for the day, which as lovely as parents can be you don't need to have them watch you 'lead' a group of children you've just about learned the names of. The fear of being judged was on another level and believe me there are absolutely parents that go on school trips to judge the teacher rather than be there to support them. Over time you also realise parents like to go as it's a day out for them, that's nice…just an extra person to look after, lovely.

Luckily, I survived the first trip, with no lost children, injuries or deaths. A win. But I'm pretty sure this situation could have been made easier with support from more experienced staff.

As the year progressed, I gained more understanding of what teaching entails. The good and the bad. You work out quickly who you like to work with and who you don't or who supports and who doesn't.

Some of my favourite 'supportive' statements from the leaders at the time included:

"What PPA! When I was a class teacher, we didn't have PPA" (PPA is the time all teachers are entitled to time out of class to plan) This statement was a response to any member of staff whose time had been messed up or cancelled.

Cheers for that, guess I'll plan in my sleep.

Another classic was…

"Well, I had a child once who got up on the roof, I just got a chair and sat and had a cup of tea waiting for him to come down."

Of course you did! I absolutely believe that when you were a teacher you sat on a chair waiting for one child to get off a roof. Now I'm not sure if this little anecdote was a suggestion of what I should do when I have a child that leaves the classroom or if they just felt like bragging about their skills, I wonder where the rest of their class was whilst having a cup of tea? And how they kept their job.

All I wanted was some advice on how to support a child who was finding being in class difficult. As you can see, I received it.

It was a classic 'in my day…' story, but to be nice to this person I didn't think they were that old.

As time went on, like in all jobs you settle in and learn how everything works and importantly you learn the politics of the staff and management. Fortunately, I learnt a lot from the talented teachers and staff I worked with at different points and like many places, management came and went, spreading joy to all.

I never went into teaching thinking I would be in the classroom still at sixty, but I also didn't expect to be leaving it after a relatively short time either. Sadly, the amount it took from me was not worth it in the end and I had to make a change.

So, as I'm about to start a new chapter, although exciting, it's daunting to be starting anew and I'm sure like most people I hate feeling like I don't know what I'm doing. Hopefully, I will have better advice and guidance than what I received from my mentor as a new teacher. But, maybe having the oddballs in workplaces is what makes it interesting, I guess - what else are you going to bitch about in the staff room?

Maybe one day I will get to be the person that tells someone an 'in my day' story whilst wearing leather trousers. I can only hope.

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always has been, always will be