I have been fairly resilient for a long time. Setback after setback has tried to stop me living my dream, but here I am, the end of my NQT year a hair’s breadth from my grasp.
I had rather hoped that my crusade of forced resilience might come to an end this summer, but the universe has had other ideas. The end of a fixed-term contract might not have felt like such a disaster, were we not in the midst of a global pandemic that has upended the world as we knew it, not least in the realms of teacher recruitment!
For those lucky enough not to be job searching this summer, I’ll try and paint you a picture. There are not many jobs out there – I would imagine because lots of staff who had thought about handing in their notice have changed their mind since this pandemic set in! It’s a year when I had hoped that my single year’s experience might give me a bit of an edge over soon-to-be NQT candidates (sorry!) but a couple of big confidence-knocks have put paid to any belief I had in that.
But this post is one of resolve, not a huge pity party for an exhausted NQT! Resolve is what I do – in a weird way it’s come from my anxiety in the first place that I hate the thought of people seeing me give up, therefore I keep trying. I suppose this has the potential to turn toxic, if I’m trying too hard for something I really don’t need. But for the most part, it has lead me to persevere and keep going against the odds.
I never imagined that I would look outside my hometown, for only my second teaching post. But if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is certain. I am young, single, and have no commitments to speak of, therefore I’m in a perfect position to take advice my GCSE history teacher wrote in my yearbook: See the world! So I’ve cast my net a little wider – I’ve submitted applications to schools in four countries so far, and am actively looking for an adventure in a new place.
It would be easy to give up now, if I’m honest. The application process is exhausting and can be demoralising: each application can feel so personal it’s as though a piece of me is ripped away with it, and each one expends a lot of mental energy (I’ve found myself referring to my old favourite The Spoon Theory a lot lately!) When nothing comes back from a weekend’s worth of applications, it’s so tempting to throw in the towel. Surely it would be easier to apply my skills to something else, I find myself thinking far too often.
The single upside to the pandemic situation is that it probably wouldn’t be any easier in any other sector at the moment. I might as well stay where I am – especially when my bubble of 14 children remind me daily what I’d miss if I ever walked away from the profession. Even when it’s been a difficult behaviour day, or a rubbish reading day, or maths hasn’t sunk in, or three children have cried and social distancing says I can’t give them a quick hug, there are reasons to love this job. A proud smile after a correct answer. A ‘thank you.’ A remark that takes me by surprise and makes me laugh until my sides ache. A piece of descriptive writing that surely hasn’t come from a Year 1. Except, it has, she’s a wonderful writer, and I had a part to play in making that happen.
So my resolve is not entirely spent. I am as yet unbroken, despite how fragile I may feel. The next round of applications is upon me and I will give them exactly the same care and energy and the first ones I filled in, because every school and every child deserves my best. If I like a school enough to apply, they deserve my best try at applying, whether they’re my first or my fiftieth.
The search goes on for a new adventure. But I won’t give up yet.
I have craved stillness all week. A classroom is not the best setting when temperatures are rising, and the movement required of teaching Year Ones, even in a bubble, is not the most comfortable thing in the world when outdoor temperatures are high.
But the real stillness I’ve wanted has been mental rather than physical: lockdown teaching has been kind to me in that respect, granting more mental stillness than a classroom could manage even on a calm day.
In a way, returning from this mammoth break has been like starting again from September. Monday felt a bit like treading water, trying to stay afloat in this strange new world. My thoughts were an utter mess – it was NQT mental plate-spinning to an olympic standard that I wasn’t sure I could meet. I took stock however, as I often do, from EduTwitter colleagues. I certainly had an easier job than many of them: having the advantage of taching children from my own class meant that I had a good idea of their abilities pre-lockdown.
There has certainly been little time for mental stillness this week. It’s been an exercise of unlearning old habits and academically feeling my way through semi-darkness to work out which skills and knowledge have flourished or diminished since March. I’m stretching mental muscles that have lain dormant and pushing the limit of what little stamina I might have built up between September and March. You can bet I will sleep well this weekend! It’s been a hard week, and I’m not sure that next week will be much different, with the addition of more of my children to my bubble!
Returning to the classroom, albeit with ten children, has been a truly lovely experience though. The childre have shown incredible resilience in the face of all the new routines, taking it all in stride and even reminding me, when I didn’t immediately reach for the soap on coming back from playtime!
It’s been an immense pleasure too, to see how much they havve changed in the time that they have been away. Many have caught up to the one who was the tallest by a whole head or more. There are gaps in smiles where there weren’t before. Independence for some has skyrocketed.
I had been jittery about returning to a strict world of bubbles. But what I hadn’t factored into my visualisation of that first morning, was the precious moment of internal lift when one of my children rounded the corner in the corridor and set eyes on me for the first time since mid-March. I hope never to forget her relieved, thrilled and excited smile as she walked the rest of the corridor to meet me and enter our bubble’s room. Yesterday afternoon, having spent her morning playtime agonising over not being able to give me a hug, she happily declared, “I’m hugging you in my head.”
That brought me more mental stillness than any amount of mindfulness colouring, blogging or octopus crochet.
Let me unpack that, because in its stark brevity it may be jarring, despite its truth.
The terms ‘extrovert’ and ‘introvert’ to describe the two ends of the personality spectrum are relatively new, having been popularised almost 100 years ago by Carl Jung. But the predisposition towards one or the other, or even to sit squarely between them, is not new at all. There’s significant scientific backing to the idea that this predisposition is coded into DNA. It is likely I can do as little about being introverted as I can about having blue eyes.
I probably can’t change the fact that I am quiet, and why would I want to? It’s because of my quietness that I charge through more than thirty books a year, that I’ve write about 300,000 words of prose in the last five years and that I’m deeply perceptive of others, spotting an upset child from thirty paces before a tear has been shed or absorbing the negative energy of those around me before they’ve spilled their troubles. My introversion has shaped my personality for the better and I don’t want to change it.
The world wants me to change it though.
In the nineteenth century, genteel character guides placed value on morality, humility, manners, modesty and integrity. Interesting for this discussion at least is that these ‘manners’ dictated vocally holding back to allow others to speak first. By the twentieth century, these more introverted qualities were scorned as personality flaws – personality manuals of this period demanded successful individuals be magnetic, dominant and forceful. It’s strange that the early qualities are those that could be worked on with rpescribed introspection, whereas the latter ones are ones I’d consider you to be born with or without. With the best will in the world, I think there are many people who will never be ‘dominant,’ myself included.
Society expects more of people than some are wired to give, which puts introverts at a distinct disadvantage. There’s an unfair tendency to equate extroversion to a level of personal goodness – if your first impression isn’t one of bubbly chattiness we learn quickly that we fall off the radar or ar not worth that visibility to begin with. But the truth is that introverts don’t sit on the same radar as extroverts nor do they generally desire to: the very crux of introversion is having a rich inner world to attend to and being more sensitive to external stimulation. Large parties and small talk are not my cup of tea, which usually paints me in a negative light, unfairly. Perhaps I do sit on the periphery of gatherings, but I listen intently before deciding whether to join in. Sometimes introverts are simply content to listen – we’re good at that – and if I am present physically you can usually be sure I am present mentally, perceiving more than just your verbal cues. I am engaged but unfortunately being a good listener and a not-so-good talker leads to me being preceived as standoffish or not trying hard enough.
I don’t think there’s a direct correlation between my introversion and my mental health/illness, but know this: I am never not trying to fit in. My anxiety makes me simultaneously desperate to be accepted and certain that I won’t be. Please do not accuse me of not trying to fit it – it really is all that I want but I don’t know how, or worse, my mouth feels sewn shut by worry.
The world is designed for extroverts, from the value placed on mass networking in many careers, to the disadvantage of the quiet in many selection processes, to the hidden agenda of education (yes, another one…)
A huge majority of teachers, when describing ‘the ideal pupil’ report them to be extroverted. Classrooms are increasingly organised, even in secondary settings, for team working and grades are increasingly given for participation as if this is a marker of engagement with material. I am not the only introvert with a first-class degree; I’m not sure it’s possible to argue that we were all disengaged with our course material by virtue of being quieter.
This teacher bias is something I’m very aware of, having entered the profession myself. I can attest to the existence of the Extrovert Ideal in education on a personal level though, having been subjected to one phrase on a stuck record throughout my life. She’s doing well but she’s too quiet. I really, really understand where they were coming from – I’ve caught myself feeling the ‘frustration’ of quiet pupils not participating in the traditional sense of raising a hand to contribute publically. I refuse to tell any child I teach, or their parents, that they are too quiet, because those words sting, and chip away at what may already be a fragile confidence (not in every case of course, as there are a great number of very confident, comfortable introverts.) There are other ways of making sure progress is happening than insisting on a raised hand. This is something I will blog about in the future, for sure.
Teaching introverts that they have to masquerade as extroverts in order to make strides in life is not fair. Up to 40% of the population is introverted, a number that can rise dependent on the society you study. We are a significant minority in many locations. This means that around 10-12 pupils in a class may tend to find it an intensely stimulating environment and crave time to reflect in peace to restore themselves during the day.
But it also means there are introverted teachers, TA’s and school staff in every setting in the country, and we’ve got to stop making them feel like they’re living life ‘wrong’ somehow by carving out a period of their lunch break to seek quiet, either in the company of others or alone. We should be allowed to survive and thrive as much as anyone else.
I was not a problem pupil for being quiet, and I am not a poorer teacher because of it. If all teachers were as extroverted as the profession sometimes demands, what would become of the introverted pupils? They deserve a champion, someone to appreciate their quietness from a personal point of view. If someone had told me at the age of ten or eleven that being quiet was not a bad thing, I might have felt a lot more comfortable heading on to secondary school.
As a student teacher, I learned that schools don’t want applications from candidates who are ordinary. As an introvert, I realised the common subtext: ‘ordinary’ also means ‘quiet’.
But Rosa Parks was introverted, a woman who kept to herself until and even after she refused to give up her seat on a segregated Montgomery bus. She has become an icon of peaceful protest in the civil rights movement, but she never surrended her personality.
Barack Obama would never have reached the heights he has, without his need to retire, reflect and work in peace in private ‘holes’ (the name bestowed by Mrs Obama upon the quiet corners her husband escapes to, to recharge his introvert batteries.)
The list of significant introverts goes on and on. Eleanor Roosevelt, Emma Watson, Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer, Frederic Chopin, Stevie Wozniak, Albert Einstein, Amy Schumer, Stephen Fry.
Introverts are not inferior, but the world tells us that we are.
I am softly spoken but I am fed up of the message that this means my words are not worth as much.
This was requested on Twitter by @miss_jwoodcock – I hope there’s something helpful in among all this!
I think this is the blog I would have most wanted to read myself, as an NQT-to-be. There was so much running through my head, and despite all my placement experience, I’d never seen the first week ‘done’ by someone who knew what they were doing! (My three-year course saw placements happen Feb half term to Easter, October half term to Christmas, and February half term to early May.)
So for anyone daunted by the first week, here are some things to tick off – some are for the children, some are for you. All of them are important; they’re in no particular order other than the order in which I thought of them!
Get enough sleep.
I thought I knew what ‘tired’ meant before this year. Nope. The adrenaline of the first week is enough to wear anyone out, but on top of that, you’re taking in new knowledge all of the time. It’s exhausting as much as it’s brilliant; you definitely need to prioritise rest. It’s no small mercy that the first week doesn’t have a heavy marking load.
‘Getting to know you’ activities and games
It can be so daunting, seeing your register and realising you’ve got all these names to attach to the right child! It can feel like there’s a huge pressure to get it all correct from the off, especially if you’re in a little school like I was, where all the staff seem to know all the children even if they haven’t taught them. But I promise it gets easier. You will spend so much time with these children that you’ll notice every difference between your children, even if it feels like you’ll never tell them apart, on day one. Example: I had two little girls this year, with names that sounded very similar, both with dark hair, both very quiet. It took me about a week longer to get their names right than it took me with the whole rest of the class, but when I bring them to mind now, I wonder how I ever found them so similar!
Your children will probably forgive you for getting their names wrong. It becomes something amusing, eventually, and it’s easy to laugh it off and make a joke of it if you’re really struggling with names.
But there are plenty of games and activities you can try, both to get the children back into the swing of being together again and to familiarise yourself with their names. There are a wealth of Pinterest-worthy activities out there, and my mind is already whirring with what I might do with my new class in September (when I find a new school!) Don’t forget the value in talking games though, as many are easily adapted to any age group.
My favourite starts with everyone sitting in a circle. You start things off by introducing yourself and telling the class one thing that you like. (You can make this more challenging/funny with older children by stipulating that that have to give something that begins with the initial letter of their name – this doesn’t have to be true and it can be more fun if it’s not taken seriously. When I was in Rangers, we would play this just for the comedy value… My name is Caitlin and I like camels came with actions and everything.) Play carries on around the circle, with everyone sharing their name and something they like – this can help individuals stick in your head, and help you learn a little about your new class. You can also play this where every person must say the name and ‘thing’ of everyone who came before them, before saying their own, to turn it into a memory challenge.
Create something for the classroom, with the children
This can be a lovely first afternoon activity. It allows for some of that creativity we all aspire to (Pinterest fails also welcome!) while giving the children chance to create something that gives them some ownership in the space. While the children are making/colouring etc, you can also float around the room and start making those all-important connections with individuals and groups.
This could also be done if you get some time with the children before the summer (though I appreciate that may not happen this year, with coronavirus still very much a part of life.) Last summer, that’s what I did. I had my class all take one of these crayon templates.
I had spent time beforehand, drawing their names on in bubble writing, so that they could colour in and decorate around their name. When they were all done, I laminated and cut them out, then over the summer I stuck them on our door, arranging them like a box of crayons. The whole point was for them to have something familiar when they came in each day, and to promote a sense of togetherness.
Behaviour and boundaries
Make sure the children know your boundaries and expectations from the very start. You might agree class rules with them, taking suggestions, or set them down as you want them, discussing them with the children as you introduce them. You can discuss the importance of class rules with children of any age, though of course their responses and your expectation for their depth of understanding will be very different.
Share parts of yourself too
This is a slightly contentious one – there is differing opinion on how much of yourself to give or whether to give any of yourself at all. There’s obviously a line not to be crossed with regard to personal information, but there is also a personal/professional decision to be made. In my opinion, it is part of building relationships with your class to share a little bit of yourself. I’m not an open book to my class, I don’t share everything, but I share important things: I had photos stuck above my desk this year, of my family, my graduation my dog; in circle time I would share ‘things that make me happy’ as the children did; if a child asked me outright if I had a mum and dad then I’d answer them honestly (this one just made me laugh each time, because Year Ones never quite understand that their teacher has a life outside of school, and a family just like theirs!) It’s down to you to decide what you’re happy with sharing, but there is value in sharing, when you’re asking your children to do exactly that in the first week!
Familiarise yourself with school routines and expectations
Use inset days and any time you can get in school prior to September to ask all these questions. Write it all down. Then the first week will be for practising getting the children to the right places at the right times – but don’t worry that everyone will judge you for getting it wrong… I still ended up walking my class out last at the end of the day after the new year, sometimes! It’s not always going to be perfect.
Try to switch off at night
It’s really easy to be consumed by this job. There, I said it! But it’s so important to make that time that’s not about work. Make time for things that you enjoy, that make you happy, that let you relax enough to sleep – remember tip number 1!
“Don’t smile until Christmas” is absolute rubbish
I cannot count the number of times I heard this in the run-up to my NQT year. Do not listen – how would you feel as a child, walking into a classroom with a teacher who’s new to the school (meaning you can’t even go off of rumours from older kids!) only to see they’ve got a face like thunder? Check your resting face isn’t grumpy, and use your smile to build bridges with the class.
An average teacher in an average classroom makes 1500 choices every day. Our working life centres around the outcome of these decisions and then making infinite other choices as a result.
Decision fatigue is very real; at the end of a day it’s not uncommon to see teachers struggle over the smallest choices because we’re so unconsciously tired of choosing. Our brains say no!
Many of the decisions I make in a day that contribute to my decision fatigue are subconscious. I don’t have to actively think about how I address the child on the carpet who’s messing around, again. I don’t have the actively choose my tone when talking to the shy child who I know is desperate to join in.
But I’m actively choosing to be antiracist.
It’s not enough anymore to say ‘I’m not racist.’ Good for you, you’re not racist. But if you’re not actively against racism and trying to make a change from wherever you’re at, then it’s not good enough.
I am in the extremely privileged position of having white skin and a white British name. This means I fit society’s narrow expectation of what is ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’. [Click here and here to read about why names matter.] This privilege helped my pre-18 education, it helped me be admitted to university, it means I look like nearly every stock image of women in my profession.
It also means that, according to some sources, I am up to forty times less likely to be the subject of a ‘stop and search’ procedure by the police. I am proportionately less likely to be arrested if I attend a protest, to be a victim of police brutality, and my likelihood of being killed by the police is practically nil. I have never had to worry for my safety at the hands of an institution that is supposed to protect me.
These black individuals did not have the privilege that I have often taken for granted throughout my life. I’ve never had to think about what would happen if I was approached by police on the street, or pulled over in my car – and that’s what privilege boils down to.
It’s not exclusively an American problem either. Sean Rigg. Sheku Bayoh. Sarah Reed. Azelle Rodney. Cherry Groce. Mark Duggan. I could go on and on: black people are being killed by institutional racisim in this country too.
Earlier I wrote that I had made a choice. I am going to be educated on this matter because I can’t stand not to be, any longer. I’m ashamed that it’s taken me to 22 to properly pay attention, but I am listening now.
I am paying attention now, and I am furious.
The world is not white, yet from reading the National Curriculum, the document that tells us as teacher what our children should know, you would think it was.
The world is not white, but from looking at the House of Commons you would think it was not only white, but male too.
The world is not white, but how many black authors are on my bookshelf? How many black voices do I hear on a regular basis through TV, film, music, podcasts, journalism, literature?
The choice I make now is to fight for change, because Black Lives Matter.
I struggled writing this! Not because I’m not happy, but because there’s a lot of things that can make me sit back and say “Yeah, I’m happy.” And for someone with a chronic anxiety disorder, it’s pretty great to be able to do that! When I sat with my blog notebook today, this is what came: a list of things that bring me happiness in varying degrees.
Freshly painted nails that haven’t smudged.
A book with a satisfying ending, or particularly warm and fuzzy moment.
The colour yellow. This is thanks to a very close friend who pointed out that it is not only a good colour and a happy one, but that it wouldn’t kill me not to wear pale colours and blend in, just for once! Since then, I’ve gravitated to yellow and held it dear as my own little symbol of hope. Call me crazy if you will!
An outfit that brings confidence.
Colour-coded notes. Granted, this love emerged from a need to control things when I couldn’t control much else, much less the antics of my misbehaving brain, but there is something so satisfying these days, about taking the time to colour-co-ordinate stationery. (I know of at least one reader who will no doubt roar with laughter over memories of my mildly obessive highlighter days!)
Keyboard clicks until the next thousand words of my novel are complete.
Classical and instrumental music that just hits the spot.
A cup of tea at the perfect temperature.
Knowing I matter to my class.
A sunset on a beach, where small clusters of people have dispersed on the rapidly cooling sand, sharing this moment in their own languages with their own loved ones.
Ice cream with sherbet. Specifically, ice cream with sherbet on Otterspool Promenade, on the day my mum and I moved me out of Halls at the end of my second year at university. It was a tough year that seemed like it would never end. Ice cream has never tasted so good.
Break duty when the sun’s out, no-one falls over, no-one needs teacher intervention in an argument that is the end of the world when you’re six, and it’s the end of term so the end-of-break whistle can be put off just a little, to spend five more minutes outside, suspended in this moment.
Returning to my favourite book, again.
Pens that write smoothly without compromise.
A message that drops into your inbox and makes you smile before you’ve even opened it. Just a couple of words is all you need to feel happy.
A puppy snoozing on your lap.
Staying level for more than a few days in a row.
Playing games with mismatched children that make you all laugh so much that you forget how grimly socially distanced the classroom has become.
In my family, shared time is best spent with the kind of laughter that forces tears from you eyes while you silently rock, too amused to even produce sound. We find laughs everywhere: the obvious places like The Last Leg and Gogglebox; the more niche choice of Richard Osman’s House of Games (10/10 recommend, the final round ‘Answer Smash’ is a guaranteed giggle); and the entirely unexpected places like the six o’clock news, which was admittedly a whole lot easier before coronavirus stepped in.
We laugh with each other, splitting our sides over the puppy’s antics or recent happenings in each other’s lives. We also laugh at each other on occasion, usually due to hilarious mistakes or old in-jokes.
I feel like in-jokes get a bad rap. And I get it, I do – certainly as I child I did not enjoy the ‘in-jokes’ that I was deliberately excluded from. You had to be there became as much as an insult as anything else my bullies did or said. It told me loud and clear that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t worth spending time with, wasn’t worthy of the experience of creating in-jokes. As an adult reading this, it sounds petty, but as an eight or nine year old, it was yet another draw constantly breaking the camel’s back.
All of which is beside the point. A good in-joke, that brings genuine joy through its shared connections, is a fantastic social phenomenon.
‘That woman’ in the GCSE RE textbook
‘There’s not enough room to sit down’
‘The sky seems dark’
These words mean less than nothing to the unacquainted. The hardcore, eye-watering, almost painful laughter at the time was wonderful and continues to be, but trust me, you had to be there.
If I was reading this blog, I would be disappointed if there wasn’t at least an attempted explanation of the above in-jokes. However, having attempted to explain the first two, they are so embarrassingly weak, niche and specific that I’m afraid of leaching all humour from them, by trying to set these in-jokes free. Turns out, you really did have to be there.
I’m currently reading Becoming by Michelle Obama; after lusting after this book, life got in the way and I ended up putting it down for an extended period, more than once. But there really is no excuse not to read, in lockdown! Though that makes it sound like a chore, and this book is far from that.
From the earliest chapters, one fact is made plain. Mrs Obama is proud of her roots and her story (rightly so!) and nothing will ever change that. She recounts her chronology with unflinching honesty and an intelligent reflection that reinforced that strange, inherent trust I always had of the Obamas.
Becoming has certainly made me think, and made me reconsider how far I could go with enough hard work. I’m not aiming to be First Lady, not by any stretch, but I really admire Mrs Obama for her work in and for the community in Chicago. The impact she had on ordinary lives was small at first glance, but in real terms, for real people, she made an immeasurable difference. She returned to her roots and used their strength to support and shore up others.
That’s what I see myself doing as a teacher. I went to school, I had teachers (you can read about some exceptional ones here) and now I’m going back to school every day (save for the absolute mess of a situation we currently find ourselves in) to build roots for the children I teach.
I took the dreamcatcher down from my class notice board on Friday. This was the beginning of a grim process I’ll be continuing this week – stripping down the classroom for the children’s return in June, and bringing it all home as I won’t be returning in September.
The dreamcatcher has been up since August. I bought it on holiday in Majorca last summer with immediate intention that it would go in my classroom. I have a feeling now that it may end up moving with me to hang in every classroom I teach in.
More than once this year, I shared the story of dreamcatchers to various groups of children whose attention was captured by sparkling beads and colourful feathers. I told them that the beads capture bad dreams and while the feather release good ones into our classroom, and that when I was little girl my mum hung a bigger one over my bed to ward off recurrent nightmares. Sharing that little piece of me felt special for me and for the children.
There were plenty of other little mementoes in my classroom that provoked conversation like this. My roots were as fascinating to them as theirs were to me, and reciprocal sharing brought us closer.
They wanted to hear all about my dog, and cautiously asked why I had taken down her pictures in November (Millie passed away at the ripe old age of fifteen.) They positively fizzed in January when I showed them photos of my parents’ new puppy, and exploded with stories of their own pets – including a dog “the same colour as toast”, an adorable description I hope never to forget.
The little fairy propped on the corner of my desk often drew comment, and I took pride in telling that she had been a present from one of my teachers. There followed much speculation over whether the fairy spent every night fluttering around the classroom, only to return to her same resting place each morning.
Of course, we choose carefully what we share, but I think as teachers we have the power to leave part of ourselves in every life we touch. I know there are parts of those who taught me that I always carry with me, and I often wonder if these thirty children will look back on their Year One experience and remember the part I played. What of me will stay with them?
It’s a powerful and beautiful fact: teachers can have roots everywhere because we have the potential to reach a lot of lives. Not even directly, sometimes – I know of the passion my dad’s French teacher possessed, from stories he has told me.
The roots we lay in the classroom are significant and long lasting. It is a privilege of the job: we are part of our pupils’ stories.
I wrote this in the wake of what initially felt like the end of the world: being unsuccessful in interviewing for a further maternity cover at my school, that would have allowed me to stay for another year. I was crushed because I’ve loved working at that school, with wonderful children and fantastic colleagues. But I’ve made peace with it and I’m looking ahead now to what the future may bring. I’m also bringing some advice and encouragement for any trainees looking for that first post, who are feeling a bit beaten-down by the experience of rejection.
It happened. That thing you dreaded. You polished your application, you worked towards an interview, you were put through your paces and then you waited for a call. You tried not to let your imagination run away with you, but you couldn’t help imagining how things might be in September. You visualised a classroom, a room full of children, a scenario free of social distancing (I never said your imagination was realistic! Mine certainly wasn’t.) Maybe you loved the school, maybe it was really convenient geographically, or maybe you’d set your heart on it because it was the first interview after an endless stream of unsuccessful applications. But the call came and it wasn’t the answer you had hoped for.
1. Realise that it’s not personal
It’s really not, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Maybe you weren’t the most knowledgeable, maybe you weren’t the most confident, or maybe you had passion by the bucketload that you think your interviewers somehow missed.
The truth of the matter is this: the panel are there to choose the person who best fits their school. Any number of factors can come into this, but if someone else fits better than you on interview day then they will get the job. Simple as, unfortunately. It’s not about the panel choosing who they like best – they have to balance the skills already present in the staff at school, they have to consider your experience (or lack thereof, to put it bluntly) and any number of other considerations applicable to the school at that moment in time.
Just because you didn’t get that job, doesn’t mean you’re never going to get any job.
2. Ask for feedback
You may have your feedback given during the rejection phone call.
Write. It. Down.
It may seem small and seemingly insignificant, but it might be the small push over the finishing line in your next application or interview. And if it’s something small, it might be something simple to remedy, so it’s definitely worth remembering!
If you’re not offered feedback in your initial call, don’t be afraid to ask for it, either in an additional phone call or by email. Any feedback you can build into further applications is valuable.
3. Be kind to yourself!
It is a setback, not to be offered a job when you feel you’ve worked hard towards the application and interview process. Waiting for the interview itself and then the resulting phone call can be seriously nerve-wracking and plenty of people lose sleep over the experience! So be kind to yourself in the aftermath of a rejection. (I am fully condoning a duvet cocoon if that’s your style!) How would you treat a friend if they told you they had been unsuccessful with a job application? Chances are, you’d be reasonable and kind, reminding them there will be other opportunities. You would probably also tell them it’s okay to take some time for themselves to, to come to terms with it all. Take your own advice, or failing that, take mine!
You never know what’s around the corner, so don’t lose hope!
4. Don’t panic!
I’ve already seen so many tweets from NQT’s-to-be, worried that they won’t get a job for September because they haven’t been appointed yet. Even as a current NQT I might be inclined to lose my head with panic right now, were I not in possession of a few important facts.
The deadline for standing teachers to resign their post for the next academic year is May 31st. Meaning that interviews until then will likely have teachers with far more experience competing with you. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be appointed by any stretch (plenty of NQTs are, every year) but it’s certainly a little easier for those of us with less experience, from June onwards!
I was hired for my NQT job in early July 2019 and I have heard of people heing hired even later than that. Don’t ever lose hope. Your time will come.
There will still be jobs that appear in the autumn term. Maternity covers will be needed, teachers will leave at short notice due to any number of personal or professional reasons. Schools need teachers at all times of year, not exclusively in the summer term.
5. Have a little faith
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’ve recently experienced The Rejection Call. But I want to put a little positive spin on that, something my housemate reminded me of when I was dwelling on the negative on Wednesday evening.
You wrote a good application and you were invited to interview. That’s huge: some schools receive upwards of sixty applications for a job, sometimes pushing one hundred in some areas. They might call six to interview. If you made it that far, you’re already in the top 10%, probably an even smaller percentage.
Compassion is seeing a need for help, and helping; it is being thoughtful and kind; it is wanting to help, out of one’s own goodness.
Teaching is a compassionate career. There’s no two ways about it: we devote our working lives to improving others, but if you spend any length of time in any school, you will also see compassion everywhere that has nothing to do with contractual obligations.
I am so lucky to have spent the final year of my training and my NQT year in a school where compassion is commonplace. It is the norm to feel wanted and feel loved, and it’s been a delight to be a part of that team. No matter how your day has been, someone will be there with a listening ear and sometimes a cup of tea too. We have each other’s back.
I am also lucky to have been taught by some extremely compassionate individuals – they are the ones who immediately sprand to mind when I saw this writing prompt. Some of them read my blog, so I am really hoping they don’t mind these anonymised mentions!
My GCSE English teacher is sunlight in human form. She is one of the kindest people I know, both in and out of school. Hers is a universally acknowledged but quiet compassion: kind words whenever they are needed, gentle encouragement no matter the troubling scenario, conversations about books at times when I really needed to be pulled out of my own head. A quiet affirmation that I was not the only one in the world to have experienced ‘washing machine tummy’ when I had escaped from the hubbub of sixth form prom to be anxious away from the crowds.
She taught me when I didn’t know yet that my quietness would overtake me, and remained a support when it did. Her compassion in the classroom inspires me and my practice to this day.
It is really difficult to see an anxious pupil – I came across three during my training, one in each school. Every time, I wanted to take their worries and add them to my own, just so that they wouldn’t have to experience them anymore.
I don’t know how my French teachers put up with me sometimes, in all honesty. I was usually silent, tied up in panic after panic. But they were utterly heroic, always patient with me, they gave me time when that was all I needed to spill a few semi-fluent sentences, and they reminded me not to wring my hands and twist my sleeves quite so much! One of them gave up countless hours in my final year, talking me down from sky-high panic. I am certain that he had more important places to be, but I am forever grateful for those Monday afternoons. It wasn’t his job to look after me when I was so anxious, but I was somehow never anxious enough for CAMHS and structured support in the sixth form didn’t exist. He went above and beyond for me, showing an extraordinary level of compassion.
I had a history teacher who was quite similar.
When I first started to spiral with anxiety, I was very guarded. I kept it a secret, how much I was struggling, because I was so confused about how I felt and completely certain that no-one would let me go to university and become a teacher with a fledgling anxiety disorder in tow! Shows how misguided I was, and how much mental health stigma I inadvertently believed…
Challenging times are an entirely individual thing – just because one person has had it worse, doesn’t negate that you’re having a hard time yourself. Having completed a degree, I think I would now find A-level history coursework a walk in the park. But at the time it felt insurmountable. And at the same time, I was battling tri-weekly panics in French, university applications I didn’t feel worthy of, and a bereavement.
The aforementioned history teacher is possibly the most efficient person I have ever met (aspirationally one day I would like to match her efficiency!) and one of the busiest, yet when she detected a falter in my default ‘I’m fine’, she gently pushed until I agreed to meet to talk about what was on my mind. Her teaching timetable and my free periods did not have a single crossover. I thought that was game over, until she offered me her time before school – something I now appreciate all the more, knowing how sacrosanct a teacher’s morning time is! But she gave me her Friday morning on so many occasions.
So often in my sixth form experience I felt as though I was falling apart. The common room, bubbling with the excitement of adolescence, was sensory overload. Silent classrooms felt like they shone a spotlight on me and I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I did, however, sometimes have one safe bubble: my sociology class of six girls. It was a class shared between two teachers who challenged us, encouraged us, supported us and made us laugh. Those two seemed to cast a spell around their class. I was quiet but sometimes I could step out of that and feel normal again.
The times when this ease slipped and my resolve cracked, I was met with compassion. A laugh a minute is no good if tears can’t be dried too.
So you can see that I was raised up by compassion at a time in my life that was truly challenging. Undoubtedly this has shaped my views on the role of the teacher and how important compassion is to the learning environment. You just never know how much someone in your class needs that little bit of kindness – I hope that if any of the teachers mentioned above read this, they realise what an impact they had and how much it is still appreciated.
Now to work on advice that has been passed my way for years… Showing a bit of that compassion to myself! I think that’s a blog post for another time.