Joy and knowledge

My First Year in Teaching- 2009

This reflection has been dug-out of a dusty folder and was written in my first year of teaching and PGCE, 2009. At a time when the complexities of teaching seem too big to overcome, I hope I’ll find some solace in the optimism and naivety of ‘my first reflection.’

“Every day we are faced with a room full of expectant faces, all waiting to learn and eager to participate… oh, how I wish this were a reality!

At 2pm on a sunny Wednesday in September of 2009 I stepped into my first lesson. My head was swimming with anticipation and I was filled with the hope that I would be the ‘Miss Honey’ in a room brimming with Matildas. I felt I had planned for any eventuality and was convinced that if the students could see how ‘nice’ I was and all the effort I had put in then I couldn’t go far wrong.

These thoughts were coldly interrupted by the cynical words I had just encountered in the staffroom: ‘Watch out for the ones who sit at the back.’ ‘None of them will bring pens.’ ‘All of them hate to read and write.’ ‘I wouldn’t expect any sane conversation out of a single one of them if I were you,’ and the rather scary, ‘just come back through if it all gets out of hand; one of us will step in and pull them apart!’ Dwelling on these thoughts; I had visions of chairs being thrown and a feeling of bewilderment fell about me.

It was then that the words still ringing in my ears were drowned out by the grating of a door handle and muffled chattering which I can still hear now: my first student and oh, what a student she was! I greeted her with a smile (unorthodox to smile before half-term, I know!) and she fired back a grunt, gave a glance to the floor and sauntered to the back of the class where she slammed her bag down and put in her headphones. I didn’t lose hope and as the other students filed through the door, I optimistically decided things could only get better.

Well, my ‘getting to know you’ activity fell down like a lead- balloon. There was very little written on what I thought were fun ‘complete the sentence’ sheets and when it came to setting the ground rules; they were being broken before pen had even been put to the paper I had been so happily setting out just 20 minutes previously. I persevered with the ‘getting to know the course’ and each other chat when I reached the point I imagine every new teacher reaches: I have no resources or experience to fall back on, this hasn’t gone according to my very detailed plan, that door looks rather inviting, ‘Ok folks, that’s all for today, see you all next week!’ Abandon ship!

Ok, so there were no punch-ups, crude comments or flying objects. I suppose I had survived my first so-called lesson and so I traipsed with far less enthusiasm into my next class; my rose tinted spectacles crushed under my defeated stomp.

Playing ball

A few weeks went by and students in this particular class were still not ‘playing ball’. I spoke to colleagues, read books, scoured the internet for ‘effective’ behaviour management strategies but to little avail. However, one week it seemed I must have made some progress; the one student I had most difficulty with said ‘hiya’ on her way in. This was surely success indeed?! The weeks wore on and I began to have more fun with the students. We all relaxed a little more as we got to know one another. They found I wasn’t the shouting kind of teacher and they rather liked that. By the end of the year, we would have full on conversations in the corridors around College and the lessons were wholly enjoyable; spending time with these complex, bright and intelligent characters became the highlight of my week.

A growing love for teaching

That is the wondrous thing about teaching, just when you’ve written it, yourself, and them off; it surprises you!

I still have difficult days but I can honestly say that I’m already gaining resources and experiences to help me deal with many situations and since that day I haven’t abandoned ship.

Behaviour management is not my strong point but I’m willing to work on it;. After all, what bigger kick could there be in life than one of your most difficult students saying that they enjoyed your lesson? Or having a kid who is always late, turn up on time with homework in hand? The little things have begun to get me through the days and the pleasing thought that there will be a tomorrow to sort out the many problems gets me through the nights.

Present day, 2013

When I attended the interview for this first teaching position, having never taught a day in my life, I was petrified yet uncharacteristically confident. The day is crystal clear in my mind apart from one question I was asked; all I remember was my answer:

‘I would be over the moon if just one of my students passed. I’d feel as though I’d done my job.’

Looking back, I don’t know how I even secured that job but I did. Since then, I have seen several students through their exams but there is always one, each year, whose success I feel over the moon about. This year, it was a student who’d sat her GCSE English three times already. On the fourth attempt, she passed.

And now, right now, I feel as though I’ve answered the question posed by my other post that has taken me all day to write. I can’t believe it!

My role is essential because without me, my constant encouragement, my nice smile and my extra tuition, that student, and others like her, would never have had the confidence to believe they could do it.

So yes, for at least one student a year, my role is essential, and that’s good enough for me. My day is no longer wasted. I feel like I can move on. Maybe the question of your role is still there but I have never felt such a relief to have answered a question in my whole life. Honestly. I am no longer asking why I’m here, I’m just glad that I am!

My writing commitment: I’m learning to honour my thoughts. I’m learning that my words can be shared before I’ve connected all the dots or learned everything there is to know. My writing can be a snapshot of a single moment in continually-evolving time.

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