You've just started teaching, there are 28 11-year-olds in your class, and you've never felt more alone in your life. Whether a trainee or a newly-qualified teacher, your demands for information, advice and moral support are going to be greater than at any other time in your career - and there will be times when the combined offerings of friends, colleagues, mentors, tutors and relatives will not be enough.
Which is where, you might fervently hope, the Internet could come to the fore as (in most schools) a readily accessible, 24-hours-a-day electronic companion. But where do you start?
Given the Internet's increasingly high profile during teacher training, there should, in theory, be very few new teachers who are not familiar with the services provided, or endorsed, by the Government under the mantle of the National Grid for Learning. It should not come as too much of a surprise to learn that within this great and fast-growing treasure-chest of curriculum orders, guidelines, policy documents and practical classroom advice, there is as yet no area specifically set aside for learner teachers or NQTs.
Go, for example, to the heart of the system - the DfEE site (www.dfee.gov.uk). There's no mention of NQTs (nor even of teachers) on the home page, but search, and you soon find an archive of circulars covering, for example, schools' responsibilities in induction programmes, or the levels of physical and mental health you're supposed to have to be a teacher in the first place. For the ambitious, the DfEE site is a primary source for ministerial announcements and other policy matters, and a useful gateway to other educational agencies. From here, it's a short jump to the website of the Teacher Training Agency (www.teach-tta.gov.ukindex.htm). This is a text-heavy site, but inescapably the place to go for chapter-and-verse on regulations covering the provision of ITT, in-service training and the looming business of QTS skills testing, as well as for more general advice on such matters as returning to teaching after a career break.
There's a rather patchy glossary of terms - why, for example, does it include QTS but not NQT? - and a discussion area. The links page lists all the colleges providing ITT.
Good as it is, this site does little to inspire would-be teachers, or to congratulate those already committed to teaching as their career choice. Maybe the embryonic General Teaching Council, with its newly-appointed movie producer chairman Lord Puttnam, will do a better job, though it's hard to tell because its website (www.gtc.org.ukwhat.htm) promises much but, at present, offers only an outline of the GTC's raison d'etre, together with a schedule for the elections.
More useful right now is the British Council's education area (www.britishcouncil.orgeducationindex.htm). Its explanation of our education system's complexities for foreign students helps to make them clearer to the rest of us as well.
So far, not terribly good. But then, who'd expect the personal touch from government services? Move to the teaching unions, and it's a different world. Suddenly, you, the student, or NQT, are the hot property, the potential new member.
The National Union of Teachers (www.teachers.org.uk), National Association of Teachers Union of Women Teachers (www.teachersunion.org.uk) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (www.atl.org.uk) maintain high quality sites, which go well beyond selling the benefits of membership.
The NUT, for example, has a "newly qualified" area with a step-by-step guide to obtaining a teaching post. Bags of advice on the induction year, on managing money, and so on. There's a (not very critical) guide to LEAs, and a "student centre" with a guide to websites which is more useful than most. It points not merely to the big education sites, but also to some entertaining oddities. One - Teachers in the Movies, at www. edu.uleth.castudentsed4321projects studentpagesMoviesteachers.html, is a rare delight. Who knows, this could provide just the sort of inspiration that any number of teachers' "Oscars" do not.
But let's get personal. One thing that the Internet can do better than anything else is help you seek out people with relevant experience, and communicate. You can do this in the staffroom on our own TES site (www.tes.co.uk) - where there's a forum reserved for NQTs, as well as for various subject and specialist discussion areas. You can do it in the Government-backed Virtual Teacher Centre at vtc.ngfl.gov.uk, and you can do it at TeacherNet.UK (www.teachernetuk.org.uk). There are plenty of other places where teachers can talk to teachers online. There is, though, as far as I know, only one place where troubled teachers can go for professional, independent counselling, and be assured confidentiality: Teacherline, a national support, advice and counselling line operated by the Teachers Support Network. Find out about it, and the teachers' charity's other work, at www.teachersupport.org.uk.
Finally, if you're looking for a new job, don't forget to log into TES Online Jobs. All the teaching vacancies published in the paper are here, in searchable form, with an e-mail alert service to tell you when appropriate vacancies appear.