Don't dash our hopes before we've even finished term

6th December 1996 at 00:00
Newly qualified teachers have enough on their plates without their colleagues filling them with gloom about their chosen career, writes Joanna Norton.

Sitting submerged in a pile of Year 7's attempts to recreate the excitement and splendour of Ancient Rome, I cannot deny that the thought "Why am I doing this?" rushed guiltily through my mind. With 30 books to go and only 25 minutes until EastEnders, not even the unnerving drawing of a multi-screen cinema as an example of entertainment 40AD-style could throw me. Casting doubt about my career decision to the wind and applying caution to my red pen, I ploughed on.

I know I am not alone in confronting this clash between idealism and the somewhat grimmer reality. As a newly qualified teacher I am only mid-way through my first term and, now that I am no longer reeling from the initial barrage of information, have begun to find my feet. What I have a problem with is not being a teacher, but with some people's (including some fellow professionals') attitudes to being a teacher.

Most people have been extremely encouraging and supportive. Others follow the rationale outlined recently by a 13-year-old student: "You wouldn't be a teacher if you were brainy, would you, Miss? You'd be something better. " My heartfelt explanation of my ideals, and cliches about "children being the future" were, unsurprisingly, wasted on him.

It is, however, more disconcerting to face the same attitude among my peers. Some of my friends are earning far too much money and having far too much fun for my liking. Again, my idealism and somewhat dampened fervour falls on deaf ears. So, I just accept the jokes about my crumbly car and immensely dull life (with self-satisfied knowledge that they are not really fulfilled) and borrow another tenner off them.

Yet even this is not the root of my problem. The real issue here is that, as an over-enthusiastic and eager-to-please novice or newly qualified teacher, silencing any doubts about the wiseness of the path one has chosen is practically impossible when someone who has been a teacher for years plonks herself down next to you (as happened to me on my first teaching practice) and says, "Get out now - while you still can."

Shockingly, this was not a request to vacate the comfy chair that Mrs Brady had laid territorial claim to, but a reference to the profession itself. Having recovered from the initial misunderstanding with some tiny reserve of dignity, I laughed nervously and tried to look as if I had a brain.

What this incident did was not to show that some people are unhappy being teachers - not in itself a revelation - but to provoke in me a sense of despair. Yes, I have had doubts about my vocation and I am sure I will have more in the future. Help and advice from colleagues is invaluable.

All I ask is that anyone feeling unusually negative or dissatisfied gives trainee teachers and NQTs a wide berth. Newcomers do not need to be sheltered from reality but they do need the opportunity to work it out for themselves, while drawing upon established teachers' inestimable reserves of experience and support.

Raising spirits in such an overworked and underrated profession is not easy. Plunging novices into a turmoil of self-doubt is.

Joanna Norton is in her first teaching post in a school near Bristol

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