Friday, 15 June 2018

THE END

9 months.
24 weeks of school.
220+ hours of teaching.
Even more hours of planning. 
31,743 words worth of essays.

30 minute final tutorial...


...and QUALIFIED TEACHER STATUS.



This time last year I hadn't even applied to do my teacher training. Instead it came as a bit of last minute, whirlwind decision, and the entirety of the course has continued in that lightning (and sometimes tempestuous) fashion. When I started, I had all kinds of anxiety about teaching. Realising that lots of other trainees had already worked in schools, my experience of having actually been to school myself and doing some volunteering throughout university felt totally inadequate. I had no idea if I was going to like it, or be any good at it, or get eaten alive by teenage boys. I was already questioning why I was entering this profession that is presented so negatively in the media, being told that, statistically, I'd probably leave within the first 5 years. But it was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and 100% the best decision in terms of my career. 

I had planned to blog my way through this year, but it turns out you don't have a lot of free time when you're training to be a teacher, and somewhere between lesson planning, marking, essay writing and filling out a thousand different forms, this little space got lost. But here I am, now, in a post-PGCE pyjama and holiday packing day to think about what a year it's been. I've taught in two very different Inner London schools, and worked with some of the loveliest, most hardworking, funniest and naughtiest children I have ever met. Quickly, everything I'd read in Secret Teacher became nonsense, because my students weren't scary and I didn't fear them bringing knives in the classroom ('oooh not sure about teaching in London, there are gangs there); they were just children, most of whom genuinely want to do well, sometimes they just find it difficult to make the connection that success does involve them doing some work. So here's my year in a nutshell:

The first thing I was surprised by how quickly I became attached to the kids I taught. From genuinely rooting for a 15 year old boy who's worked really hard for his end of topic test, and then getting that YES! moment when you mark it, to wanting to take home some year 7 twins who are legitimately the cutest and most politest children you have ever met - it's astounding how much you care. The second was how important the people around you are. I had been told that your mentor makes your placement, and he/she does, but so does the guy in reprographics; the teacher who lends you her glue sticks; your fellow PGCE trainees who are only ever a WhatsApp away from some lesson slides or a huge rant; and the colleagues in your department who build you up and up, and never bring you down. It's not just about your classes, and your teaching, and your marking but being part of a supportive team and, most importantly, one with reasonable expectations. The third was that schools are weird and wonderful places. They are places where the colour of your pen has a huge influence on the meaning of your work, and where printing credit is like gold dust and the printing queue is the most stressful place you will ever find yourself. They are essentially all the same and, at the same time, completely different and, just when you think you know what's going on, you suddenly have no idea. And they are places which are so vulnerable to decisions made by others, often with no knowledge or experience of how they operate, what they need, and what their kids need. 

But perhaps the most important lessons I learnt were the ones I learnt, and then unlearnt (or am unlearning...). Teacher workload is an issue of huge concern and, before I started this course, I was told by so many teachers that your job is never done, there's always more, and that it's hard to stop. I thought to myself 'I'm pretty efficient...and are many jobs ever done? Is there not always more you could do?' But my god, you could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week really, really easily and still have actually significant things left to do. At the beginning of this year I said yes to everything; I have planned almost every single lesson this year from scratch and whilst I now have a some kick ass resources that I hope I will use again and again, there is no way I can do this sustainably when I'm a proper teacher with a proper timetable. I have promised myself that next year I will not do 7.15am starts and 6pm finishes, and working at home in the evenings and for most of the day on Sunday, and be more strict with myself - for my sanity, my health and some work-life balance. This does not mean, however, that I won't have to be physically restrained when someone says 'oh but you're a teacher, and you only work 9 - 3 and get all those holidays'. The next was about rapport. I knew the 'don't smile 'til Christmas rule' wasn't going to work for me, but throughout the year I learnt the enormous value of praise - and that, most of the time, praise > detentions. I learnt that I am not very scary, so good behaviour will need to from respect and a genuine desire to do well and be rewarded for it. This has, and will continue, to make my teaching a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.

The last was about the warning of evil academies: schools independent of local authorities with greater control over their admissions, and future development. Whilst I'm not going to be stepping into a huge academy chain where all the teachers look like investment bankers and the kids have to move between classrooms in silence like tiny robots any time soon, my experience suggested that state comprehensives are so poorly funded (particularly in the most deprived areas) in comparison to academies. Suddenly my opinion (based on no knowledge or experience) went from WHY THIS MOVEMENT TOWARDS THE PRIVATISATION OF EDUCATION to this is actually pretty well run; I have all the resources here that help me to be a good teacher; and the kids here have so many more opportunities. So whilst I don't claim to be an expert on the types and the funding of schools, it taught me to take it all with a pinch of salt. Try things out for yourself, see what happens and make your own decisions. 

All in all, it's been a hugely rewarding year. Part of me is glad to see the back of constant observation and essays in every school holiday, but the other part of me will miss all the support as I step into the big wide world (my own classroom) and find out what I'm really made of. Just before I started my teacher training a friend reflected on her own experience as 'the hardest but most amazing and hilarious and bonkers year of my life!!!'. 
I couldn't have put it better. 
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