The ‘On this Day’ app on facebook has been reminding me recently of how I was feeling 5 years ago as I reached the end of my PGCE. As we are often reminded about how many teachers leave teaching in the first 5 years – I thought that given that I am just a few weeks away from reaching that milestone I would reflect on the journey so far and think about what advice I would have given myself then.
The PGCE was far harder than I had imagined. I never thought it would be easy – but I found it a struggle to manage the workload with having a young family and no-one apart from my Husband to help out. There were many times that I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. At the end of the course we returned to the Faculty for the final 2 weeks: at this point I still didn’t have a job and the last interview (on the very last day of my placement) had gone terribly – they dismissed me after the lesson and thinking about the feedback still hurts now.
One of the things we were asked to do in our first session back in faculty was to draw a graph of our time on the course – the highs and lows. I remember seeing the people around me drawing their graphs shooting up at the end. I was trying to fight back the tears as I drew a line straight down. I’d racked up more debt in 9 months (due to tuition fees and childcare) than my degree and PhD put together and I felt that I’d let everyone down. A week after the end of the course though I secured a job (temporary) in a local school. I knew as soon as I arrived there that I wanted to work there. I was very lucky as one of the other people on my PGCE course secured a position there too. It was a lovely department and I felt supported throughout my NQT year. In comparison to my PGCE, the NQT year was a breeze. Of course there were times when things did not go to plan but overall it was a great experience. They embraced my creativity and let me teach in a way that suited me and were happy to share their experience and ideas with me. I learnt a lot and made some great friends. One memory that sticks out is the day that my contract arrived. They had made a typo and described my post as ‘Head of Science’, not bad for NQT!
As my post was a maternity cover I needed to find another job. After school one day two of the other teachers came to me with a job advert that they had printed off and asked me if I had seen it – they said that if they couldn’t keep me at their school then they were going to find me somewhere nice – and this was the place. I had seen the advert but was convinced that they wanted someone far more ambitious than myself. They laughed and said ”we all say that” and made me fill it in. My technician pestered me to deliver it by hand during an afternoon of gained time. I’m glad that she did as visiting the school – even briefly- made me realise that they were right. Thankfully they gave me the job!
The RQT year was hard. New school, longer commute, my youngest started school, we were in the middle of moving house, I took on a second subject, full timetable and became a form tutor for the first time – to a group of year 10 students who had already had several tutors before me. It was a lot to change in one go and if I am honest I often thought that I wouldn’t make it to the end of the year. I was miserable and in the end I asked the HOD whether I could go part-time. It took me about 3 months to ask him – I was so worried that he would be disappointed. He was very supportive and so was the Head. My HOD promised me that things would be easier the next year and I was clinging on to that.
Since then I have been part-time and that has been fantastic. I know that people say I shouldn’t work on my ‘day off’, but the kids are at school then and if I can get my work done then, it gives me the weekends with them. It is also nice to be able to do the school run occasionally and I’ve also been lucky enough to have my day off sometimes coincide with sharing assemblies, trips and sports day. I think being part-time has made me a better teacher and I’m grateful that my school let me continue to do this. My HOD was also right about things being better, in fact I couldn’t believe the difference when I stood for the first time in front of my Y11 class that I had already taught for a year.
In the 4 years that I’ve been at my second school I have been part-time for three of them. This school also gave me the freedom to teach in the way that suits me. I’ve had time to pursue CPD that I was interested in and this enabled me to obtain RSCi 2 years ago.
For the last 18 months I’ve been second in department. If you had told me that 5 years ago I wouldn’t have believed that could happen. I certainly wouldn’t have believed that I’d be thinking about becoming HOD one day.
What advice would I have given myself back then? I thought about this earlier this week as the trainee teacher who had been taking one of my classes finished in school.
- The technicians will save your life on numerous occasions. Make sure that they know they are appreciated. *
- Know the students. I don’t just mean data – I mean them as individuals. Knowing which football team they support or what their outside interests are has been a big help with behaviour management.
- Practice the practicals. I still do this now – and take photos of things I am not familiar with. Standing in front of the class with some equipment that you are not sure how to use is going to end badly.
- Keep learning. I’ve always been very proactive about my own CPD and sought out acitivities/opportunities myself. I’ve learnt so much from Twitter too and this has enabled me to share some great ideas with my colleagues.
- Don’t take things personally. This is the one I struggle with the most and is something I am still working on.
Finally, in the words of one of our PGCE mentors @egwilson “Hang in there”.
When I drew that graph at the end of my PGCE I never would have believed that 5 years later I would still be in teaching and even better that I would be doing a job that I love, in a school that I love, with wonderful colleagues and potentially exciting prospects for the future.
* this week I forgot to add a practical to my requirements but my technician provided it at short notice. She mentioned the cup of tea that I’d made for her on Friday last week!