Looking back

This post is inspired by @chrishildrew who recently posted a letter to his NQT self. It made me think…what have I learnt from a quarter of a century of teaching…and what nuggets of wisdom could I pass on to an NQT ?
My first job was in a primary school as an EAL support teacher and it was a 12 month contract. At the interview I blagged a couple of questions on ethnic  minorities and later discovered that the HT was a highly respected expert in the field with several books under her belt!
Rule 1: Do not pretend you know something that you don’t. .you will quickly be found out!! ( fortunately she was very kind about it and gave me a job)
I learnt an awful lot that year and some of my preconceptions were turned on their heads! One thing forcefully hammered home was that racism is not confined to  particular groups of people! One poor child who was different to the rest had his food spat in daily by others and eventually left the school. Sadly, this is a lesson which is being played out across the globe, with devastating and fatal consequences!
I also discovered my limitations in terms of classroom management but had some good role models to teach with and learn from…I learnt that not everyone will love you and it’s up to you to be positive, upbeat and able to rise above brickbats in the pursuit of bouquets.
My second job was in a medium sized primary school in a mixed catchment area.
Rule 2: Be a diplomat and keep your head whilst all about you are losing theirs!! In this school there were many competing factions which wasn’t helped by the geographical separation of the school building into three discrete areas overseen by competitive and diametrically opposed members of the SLT! You needed the wisdom of Solomon to navigate these treacherous pathways; my advice today would be to keep your head down and get on with your job…involving yourself in inter- necine rivalries can only end in tears!
These years were categorised by learning the art of negotiation – with pupils, parents and colleagues. Initially I was overwhelmed by positivity from all the above..which leads me to..
Rule 3: Nothing lasts forever. Don’t rest on your laurels when things are going well. Don’t assume you’ve cracked it. This may sound negative but I have learned the hard way…The minute something goes wrong everything goes wrong. In my case it was an OFSTED. It was in the days of the clipboard inspection…frowning miseries who, in the words of one of my Y2 children, were ‘scary’. I had, as perceived by teachers and parents, the ‘class from hell’ and boy did they play up when the inspector came to call!! People may moan about TAs but then there were none! You were on your own in classes of 34+!! So there was no one to fight your corner…or deflect…or remove..! I nearly had a nervous breakdown after a distinct lack of support from those who should have known better! They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and thanks to supportive friends/colleagues I came back from the depths…not forgetting supportive parents who showered me with gifts at the end of the year! This all happened the term after my mother unexpectedly died; I would like to think no one would have to go through this now but I have heard of horrifying recent incidents. Rule 4: NQTs. …Please,  please join a union!!
Since then I have had a variety of experiences which have made me the person I am today. So how have these shaped me ? Well, at my third school, a lovely little village school, I really found my feet. I had a fantastic head who believed in me and wonderful colleagues who I still see today, six years after leaving. My head gave me so many opportunities to develop and try new things.I became an advocate for SEN and built links with a local special school; I promoted gifted and talented, parents as educators, better reading, early years’ play….and on and on.  Ofsted loved us and thought we were outstanding. I also completed my NPQH and was told I was an outstanding candidate for headship…which has eluded me….but has proved a blessing in disguise.q
During this period I was seconded to a large school as deputy and worked with challenging children. Again I had preconceived ideas about behaviour and the sorts of children who presented issues.
Rule 5: Learn a range of strategies which encompass the needs of all your class. I was regularly called upon to address difficult children in a particular class; I was seen as a ‘saviour’ by the teacher but this wasn’t a healthy strategy. Yes, SLT have a role to play but it shouldn’t be a ‘rescuing’ model unless it’s an emergency. Some families can see this kind of tactic as excluding and one mum saw my championing of her child as extraordinary and gave me an angel figure because she saw me as her son’s ‘guardian angel’.
This brings me on to my current role as DHT of a primary PRU. Here we have to be large scale ‘guardian angels’ because our children operate on the fringes of society.  Since I have started blogging I have received a particularly poignant message from a secondary teacher who I feel is relatively new to the profession. This was following the ‘they love us really ‘ blog in which I outlined the anxieties of children who were about to leave us this summer. The poster said she was going to try particularly hard next term to engage her more challenging learners because she felt the angst of those who struggle in our system. My blog had brought those difficulties home to her. I sought to reassure her that you can only do what you can do but this can be disingenuous.
My final thoughts are these: my early years of teaching have been constructed from trial and error.  I am not a natural ‘wonder teacher’ like some. I am not a product of academic brilliance like @daisychristo. I have not written a book -acclaimed or otherwise – or written for TES like @tombennett71; I am just an ordinary member of my profession. As a tweep I do not expect to be heralded for fabness or greatness but I do hope to transmit a little piece of what I am about. My advice for today’s NQT would be to be yourself. Be professional,  productive, passionate and stand up to be counted.  Good luck!

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6 thoughts on “Looking back

  1. Good stuff, and sage advice. I particularly echo the bit about not resting on your laurels – you have to keep moving, even if you stay at the same school. No lesson is ever the same twice!
    Keep up the blogging.

  2. Good advice here.
    I am very much the ordinary teacher. Twitter is a fallacy. It’s what we do in the classroom, far away from the spotlights and the self-acclaim, is all that matters.
    Keep up the blogs!

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