While this is an addition to my NQT series, it is equally an entry for the #DailyWritingChallenge, under the heading of ‘perseverance.’ November was a long, hard slog for me: not a month I will forget in a hurry for sure.
I moved out of my parents’ house, for that first taste of independence and to be closer to work, in the first week of November. For any future NQTs who may be reading, I do not recommend moving house in the autumn term of your NQT year (or any term of your NQT year, in all honesty!) At the time, I was blindly optimistic. My colleagues thought I was mad and I couldn’t understand why. I don’t think I quite understood the mental upheaval of a new job, a new house and the utter chaos to follow in the rest of the month.
“I spent the entirety of last week half-dead and consistently answering ‘no’ every time I was asked if I was feeling better.”11th November 2019
The first week of the month, I was so poorly. My voice came and went multiple times a day, I got through more tissues than I could buy without having my sanity questioned, and I fell asleep on my PPA. Luckily, dear reader, we take PPA at home at my school so I was spared the embarrassment of being passed-out in the staffroom!
But in the midst of that, there were pockets of the brightest sunlight. I was living independently for the first time (uni halls notwithstanding, because I existed there, I didn’t live) and my contract was extended to July instead of Easter. Future NQTs, I know it’s hard, but try not to be afraid of mat-leave cover contracts!
It’s hard to describe exactly how elated I was, despite feeling so rough, to hear that I would be able to see my class through to the end of the year. The Great Coronavirus Shutdown wasn’t even a possibility back then. I was thrilled – I could barely stay upright, my ears were ringing constantly and I didn’t have a voice with which to form a coherent and professional reply, but I was so, so happy.
“I wish I could tell her that I am somewhat better than the teenager who could barely finish a sentence without clamming up. I think she might have liked the woman I have become.“11th November 2019
Remembrance Day has been about more than my annual poppy since 2015, when my French teacher of Year 8 through to GCSE passed away, on the same day that we stood in silence at eleven o’clock in the sixth form common room. It hits me hard every year that every experience I have of her will forever become further in the past tense. She was a ray of sunshine, and a very special teacher. It’s almost worse now, knowing that I’ve built lovely friendships with some of my other former teachers but I can’t ever tell her that I made it not only through my frankly god-awful Y13 speaking exam, but into a career where I talk nearly all day.
“They agreed that some of my symptoms did match, although it was not the most convincing scarlet fever they had ever seen. Still, it was convincing enough to take swabs of the back of my throat – yuck – that were sent off to pathology at the hospital. I’m awaiting results and I can’t go back to work until it’s clear what’s wrong with me!”12th November 2019
NQT flu is relentless. From the throes of one bout of illness, possibly an actual flu, I found myself symptomatic of an actual notifiable disease. I won’t lie, that was a bit scary. Dr Google was not my friend, that evening.
Looking back to my diaries to document my November as an NQT, it’s looking more and more like the beginning of a particularly dramatic episode of Casualty. The part where some unsuspecting unlucky soul is wandering about their daily life until absolutely everything goes wrong all at the same time. Suddenly, they’re at risk of deportation, they’re suffering a terminal disease and then they’re hit by three buses in a row. Okay, maybe my November wasn’t that bad. But not even the BBC Writers’ room could invent that I’d move house, have the flu, get a brush with suspected scarlet fever, suffer the loss of the family dog, cry at work over children pretending to be ill and gloomily ask my mum down the phone if I was even cut out to be a teacher.
Oh, and on top of that, turn up to work every day and find a smile and a clutch of kind words for my class, then keep teaching them no matter what. That’s what your NQT year is for, I think: showing you exactly how much perseverance you’ve got in you to give. Day in, day out, all over the country, there are teachers having awful days, feeling like the world is falling apart around them. And I would put a substantial amount on ‘their’ children never being any the wiser.
“What if I’ve forgotten how to teach?”17th November 2019
I was away from school for three and half days following the scarlet fever scare, which turned out to be a false alarm in the end. But still, the Sunday night before returning, I was a mess. On reflection, it was the start of something bigger (oh, the joy of chronic and unpredictable mental illness) but at the time it was just a hyped-up edition of my usual Sunday worries.
Three and a half days felt like a very long time to be away – it felt similar to whaen I’d had a three week break in driving lessons and was convinced I had forgotten how to drive. Fortunately, in neither case did my catastrophising turn out to be the truth. I fell back into school routines and feeling my way around how to get my class making progress.
“I can’t decide whether I’m just finding NQT life really hard right now, whether I’m burning out or whether I’m relapsing into the clutches of GAD.”20th November 2019
The above comes from a diary entry written on a Wednesday. On the Thursday I cried in the toilets and on the Friday I finally put on the metaphorical ‘big girl pants’ and asked for help.
I did a lot of persevering in November, something that I see in sharp focus now but couldn’t see at the time. I knew the value of asking for help – I did enough of it at uni – but I unwisely thought at first that I had to deal with it on my own now. Graduated, qualified, hired – these three words had somehow convinced me that it was now weak to ask for help, and the ensnaring clouds of anxiety only cemented this belief.
But I could only persevere as much as I did because of the support that I had. You never really know how much someone needs a smile, a ‘good morning’ or a kind word. So give it, because the tiniest gestures can give people the strength to make it to a Friday evening put-you-back-together conversation in a hastily-tidied classroom as the last dregs of daylight fade from the garden outside the window.