One of the most pleasant things about this year so far is that I have felt supported rather than judged. As a trainee at my previous school, I felt constantly judged, criticised and isolated – whereas I have really been embraced and supported in my new school. I seem to have a queue of people wanting to help me – my mentor, my designated school “buddy”, my department, the NQT lead…the list goes on.
Last year, at every turn I was reminded that I was a trainee but this year I feel like I am treated as a teacher – a new teacher perhaps but a teacher nonetheless – and being treated as an equal by my co-workers has helped build up the self-belief which had been damaged last year.
It hasn’t been easy of course. Often, I have not been looking any further than the next day or the next lesson – bailing madly to stop the boat from sinking – and that has been tough. But as the weeks have progressed I have gradually found my feet.
Names helped a lot. At first, I knew the names of none of the students and that undermined my confidence and – in my mind anyway – my authority. Similarly, simply understanding exactly how the school sanction system worked helped. Even though I rarely had to use the serious end of it, the knowledge felt like a safety net, something which I could use and that helped me feel in control again.
As the weeks have gone by, I have learnt more about my classes, their abilities, their personalities, how they work and what they like. I have been able to plan better lessons and manage behaviour more effectively. I have learnt new teaching techniques which I am gradually learning to deploy effectively (my most recent one is that as a class becomes louder, to noticeably lower and slow my voice) and I can sense that my lessons are improving.
The advice from my mentor, NQT training lead and the headteacher to make sure to look after myself, my stress levels and mental health has also been both comforting and wise. Despite the daily pressures I’m learning to relax, sleep more and stress less and this has helped my teaching significantly. A fully rested Kevin with an incomplete PowerPoint lesson plan is a far better educator than a tired or stressed Kevin with the most polished lesson plan. I need to keep reminding myself that staying up till 2am lesson planning or marking books is actually not in the students’ best interests, despite what I sometimes feel.
“A fully rested Kevin with an incomplete PowerPoint lesson plan is a far better educator than a tired or stressed Kevin with the most polished lesson plan.”
Of course, the first half-term has not all been wonderful. I am substantially behind in my marking, I have had a student blow ups in different lessons, certain students misbehave in my lessons but not in other lessons, I have had angry parents on the phone, I have not established a proper homework routine, I have taught a number of very poor lessons and, last but not least, while working late one evening I got locked in the school after dark! [Helpful hint: always know where phone numbers for the maintenance team are!] But despite all that I’m still here.
So, if the first week or two felt like I was bailing madly in a sinking boat where am I now? Well I’ve certainly still got water up over my ankles and I’m bailing madly but the water level is gradually lowering and, while I’m sure I’ll hit a few rocks along the way, I am beginning to think I might survive the ride!
Kevin Shannon is an NQT secondary school teacher in Buckinghamshire