"That’s teaching for you – it’s the greatest job in the world.”
An old text message from my dad, the headteacher, was a phrase never forgotten as I embarked on my first year of teaching.
Depending on the circumstances I found myself in this year, the phrase seemed to always be appropriate. I either thought upon it fondly as a message of encouragement (such as when watching students progress as a direct result of my teaching or gaining experiences that they wouldn’t have otherwise had).
Or I would see the quote transform into a sarcastic retort (such as when I had a stack of marking concaving my desk, a line of eager parents to see, and yet again reprographics had “lost” my worksheets).
Either way, I have come to find myself repeating my father’s wise words (in both tones, I’ll admit) throughout the year – and you know you’ve matured when you start to sound like your parents!
Like most NQTs, I dived head-first into my job with a world-dominating attitude which saw me hell-bent on radically transforming the performing arts faculty at the specialist school I was lucky enough to have been employed by!
My dive unfortunately became more of a splash landing after the inspirational educator who had texted me those words – my dad – began a battle with cancer, a battle which proved too fierce. He lost his short fight towards the end of last year.
When I reflect back now I’m not entirely sure how I coped during those few months – keeping my game face on at school as the newbie, learning and wanting to make a good impression, while being always somewhat distracted and spending my weekends travelling to the hospital.
It was the first time that I realised what a wonderful school I worked at though, as generous staff propped me up even though they barely knew me at that point.
I was also distracted by our children’s charisma and did exactly what my dad would have wanted me to do – I kept calm and I carried on, never losing my world domination mentality.
This mentality saw our faculty rewrite every scheme of work as we merged to become more of a unit, as opposed to three separate disciplines (performing arts as opposed to dance, drama and music).
It saw me organise numerous trips (including an international residential performance weekend), host countless shows, reform the extra-curricular interests, and remodel our GCSE framework.
One thing I have learnt is that with each new initiative comes a tree’s worth of paperwork, whether it is risk-assessments, show listings or schemes of work – and this is certainly the side of this job I least enjoy.
As our faculty continued its firm march onwards to reach outstanding standards, I was fortunate enough to be promoted to second-in-charge of performing arts, which rapidly extended the learning curve which had only just started to get smaller.
Of course, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity and honoured by the school’s faith in me – but scared also!
Ageism concerns swept over me as I realised that I was by far the youngest in the faculty, along with general concerns about failing or neglecting my NQT focus.
And yet the largest worry I faced was how to manage these people, who were all far more experienced than me. I’d had expensive and extensive degree training on how to manage children – sanctions and rewards, parental involvement if required and so on – and yet suddenly faced with these adults I felt quite helpless as I tried to find my feet in this new role.
Contending with school politics, extra responsibilities and staff who didn’t do as asked or to deadline was a real struggle. I tried to remain as friendly and approachable as possible. However, I soon learnt that I had to be firm with the staff just like the children!
A few months into the post, our head of faculty was off work for a period of time with illness, and this certainly threw me in at the deep end as I had to step-up yet again – leading briefings, running shows, monitoring data and maintaining faculty morale which was falling as the school continued to make numerous changes in set up for the new academic year.
In some ways this perhaps helped me to establish myself, but I was certainly more than grateful for the head of faculty’s return a month later!
And as I look ahead, we face further change as our faculty depreciates (through what I hope is a compact school vision and not Mr Gove’s anti-arts footprint) and I will be leading the dance department solo with three exam classes and 520 key stage 3 students.
I’ve heard the second year of teaching is far tougher than the NQT year – I think I am about to experience why.
Our NQT diarist this year is a teacher of drama and dance at a school in Essex.