This is the second in my series of NQT Year blogs, looking back and reflecting on each month. Now, October, where I tried to keep afloat, sometimes with success and other times with less than that…
“[My headteacher] told me today that I’m smiling again.”Tuesday, 1st October 2019
As the leaves began to change, so did I. Nothing was perfect, in fact most things were far from, but I began to find my feet. It didn’t seem quite so impossible to make a lesson happen for twenty-nine children, multiple times a day. And it was a whole lot less impossible for me to see myself as their teacher.
I hadn’t noticed quite how gruelling the month of September had been, until it was noted on the first day of October that my smile had returned.
I’m not a stranger to what my mum and I once labelled ‘black, spiky days’ and certainly as a sixth-form and university student, the days when I didn’t feel much like smiling seemed to stick in my head more than those when I did. So to hear that my smile was back, as though it was a defining characteristic of mine, meant the world.
But such is the magic of a classroom, and to explain this to someone who doesn’t work in a school or with children is a very hard thing. In my Year 1 class, there was warmth even on days when I was tearing my hair out. A sentence where every word sat on the line. A skip across the playground to ask for a milk bottle to be opened. A last hug before hometime. PE pumps on the right feet, first time. A line that didn’t dissolve into a rabble on the way to assembly. (Granted, this one was few and far between, even as late as March!) As I got into my stride, I found more and more reasons to smile.
“I’ve spent the majority of this weekend horizontal or close to it… Sunday night blues have well and truly taken hold, prompted mostly by my sore throat and the fact I’ve done very little in the way of my to-do list.”Sunday, 6th October 2019
NQT flu came back to bite me, and I can reflect now on what I didn’t put into words at the time. Presenteeism, or dragging oneself into work when perhaps you aren’t fit to, is rife across the UK, particularly among teachers. In October I was coming to terms with this: it was part of a lot of growing up that happened that term, to realise that a vital skill in the staffroom is putting on that mask of ‘The Teacher’ and not removing it until you’ve got the entire school day or a closed staffroom door behind you.
Future NQTs, you’re going to spend the Autumn term poorly and despite all the wonder of your first classroom, you’re going to spend a fair chunk of time wishing you could crawl back to bed. Stock up on Lemsip, stay hydrated and never turn down a cup of tea if one happens to be offered.
“I don’t know what to do; I should have handled it better. I’m just… I don’t even know. But I’m anxious about it.”Tuesday, 8th October 2019
In my sixth week, I had to deal with a behaviour incident that I felt woefully unprepared for. I guess that most teachers have had to deal with this kind of incident and had to deal with their own swirling internal monolgue, at some time or other. Looking back, I was right – I should have handled it better than I did. But if I could go back to that day, I would tell myself that I didn’t do a disastrous job of it. I’d also repeat something that I’ve heard multiple times since, that there’s nothing that cannot be fixed. Nothing ever got worse by virtue of the problem being shared with a trusted other.
“I bounced back. Despite a horrible start it was a lovely day.”Thursday, 10th October 2019
Panic, my regular adversary, began to creep into my working life in October. I temporarily felt that I had failed. I thought that I could not possibly do a good job if I wasn’t always perfectly in control. Another problem that was greatly reduced by talking about it. Panic may have worked its way in like smoke under a door, but I also found ways to block it out, that were usually somewhat successful. It is easy as an NQT (at any point in the year) to spend so much time in teacher-mode that you forget to nurture what made you that teacher in the first place. You have to find a way to reclaim some time for yourself and cherish that time when you make it.
“The lesson observation was not a disaster!”Tuesday, 15th October 2019
If you don’t know what catastrophising is, then lucky you. If you do, then I challenge you to have been anywhere near my level of skill, in the moments before I received the feedack on my first observed lesson as an NQT. Despite her calm demeanour, I was more than half-convinced that my mentor was a maximum of three seconds away from launching into a furious list of everything that I had done disastrously wrong, a list which would surely culminate in zapping me to an alternate universe to be punished for all eternity.
Unsurprisingly, this was not the outcome. NQT mentors are not usually out to get you, and fortunately for me, my mentor does not (yet) possess the ability to vapourise people (which I’m sure she’s sometimes quite disappointed about.)
Everything as an NQT, and I suspect beyond this too, is something to learn from or build upon. It may be a staple of the Teachers’ Standards, but it’s not there for no reason, the line about advice. When advice comes your way, take it. You can always work with it and tweak it later, but take it.
“Hope Park is beautiful in autumn. I’d forgotten quite how small and lovely it is, and the raw beauty of it when the air is crisp and the sound of the bells drifts across campus.”Tuesday, 22nd October 2019
I built some strong relationships with university tutors in my time at Hope, so it was a great pleasure to go back to visit in my first half-term holiday. I had made it through a half-term and I was seriously pleased! It was very weird though, to be back and to feel mildly out of place on the campus I’d spent much of the last three years on.
I saw myself at the time as having come a long way from the anxious university student my tutors had known before the summer. And it is true, I was very different from the girl who balked at any conversation she hadn’t had time to think about first! But looking back in this way, first at September’s diaries and now October’s, I had not realised that I was still changing. I now suspect that I will barely recognise myself when my NQT year comes to a close.
“I don’t want to look back on this period and think that I only felt tired and ill all the time. Obviously I’ve felt both of those, but it would be a crime to forget the pure joy I’ve felt too.”Sunday, 6th October 2019