#DailyWritingChallenge – Trust

There have been better days than today, and I am sure that better days are coming. Today, not even a run was enough to clear my head, so I guess that leaves me waiting it out. I have to trust that it will get better.

How is it even possible to feel burnt out by lockdown? The whole world has hit the pause button – and I think it’s the enormity of this that has hit me like a bus today. Ironically, I may have crumbled under self-heaped pressure to be productive every day. Exactly what I wrote about being a horrible idea, just a few days ago.

But I have to remind myself that it’s just one day, and tomorrow may well be better. I should be an old hand at this by now, trusting in the reappearance of Good Days!

Instead of writing all doom and gloom, the rest of this entry is centred firmly and positively around today’s prompt of ‘trust’ and what that means to me as a teacher.

Trust – A firm belief in the reliability, truth or ability of someone or something.

As a Year One teacher, it is a huge privilege to know that my children hold this value of me. It is remarkable how quickly some children can form a trusting relationship, on the basis that even at their young age they know that teachers are good people and to be trusted. I know this isn’t the case for all children; for many children it is something that must be earned, which can take a while. But once it is earned, it is a precious, precious thing.

My first placement saw me in charge of a class in an inner-city school in Liverpool. I hold memories of that class dear, for all that they taught me and all that they opened my naive, eighteen-year-old eyes to the real world. Year Four can be a powerful place.

Over the course of that placement, I worked frequently with one particular child. (Oh, the joy of only teaching one lesson per day and having the opportunity to work 1:1 so often!) I’ll call her Annie for the purpose of this blog, purely so she’s not reduced to a number or a letter, but she remains unidentifiable. Annie was a very sweet girl, all pigtails and sparkling eyes and hair clips to perfectly match the school uniform colours. She was quiet too; perhaps spotting this is what drew me to her. She was also near the bottom of the class, though not for lack of trying. She worked hard but just couldn’t understand maths, just couldn’t put her ideas in order and on the paper in English. Her lack of self-belief was crippling – after a few lessons I could see that she just didn’t think there was any chance she could get it right, so she was too worried to put pencil to paper. I saw a bit of myself in her, though I’d been much older when that fear took over.

Most student teachers will identify with being regularly stationed with the “bottom group” and now I’m an NQT, I understand why. While it’s a great opportunity to learn to explain concepts as simply as possible, as a teacher if I’ve got a spare pair of hands in the room and children who still don’t ‘get it’ then I will use everything I’ve got to get those children to the finish line. It might take longer and those children might take a different route, but now I have a class and a similar group of my own, I know I will do anything to try and get them there.

So in a lot of maths lessons, I was on this table of children, and while I tried to balance my time, I often ended up with Annie more than the others because she came unstuck nearly every lesson.

I remember the first time I saw her cry in frustration and humiliation over not understanding, and it reminded me so strongly of my sixth-form self that from there the fire in my belly was lit. Even if it would just be for one lesson, come hell or high water Annie would trust me and she would get through at least some of the work, or I would die trying.

I was a passionate first year student, barely out of the aforementioned sixth-form, so forgive the dramatics.

I can’t remember what I said exactly. I think I channelled the things my mum would say to me in similar situations. What I do remember is pulling out a pile of plastic cubes and not giving up until Annie had answered the question. We got there, and her smile and palpable relief cemented for me there and then, this was the job I was born to do.

There were not always tears, but maths remained difficult. She was a determined girl though, and she worked so hard. She often looked to me for help in subsequent lessons, and oftentimes the help needed was not mathematically demonstrative at all. Sometimes it was enough to remind her that she knew enough to try, and she knew that I would always be around if she still got stuck.

I hope I will always remember her. Tucked away safe, I have a hand-drawn card from Annie, shyly presented (as was her way) to me on my last day.

Thank you for helping me in maths.

Trust was reciprocal in this situation – Annie eventually trusted me a lot, something I knew from the reduction of maths-related tears. I trusted her too, always, becasue I knew she could do it, I just needed her to trust herself.

So often, trust goes both ways, and it can be earned by the smallest of acts which carry enormous significance. In making a teacher, the blueprint would be incomplete without a liberal sprinkling of it. Trust makes the world (or at least, the world created in the classroom) go round.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Emotions

While the prompt for today is ‘Emotions’, I could easily have titled this entry Everything is up in the air and it’s not much fun. Emotions are raw at the moment, and I’m sure that’s not just the case for me. But what is the case for me, is a huge shift in my emotions that is nothing to do with coronavirus.

I have always been shy and quiet, but this came to a head in 2016, my A2 exam year, when I was finally medicated for my mental health. At the time it was a relief, to finally be taken seriously and be recognised that something wasn’t right. But since then the medication, the very thing keeping me level, has a strange power to become a source of anxiety all of its own. It’s a scary thing to wonder if these mysterious pills have completely stopped having their intended effect, something which I have experienced three or more times in the last four years. Uncertainty is a very difficult thing to deal with, as is the overwhelming sense of failure that comes with the process of coming off one medication to be started on another. Why couldn’t these be the right ones? Why couldn’t I just have managed a bit longer on these? Why can’t I just function without them to begin with?!

Before this blog descends into an all-out war against my brain, mental healthcare options and the pharmaceutical industry, I’ll return to my point.

Before I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I didn’t cry so often. Since being noticeably more anxious, I’ve been liable to being teary, but I’ve been mostly on a level. Now that a global pandemic has come into play, I’ve reached new heights. Coronavirus has stolen my sense of stability; I knew where I was up to before all this came along!

This morning, I made my weekly trip to the supermarket. I was thrilled – my effort to get up earlier than usual was rewarded by not having to queue to enter the shop. However, this was short-lived: as I pushed my trolley between the steel barriers that would usually hold the entry queue, something nearly stopped me in my tracks. My desire not to look completely crazy kept me putting one foot in front of the other, but a large lump formed in my throat. It was nothing really, it shouldn’t have put me so close to tears. Last week in this queueing area, there were taped crosses to stand on in order to adhere to mandatory social distancing. Today I saw that these markers have been made permanent, painted onto the tarmac. Like I said, nothing monumental that should have upset me so deeply, but it pulled me short to be reminded loud and clear that pandemic life is here to stay for a good while yet.

Panic is a feeling I am very familiar with, but it seems to have a hair-trigger now. I’m sure many people are unsettled by the sight of empty shelves, but I walked down an aisle today with large empty spaces on both sides, after seeing fruit and veg stands that were practically bare, and I could feel the panic rising. That’s a phrase that’s near-impossible to translate for the lucky people whose sense of panic always remains sensible and proportionate.

It’s not just empty shelved that are spiking my emotions though. In the case of people flouting social distancing rules, I don’t even know how I feel. I feel everything, and then when I’ve utterly exhausted that, I’m numb until it all floods back, usually on cue with an unwanted news updated.

The world we’re living in is testing many people and pushing them to their limits. But it’s also forcing us to face up to our emotions and work out how to manage them until we can sit comfortably with them again.

My journal has never seen such an enormous daily page count. My head is full and spilling it all in an increasingly scruffy hand is a much better plan than bottling it all up.

And I’m running again, which surprised my mother even more than it surprised me. (“What have you done with the real Caitlin and when is she coming back?”) While it’s an antidote to stir-craziness, it’s a helpful kind of regulator too. I returned from the supermarket utterly demoralised, but after twenty minutes pounding the pavements it all seemed a little less daunting.

Who knew there could actually be a legitimate solution to be gleaned from running away from your problems?

#DailyWritingChallenge – Purpose

When I was in the classroom every day, I think I knew my purpose. I was a teacher, with all the unpackable purpose of that job title that I had worked for so long to earn.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

Being an NQT though, I was still very much finding my feet and still in a permanent state of considering what my purpose as a teacher really meant. Obviously, my primary purpose would be seen by many as facilitating learning, but I think every teacher who has survived a gruelling interview would attest that our most important purpose is to safeguard children and young people.

This might be something that has been passed mostly out of my hands, now that my pupils are at home for the foreseeable, but that doesn’t mean the off-switch has been flicked. In my classroom, I scan the room for any sign of upset. I listen in for signals that might translate out of ‘Year1Speak’ to “I’m not happy,” or “Something isn’t right.” This hasn’t changed in the lockdown – if anything, I am sometimes prone to thinking about it even more. Have I heard from X this week? Has Z got their vouchers for free school meals? I wonder if Y’s family isolated early enough to protect their vulnerable family member? This is way before I start thinking about whether A can use a full stop now, or if B has practised counting in 2’s.

My purpose is to teach, of course it is, but it will always be to nurture and care, too.

Part of this is working out how on earth to be the same bright and breezy Miss Bracken through a pdf document, that I’ve tried to be in the classroom since September. (And shush, if you’re giggling at the back about how I’m often more anxious and antsy than bright and breezy!) I have to work out how to teach my little ones what they need to learn, in a way that they can potentially do independently, that doesn’t necessarily need to be printed and certainly doesn’t require masses of explanation.

Don’t mistake this for me complaining – I’m really not. This is my job, this is what I do. It’s just usually a little simpler, as all of ‘my’ children are in the same place! Imagine doing the jigsaw below, with no idea whether you have all of the pieces, and being fairly certain that you have no idea how to put it all together. Some pieces will just fall into place, because that’s how these things work, but for many others… good luck!

Photo by Dmitry Demidov on Pexels.com

So I am working on my purpose. Sadly, it’s not to be a reassuring face at 8.50 every weekday morning anymore. But I am still very much needed, and now in a broader capacity too.

I’ve been making mask adapters for the last couple of days: neat little crocheted devices with buttons, that aim to prevent a painful problem suffered by health and social care workers at the moment. Elasticated masks (vital in helping prevent the spread of coronavirus) can rub terribly behind the ears. As soon as I put out a message locally, offering help, a midwife replied, saying that her ears bleed every day now, from wearing a mask more than ever before.

I’m channeling the worry that comes from not quite knowing my purpose as a teacher. I’m using my nervous energy that might otherwise go into worthless fidgeting, into something useful and very much appreciated. It’s not my original purpose, but it still feels good.

#DailyWritingChallenge – Growth

There is a daily writing challenge gaining traction in the #edutwitter community, and this is my first step into it. 500 words maximum, on the given topic – today, it’s Growth.

Considering I’m in a profession that’s all about encouraging growth in others and constantly finding growth in oneself, plus I’ve done a hell of a lot of growing to reach the point of being an NQT, this entry really shouldn’t be so difficult!

When I searched for growth quotes (because when in doubt, find a nice quote!) that was when I realised my direction for this post.

Photo by Frans Van Heerden on Pexels.com

In this period of lockdown, there seems to be an immense pressure for people to grow. Everywhere you look, there are examples of people learning languages, gaining new skills, increasing their fitness, reading books they’ve always felt they ‘should.’ And as a teacher, of course I advocate this kind of growth. But when the world is upside down, I don’t advocate it if it’s not what you want.

It’s all well and good to be peer-pressured into learning, but I don’t think the kind of growth that feels good, or the kind that sticks, can come from any kind of pressure.

Besides, what about if lockdown has knocked you for six? It intimidated me hugely at first, and it took about a week to get past that and access any part of my brain that would allow me to grow. Lots of people are still struggling, and that’s fine too. I think it’s very possible that under these circumstances, ‘growth’ could mean ‘the act of remaining true to yourself despite the challenges and changes of the world around you.’ Learning to be yourself again, when nothing else has stayed the same, is epically difficult.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

So if your growth is mastering the cello, then great, go for it! If your growth is reading a few extra pages per day, so be it. But if your growth is getting up each day, changing your pyjamas and remembering to put the bins out when you’ve no idea what day it is? Then grow, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not.

A willow tree has no less beauty than a dandelion clock – they simply grew differently.

Photo by Jack Hawley on Pexels.com

A Letter to My Younger Self

Dear ten-year-old Caitlin,

When I look at your school picture, I see your smile before anything else. But I remember how often you didn’t want to smile, too. Your crooked teeth, your clothes, your glasses, your height, your introversion, your maturity, your willingness to wear a woolly hat when it’s cold, your cleverness (yes, you are clever, though I’m sure you will never believe me!) You have been bullied for these and more, and it won’t stop yet. I’m sorry. Somehow you don’t quite fit, and I wish I could swoop back in time to save you.

But if I did, you would miss so much. There is so much good to come, even though it won’t be easy.

There’s a part of you that they will never be able to break – two dreams, really. Though being a teacher like the ones you admire right now seems a much further-off possibility than becoming a bestselling author. So you keep writing, expressing yourself better on paper than you could ever manage out loud. You are propelled by Mrs B’s words of encouragement in Year 4 – when you were sad about being teased again, she reminded you of your worth. She told you that she hoped to see a novel with our name on the cover, one day, and you glowed. I still hold that memory with kid gloves. What you don’t know yet is that in twelve years’ times, you will be a teacher too, hoping that you might manage to have half of that impact. But for now, keep writing. When you are older, people will tell you that what you wrote moved them. Eventually, you will astound yourself with the sheer word count that you are capable of.

You can remember a few words of French, because you love Mrs H’s lessons. You love the sound of the words and the rhythm of this new, beautiful language. Keep trying with words here and there because it will pay off tenfold, before you know it. One day, it will mysteriously fall into place and your language skill will be considered quite impressive by those around you. So when you get to high school and the words won’t come out at all, try not to feel as though every door is closing on you. One day, you will go to France and stay with a family who don’t speak English. And you will finally be able to spread your wings. Words will flow from you faster than you ever dreamed they would, helping you to hold your own around the dinner table and (mostly) keep up in a French classroom.

Unfortunately, that feeling of ‘words drying up’ is going to become a familiar one. It’s called Anxiety and it’s just a chemical imbalance, but it will feel like the whole world is coming to get you while you feel yourself collapsing inwards. I can’t step back in time to stop it latching onto you, or fly in super-hero style to rescue you from it. There will be dark days – it would be remiss of me to write to you and dishonestly omit them. But remember Dumbledore, while you still hold him in high esteem (that won’t last forever!) Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

You will laugh more than you ever thought possible. You will have adventures. You will meet teachers who open your mind and inspire you. You will also meet teachers who do this while also being the primary cause of the side-splitting laughter. Some of these teachers will become your greatest support in hard times and will become your friends when you grow up. That’s probably an odd thought for you now, but I assure you that it is fantastic.

And finally (sort of) – grief. Things will happen that feel like your whole world is ending. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Force yourself to find the words. When you burst into tears in the sixth form common room out of the blue, it will cause a whole lot less of a headache if you just let it happen instead of holding it in!

It seems strange to tell you that good things will come out of grief, especially when you will be panicking too for some of that grieving time. But please trust me, the day that you stand in front of a full hall of people to read a French poem in memory of a wonderful teacher, that will become one of the proudest moments of your life. You will float back to your seat feeling not quite on this planet, knowing that you have done a special woman proud.

This will be when your self-belief is rock-bottom. Don’t worry: you will pull French out of the bag again in the summer too, somehow, despite an abysmal speaking exam.

Things will get harder before they get easier. But you are strong – it has taken me to almost twenty-two to accept this (and it’s definitely not a permanent belief!) You will get quieter, but one day you will find your voice and it will be glorious.

When you have your own class it will be a never-ending rollercoaster. There will be more highs than lows, and you will find inexplicable joy in the smallest things.

There is a whole world out there. From my lofty position in your future, my advice is this: take a deep breath, put your positive pants on, step out of your comfort zone, and enjoy it.

Who Am I?

Teacher Identity in the Coronavirus Crisis

I was lucky enough to be asked to write a guest piece for True Education Partnerships, after they discovered my opinionated little twitter feed a while ago and stumbled on my blog as a result. The original posting of this blog can be found here, on their website.

I took the often-forgotten route into teaching, a three-year Primary Education degree with placements each year in different schools, each a very different setting. One thing that remained the same was my identity. I knew who I was, I was the student teacher and I was comfortable in that role.

Identity, according to dictionary.com, is, among other things, “the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time.” My identity as a student teacher pervaded nearly everything I did for those three years. Call me geeky if you will, but I was one of those that would not let the ball drop no matter what. The role of student teacher seemed a natural progression from being a hardworking student at school and sixth form.

So naturally, I assumed the step from student teacher to full-time class teacher would be much of the same, a natural transition that would just fall into place.


I am grateful for my three years, for the rich experiences I had and the opportunities to explore theory and learn deeply what needed to be learned for my degree. But the downside of having three years’ worth of placements is that I became very comfortable in the role of student. I knew what I needed to do on a placement, but this did not prepare me, as I suppose no student teacher is prepared, for the reality of the classroom.

It is one thing to teach another person’s class for a few hours a week, even if that is most of the hours of the week, but it is entirely different, sitting down with twenty nine children in early September, realising that they are all yours now!

Of course, the children have no issue seeing the adult in front of them as their teacher, even if that teacher is a rabbit-in-headlights NQT at the ripe old age of twenty one! My Year Ones never struggled to see me as their teacher, but I had to work a whole lot harder to see myself as the person that they saw when they looked up at me every day.

I can’t remember the exact moment that it clicked, and I stopped feeling as though I was only pretending. Imposter syndrome is very real for me, and I believe it is prevalent across the profession, but there must have been an adjustment somewhere. A tiny one, perhaps, but it was enough that decisions became easier, that I felt a little less stupid when asking ‘stupid questions’ (you know the ones!) and that the second night of parents’ evening was notably easier than the first.

Being a teacher is something I dreamed of, something I worked hard for, something I knew would be difficult but that I persevered for regardless.

I never expected my first year to be like this.

I never expected to sit in my classroom one evening and watch the Education Secretary announce that all schools would effectively close in just two days’ time.

I never expected to have two days, without even my full class due to growing numbers of families self-isolating, to wrap up our time together.

As a teacher of very young children, my identity stretches further than purely educator. Every teacher is in loco parentis, but this is heightened when the children are little: they are hard-wired to see a responsible adult in their vicinity as a caregiver. In those last two days, while trying to observe all the measures of social distancing (with little success considering the age of my class) I was motherly, a worry-soother, a reassuring figure who covered up her own worries to smooth over those of my twenty nine charges.

When they had all gone home for the last time, my heart shattered. I knew it was not the end of contact with them, as modern technology would allow me to keep in touch with them fairly easily. I knew it was not the end of their learning, as I would set work for them to complete each day at home. I knew both of these facts and clung to them, but I still cried, because suddenly everything had changed.

Now, I still hold the role of teacher, but my identity is on shaky ground. I don’t interact with my class for six hours a day, I don’t teach the group or individuals. The community that exists in a small village primary school is no longer a staple of my working day. The routine I had built up has changed into something unrecognisable.

Though I would not do any other job, and I realise that at a time like this, others have it so much harder than I do, I cannot be the only teacher struggling with finding my place in the world now that everything is different.

‘Teacher’ is an identity that I built with the support of others in my school family. ‘Teacher from a distance’ is one that hasn’t quite settled with me yet, but it is one that I am working on, because ‘my’ children are worth it. They make me smile in my living room as much as they made me smile in my classroom, and the smiles are what count at the moment.

Sunday Shelf, Vol. 1

I’ve always envied that YouTubers have a platform to share their ‘favourites.’ It’s quite common each month to see a new video, documenting current favourite music, make-up, clothes, reads. While I won’t send myself up as far as to suggest I’ve got a following even vaguely interested in what I’m up to, even in a lockdown, I’m quite excited to start this series of blogs, the Sunday Shelf. I want to share things that I like, that I think other people might take joy from too.

While we’re all locked down and (should be) social distancing – all it takes is one look at the news to see that people aren’t necessarily following this guidance – I thought I might use my little corner of the internet to spread a little more of that sunshine I wrote about a few days ago. Today I’m sharing books (surprise surprise!)

Three books that made me smile

Parsnips, Buttered by Joe Lycett

I consumed this book (and ‘consumed’ is definitely the right word, I swallowed it whole and wanted more) in audiobook format during my second year at university. It brought no end of joy in a difficult time so seems an apt on the share in a lockdown scenario! If you have ever come across Lycett’s stand-upm this is much of the same, every bit as irreverent and silly with precisely the same deadpan, cutting delivery. I recommend the audiobook enormously as it is read by the author so retains all of that intended disparagement.

I remember laughing out loud to myself while I listened to this, which no mean feat in a dingy hall of residence in the midst of my Second Year Crisis. Who knew there could be so much humour in disputing a parking fine?

This book also introduced me to the immortal quote ” ‘Hopefully’ doth butter no parsnips” which is obviously always useful in everyday discourse!

Best Foot Forward by Adam Hills

While Parsnips, Buttered made me laugh, this book made me truly happy, one of those rare books that I finished and then put down with a smile.

A critic once described Adam Hills’ stand-up comedy style as ‘sun-drenched’ and honestly there’s no better description for this book. It’s not autobiography exactly but it is a chronological journey through Hills’ comedy career, complete with twists and turns and, as expects, all-out hilarity in places.

This is a book with a warm and friendly voice, the ideal antidote to long days of isolation and lockdown where not much is happening.

One Million Lovely Letters by Jodi Ann Bickley

I loved this book when I read it and I still hold it dear, because it affirms my total belief that the most important value a person can have, is kindness.

This is a soul-warming memoir, charting a journey from rock-bottom to a somewhat happy medium. You will have to read it for yourself to find out the premise of the lovely letters, but woven around them is a beautifully written story of their invention and the author’s belief in them. The story is heart-wrenching in parts but is ultimately so life-affirming. Definitely worth a read in these rough times, when we could all do with a bit of extra kindness in our lives.

So those are the first additions to my Sunday Shelf. I will definitely add more as time goes on, under different categories, but in the meantime, why not leave a comment to share a book (or books) that made you smile? I think we could all do with some suggestions of escapist reads at the moment!


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

Seeking Sunshine

Social Media in the Coronavirus Lockdown

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, it can be hugely anxiety-provoking, because it feeds that part of our brains that can’t help but compare us viciously to those around us. For example: “Oh my goodness, look how lovely she looks on that evening out with her friends. I don’t want to go out, but I don’t want to be the one with nothing to share! I bet everyone thinks I’m such a sad creature that never has any fun.” Et cetera, for time immemorial.

While this may have become a moot point in the time of lockdown, social media certainly has not lost its ability to be a time-sucking black hole. It can still leach time from my day and consume me in worlds that are not my own, for worse rather than better. It is not the best friend of a procrastinator! I cannot be the only one who has tapped on certain apps ‘for a quick look’ and emerged an hour later, horrified by all the wasted time.

But social media is not all doom and gloom. Without it, I would not have found #edutwitter, an absolute goldmine of discussion, debate, resources and support. And without other channels, I would find it impossible to maintain contact with family and friends hundreds of miles away. When used for good, social media can be warm and friendly.

However, it is precisely this friendliness that has fed the secondary issue of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus.”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, director-general of the WHO, 15th February 2020

All it takes is for one friend to share the latest ‘news,’ and suddenly a whole group has fallen foul of nothing more than speculation or fear-mongering. About a month ago, my feeds were crammed with this. Between the regular stream of eerily-targeted adverts was post after post about how to avoid coronavirus, what to do if you come into contact with it to ‘guaranteed immediately kill the virus’ and statistical projections which seemed as unlikely as they were terrifying.

I am glad to say this is no longer the case for me, though I have friends now avoiding some social media channels entirely, as they remain saturated in conspiracy theories even amid a lockdown.

The title of this entry is borrowed from #seekingsunshine, a product of Blurt Foundation in these uncertain times. “Seeking sunshine” or looking for small moments of happiness, is not a new experience for me. In my last post, which you can read here, I wrote about focusing on the little things as a way to get through a tough time. #seekingsunshine epitomises the seismic shift I have noticed in social media since the UK lockdown began. People are sharing their little moments of joy, and others, sometimes total strangers, are joining clusters of conversation and connecting in bubbles of safety where coronavirus isn’t even a concern.

Elsewhere than Twitter, I have seen a warmth and comfort in social media that I have never noticed so strongly before. Birthdays are still happening, but the comments to accompany them seem more real now. It is not a quick ‘Happy Birthday!’ and done; stories are shared, kindnesses are exchanged both ways. People are posting snapshots of their real lives in lockdown, not the highly polished lives that normally appear. And the conversation beneath each one is so genuine – connections are happening through screens to remind us of the connections we tended before we were confined to our homes.

It would seem that social media has found its original purpose in its return to all things social. For some, this is a lifeline. For others, it’s a bit of distraction in the long days that all seem to blend into one.

For me? It’s just helping me find and share a little bit of sunshine. The love/hate balance is certainly tipping more one way than the other, let’s put it that way.


All good stories have a solid starting point, don’t they? My NQT story began in September 2019, and thanks to my meticulous journaling habit, I can piece together a fairly accurate account of my first month as a teacher. Maybe it will be useful to someone just embarking on their NQT journey (provided, of course, that normal life resumes in September 2020!) On the other hand, maybe it will raise a smile from those of you with experience, nostalgic for your days as an NQT… Yeah, I don’t think that’s too likely!

Today was an anxious day. I spent all day hiding it. (Badly.)

Tuesday, 3rd September 2019

It’s no secret that I am one of life’s worriers. The second and final inset day in that first week was overwhelming to say the least. I was drowning in information, spinning too many plates, and I wondered what on Earth I had gotten myself in for. And this was after I had spent my final placement in the same school, too!

But as I discovered later, almost everyone falls somewhere on the anxiety spectrum, the night before school starts, no matter how long you’ve been in the job.

In September, I made sure to put a lot of focus on small moments of happiness, like sticking photos from my graduation on the wall. The pride and strength in those smiles carried me through some really difficult days. Little acts of kindness meant a lot that month too – a text from my NQT mentor the night before my first day, that was so lovely it raised tears to my eyes, and a cup of tea made for me by my headteacher while we went through some safeguarding procedures (even if it was a little too milky – that’s one thing you should know about me, I drink my tea STRONG.)

I hope Sundays always feel like this… Is this what it is to be in love with your job?

Sunday, 8th September 2019

Don’t get me wrong, my first week was a challenge. I couldn’t find the classroom presence I needed, I didn’t stand as firmly on behaviour as I should have done. I think I cried to my parents (I still lived with them at that point) completely ashamed that I had the loudest class in the school and convinced that my colleagues must have been judging me terribly for not managing them better.

Despite all of that going wrong, most of which carried on for most of the month, I loved my job. This innocent optimism also carried on throughout September. Finally having a classroom of my own was eye-opening and difficult, but it was also a gift. I had worked for two years of A-levels and three years of university to achieve this. I had made it, and I was on cloud nine every Sunday night, ready to start again.

[My NQT mentor] reassured me hugely… reminding me that I’ve only been a teacher for eleven working days so I shouldn’t beat myself up for things not being perfect… I won’t make any promises though, because “don’t beat yourself up” has been a common theme for about eight years, but I will try to keep it in mind.

Wednesday, 18th September 2019

In the third week of term, I finally gave up the brave face. If you’re a soon-to-be NQT reading this, don’t be a hero when it gets hard. Don’t stick it out and carry on. Talking has the power to put things way back into perspective.

I have always been a perfectionist, I think. I thought I could keep that up, despite what people were telling me, that it wasn’t physically possible to maintain both a perfectionist streak and your sanity as a teacher. It would seem though that many teachers fall foul of this personality trait. By virtue of the profession, we want to make a change for ‘our’ children and we want to get it right for them. I wanted it all to fall into place and go right straight away – my own impossibly high standards were my downfall. I would like to think that by now (April) I have made peace with things not being perfect. But I am still reminded regularly not to be quite so hard on myself, so it is very much still a work in progress!

I feel like death.

Thursday, 19th September 2019

Those were the only words I wrote on that day. NQT flu is real, people! And it likes to kick you when you’re down, and come back for infinite more rounds. There’s not an awful lot to be done to avoid it – maybe it is easier in an older, less tactile class than Year 1, I don’t know. But believe me, you will learn very quickly, which of your colleagues has the reputation for being a walking pharmacy!

By the end of the month, I had been poorly for around eight days of September’s thirty. On paper, that doesn’t seem long. In my memory, the germy period was much longer than that – I guess time has no real meaning when you’ve got no voice but you’re still trying to be heard over a class of Year 1s.

But I retained that initial optimism for the whole month, give or take a little. September was a rollercoaster. Though perhaps, more accurately, it was a rollercoater within a rollercoaster – I can’t say I’ve managed to exit yet!

Future NQTs, it will be hard. Find your support in school. Be proud of your successes, be excited, because this is a precious time. Be as excited as I was, at the end of my first day. And yes, I really did write that sentence three times, with increasing degrees of emphasis.

I am a teacher. I. Am. A. Teacher. I AM A TEACHER.

Wednesday, 4th September 2019