Stepping Up

It’s been a school year that started on extremely wobbly foundations – think of a jenga tower missing a few blocks, perched atop a base of soft sand. By October half term, the sand had washed away and the jenga tower collapsed in a heap. I was not in a good way.

Initially then, I coped very badly with the transition from being newly qualified, that safety blanket I had clung to. Am I ‘recently qualified’ now, having graduated in 2019 and spent a total of two and a half years in the classroom? Or am I (and I use this word loosely, knowing its potential for offence or damage) ‘just’ a teacher now, with no preface to cushion my perceived inexperience? I’m still very much the baby of my school, being the youngest on a staff with several members whose grown-up children are my age. But while I’m the baby teacher (a label I don’t give myself pejoratively, it’s in jest and I do like the occasional mothering I receive!) I’m no longer the least experienced now that we have an ECT on the team. And I may perceive inexperience in my practice, but when I look at my teaching without self-deprecation or judgement (not a common experience) there has been so much change and progress from when I started out. It feels like there is an element of muscle memory now: I have teaching habits that are comfortable grooves to fall into. Turns of phrase when I’m questioning, knowing who to question and when, and strategies for ‘attention-getting’ (a very US-phrase I will admit, but it’s more succinct than ‘those things you do to get everyone’s attention when they’re on task or just loud!’) It’s not all uphill anymore.

With all that said, please do not think that I arrogantly rest on my laurels, thinking I know how to teach! I’m still working on EVERYTHING. Well, not quite. That’s the self-deprecation talking. My headteacher puts it better when she says there are ‘tweaks’ needed – that muscle memory is okay, now it’s about refinement, learning the little changes that experience and advice can teach. Which sounds simple enough, until I reach the point in a lesson where it’s my choices that define whether I will attempt to enact one of these ‘tweaks’.

A gravel path with grass all around, that splits in a left and right fork. In the distance there are tall pine trees. In the foreground there is a brown signpost.
Photo by James Wheeler on

It’s like being at a fork in a path: I can remain in the familiar, comfortable groove of muscle memory or I can step outside it and try a different way of doing things. At first it feels like driving in the wrong gear or writing with my left hand instead of my right. It will become new muscle memory eventually. Won’t it?

The next part of stepping out of that bracket of ‘newly qualified’ is something I have looked forward to and feared in equal measure since choosing my degree specialism. I find myself the fledgling subject lead for languages in my little village school, meaning I’m now responsible for the French curriculum in school and its delivery. MFL has been my selling point for a long time, so it’s incredibly exciting to know I’ve reached one of my huge personal goals in becoming responsible for it.

I’m proud of myself: long-time readers of my blog will be aware of the immense struggles I once had in French lessons at school (among others) and the crushing anxiety that had me wondering whether I was cut out for teaching at all, never mind subject leadership. The idea that I’d grow up to be any kind of leader is every shade of brilliant.

The imposter syndrome is real, of course. Would I be me, if it packed up and left? But when I’m filling in a curriculum map and deciding which elements of the scheme of work fit best with my vision of MFL in our school, I have to take a step back and check myself. There is no imposter here. I (sometimes) know what I’m doing and I don’t have to feel insecure in my ability to do it.

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