Dazed and deflated

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Laura Mannering looks back on her disastrous first year in teaching and asks who's to blame for her failure

When I completed my Post-Graduate Certificate in Education course last summer I was, ostensibly, David Blunkett's model recruit. With a first from Cambridge and a glowing report from my teacher-training college, I was what he would call "quality".

Unconcerned about teachers' starting salaries, which were comparable to those of my friends working in computers or advertising, my preoccupation was with the job satisfaction that teaching could give me, not glamour and pay rises.

My first job was at an inner-city junior school in London, and it started well. Although the class was lively, with many qualifying for free school meals and some who spoke English as an additional language, they responded well to me initially.

Yet by Christmas I hated the job, had failed at it and had resigned. At the same time, another newly-qualified teacher left and we were followed at Easter by the last remaining new teacher, who had faced similar difficulties to mine.

One mistake I made was that I never gave myself time to enjoy life. I often worked from 7.30am to 6pm and also took work home. I returned to school after the October half-term holiday exhausted, as I had come into school for four of my five days off. This time was spent trying to put up a display of tiles that the class had made. Why was it that the other Year 6 teacher whipped up an immaculate exhibition in three hours while as soon as I had glued a tile to the wall it fell off? By the end of the week I was stomping round the room like Basil Fawlty, and swearing at inanimate objects.

As my tiredness increased, my enthusiasm and control over the class weakened. The pupils' behaviour deteriorated, although class control had been my strength as a trainee. At the end of each day I felt like a punch-drunk boxer, dazed and deflated after an undignified defeat. My classroom also bore battle scars. Pencils and rulers were broken and display labels, once neatly laminated, hung from the walls in tatters.

In my final weeks I became like a child myself, inventing illnesses so I did not have to go to school. I was an entirely different person from the confident new teacher who had started 16 weeks previously.

My errors of judgment over behaviour and time management, as well as fatigue, contributed to the crisis in my class. However, I feel that the damage both to myself and my pupils' education would have been lessened if I had been supported by a regular, timetabled monitoring and mentoring system. Although I had a mentor, we met only once during the first half-term as meetings had to take place after school when both of us had work to do.

The head's oft-repeated refrain "There's no such thing as a bad class, only a bad teacher", made me afraid to admit problems. When I did seek help from my mentor and the head they were sympathetic and offered me several options, but ultimately they could not understand the reason behind the disaster. The three successful newly-qualified teachers from the previous year were proof to them that there was nothing wrong with their approach.

To an extent, I empathise with the head. He had improved the standard of achievement in the school during his five years there. Part of that was due to his "zero tolerance" of weak teachers and his expectation of excellent performance. Yet I know that I was not weak when I started teaching at his school and feel that consistent, formalised support could have changed my fate. I take the resignation of the other teachers within two terms of their appointment as a further indication of the school's shortcomings. Both held the school's management partly responsible for their departures.

I believe the Government's re-introduction of the probationary year from next September will protect the interests of pupils and teachers, promising both structured support and on-the-job training, as well as pressure on new teachers to succeed within a year or retrain. If I had been through such a process and failed, I would probably have accepted that teaching was not for me. As it is, I feel that my fall from bees-knees to also-ran could have been avoided.

Laura is now 24.She is working as a supply teacher and gaining work experience as a journalist on provincial newspapers

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