The constant teacher, even out of school

Nicola Clark

English teaching is a leaking profession. School-time habits have been seeping into my social way of life drip by drip, until recently I got a telling-off from some of my nearest and dearest for talking to them like pupils. Perhaps the gold stars were a step too far.

Even in the street on a Saturday afternoon, it takes a certain amount of self-discipline not to insist firmly that passing strangers walk rather than run and it is nearly impossible for me to ignore anything more than mild expletives or a scuffle of sorts.

At a recent continuing professional development session, we were entertained by the speaker with a personal account about this very aspect of the job and, in particular, a warning of the inevitable and relentless need to talk about all things teaching, even when not in the classroom. We all sat nodding our heads, privately thinking we wouldn't fall prey to this folly.

Teacher chat is the very worst kind for non-teachers to endure.

Unsuspecting friends and loved ones valiantly enter into conversation, only to suffer anecdotal agony.

It is not an attempt to test the patience threshold of friends but simply the fact that the probation programme is demanding and doesn't afford much spare time, so it is almost all we have to talk about.

This year-long social submersion was the topic of discussion with the student teacher who was recently welcomed into our department. We also talked about being a student teacher and the expectations of the first placement.

I couldn't help but think back to my first placement, which seems like five minutes ago, and how I had felt at the end of it. I remember sitting fairly forlornly, thinking of other career options: civil service, hospitality, nursing, piracy, taxidermy I Not a lot seemed to make sense to me. I wasn't like some of the students who seemed to understand innately the mental mechanics of teaching and hop straight to it.

In particular, I remember planning lessons down to the very last 10-second slot and coming out in a veritable cold sweat if I was caught with a stray minute unaccounted for at the end of a period.

Now the anxiety of planning has shifted focus from worrying how to fill a 50-minute lesson to worrying if three weeks is really enough time to complete a critical evaluation. Time has definitely sped up and planning has become more long-term and holistic.

In between reminiscences with the student teacher, the push this month has been towards the extra-curricular activities.

I have been helping (in the loosest sense of the word) with the girls'

football club. It is hard to decline an invitation to help when the member of staff who is asking has such infectious enthusiasm. So I found myself standing in the kind of Scottish rain that only tourists think is beautiful, watching and shouting encouragement.

I was naively expecting to be in charge of distributing, and perhaps segmenting, oranges. So imagine my surprise when I had seven highly psyched-up girls staring at me with glossy-eyed expectancy for some tactical genius.

Hmm. Armed with only a hazy and distant memory of netball, I was thankful that before I managed to reveal my ignorance by calling on the goal attack or wing defence, one of the plucky seven suggested a 3-2-1 formation.

Assuming this was something relevant to football and not a vintage television game show, I heartily agreed that it was a splendid idea and suggested she pitch the notion to the rest of the team (making a private resolve to Google or goggle some footie before the next time we met).

It is great to see pupils of mixed ages out of the classroom environment and involved in something they all love doing. They are fully aware that the teachers have put their own precious time and effort into providing extra-curricular activities and it is positively heart-warming to hear them thank the organisers.

Teaching leaks so much further than the bell at 3.30pm and it doesn't only involve one taught subject. It is a positive amalgamation of several professions: project manager, researcher, agony aunt, cleric and drill sergeant, to name a few. It is little wonder it swallows up so much time and less wonder that it is proving to be so rewarding.

Nicola Clark is a probationer English teacher at Lockerbie AcademyIf you have any comments, email

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Nicola Clark

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