So I’m currently sat on a flight from Krakow to Birmingham, after an emotionally charged day visit to Auschwitz, reflecting on the messages Rabbi Epstein shared with us. They focused on hope, and ensuring we left remembering it was our duty to put something good out into the world and to live our lives doing the things we are intrinsically good at.
One of the wonderful things about teaching are the opportunities you get to personally and professionally develop. I visited Auschwitz as an 18-year-old with my own sixth form, 10 years later I was able to revisit the site with a new perspective, more life experience and to share the experience with students of my own.
As a historian I spend most of my days talking about the past, but it isn’t often I reflect on how far I have come in the last 18 months. Over the past 18 months I have most definitely been on a journey of professional and personal development, from trainee to NQT +1, and this is just one example of the opportunities I have been given. To share what I know with students outside of the classroom and be present when they experience something life changing is a privilege.
My teaching journey began as a trainee at the National Forest Teaching School, with placements at Chase Terrace Technology College and John Taylor High School.
My mentors on both placements were incredibly different, one was a well-seasoned head of department. He taught and managed it class effortlessly like it was easy and won the students over like a stand-up comedian winning over a crowd. He’d had many trainee teachers over the years and he was well versed in dealing with trainees from a variety of backgrounds and needs.
I loved my first placement, it was my ‘home school’ and it did very much feel like home. The department took me in and I was able to draw on the expertise of a number of staff, who made it really clear from the start they were also there to help and support me. Christmas came around quickly; you soon learn when you get into the teaching business time really does fly.
I moved onto a new school and a new mentor. Again a well experienced teacher, we actually had a little bit of a bond over being from the same area, and another amazing teacher. This placement was a new challenge, the pupils from a much more affluent background. Also, as a trainee it always feels like you have a million and one things all going on at the same time, getting to grips with lesson planning, actually teaching and also completing assignments at the same time. And if you throw in a car crash like I did in phase two, your stress levels really peak, but my placement mentor supported me all the way through and went above and beyond.
The quality of mentoring and support I had on the course wasn’t just about teaching-support they supported my well-being too, which really needs to be credited.
The end of training finally came around and I qualified. I was lucky enough to gain employment in my second placement school. As a new teacher in a school it was challenging establishing relationships with pupils, and as a result managing behaviour at times was a challenge.
As an NQT and new staff member I had not put in the hours with the pupils to have loyalty. However, I was also able to invest my time and build relationships with pupils on a variety of residential visits such as, Belgium 2019 and 2020 (Year 10), the Austria Ski Trip (Year 9) , PGL (Year 8) and most recently building bonds with our current year 7 cohort in Aberdovey (sometimes jumping into the freezing sea helps professionally). This is not to say every teacher must attend all trips, but investing your time in some way pays off, pupils who you have built a relationship are typically the ones you can engage with in difficult situations and encourage a positive outcome.
My first tip as a new teacher or NQT is to find opportunities where you can invest time outside the classroom with your students, trips, clubs, or a conversation with them about one of their interests. It doesn’t have to be a big investment but the more you make the more rewards you will see with the relationship and the more loyalty you build.
However, the journey I have been on since feeling like a ‘clueless’ trainee hasn’t always been amazing. For the highs and the opportunities there have been lows. Managing stress levels, ever increasing workload. Sometimes we feel like a lesson was awful and we have failed as a teacher, we feel crushed by the sheer amount of work we have to do. But asking for help when I have struggled is still something I need to work on.
It isn’t often it gets a bit too much, but everyone needs support. I am again incredibly fortunate to have found a department that is incredibly supportive in the early stages of my career.
From coaching me to find the solution myself to highlighting that actually I’m doing really well and shouldn’t be too hard on myself, and also emphasising what my strengths are and offering me opportunities to develop these further. I have continued to develop as a teacher and now feel confident in my ability to add value to my department, paying them back for all the support they offer me.
When you’re a trainee you really do not believe anyone that tells you, it gets easier or better. But now I’ve pushed through some of those rocky moments they really were speaking the truth. Though, I’m not only supported by my department. Through investing my time outside of the classroom I have been able to meet many wonderful teaching and non-teaching members of staff in school and each one has been able to support me in some way.
Without sounding too cliché I really have found this career so far as rewarding as I hoped, but rewarding doesn’t mean to say it’s perfect. Teaching is a profession that really will test how many times you can pick yourself up.
But rather than focusing on what is difficult, because all professions have their own challenges, focus on the rewards this job brings. Whether that is a pupil telling me they love history or getting to facilitate the opportunity for my students to visit significant historical sites that will enrich their lives and they will remember experiencing for years to come. Each teacher will have their mountain top moments that make this job worthwhile. I hope to have many more to come.