Face up to your fear and it will soon pass

8th September 2006 at 01:00
I remember the first day of the holidays. A deep inhalation; a relieved lung-full, knowing the alarm wasn't going off on Monday. Or maybe just the satisfaction of being able to roll over to rejoin the Mad Hatter entertaining George Bush Jr and the cast of Sesame Street, or whatever my cerebellum has spent its resting hours preoccupying me with.

Hours later, a cheery bounce into town. What to do with all this time? Meet friends? Maybe a film? Perhaps a fancy coffee in a street cafe to watch other people trotting by. Could read the paper and tut while inwardly putting the world to rights, or go shopping for needless things.

Then I spotted it in a garish window among the Nasa-designed stationary and other state of the art school gadgets, a monstrously huge sign, tormenting me and making my double whammy skinny latte curdle: "Back to school sale now on!"

Aren't the movers and shakers in the marketing world getting a little too precocious with their planning? The chocolate Santas barely have time to tempt us before they are whisked off the shelf and melted down into Easter bunnies. Similarly, not one second after the last school bell rings and the kiddies (and teachers) start to rejoice, then shop assistants everywhere are feverishly dressing up dolls in full regalia for the new session.

All along the high streets in July, platoons of uniformed mannequins stand as a menacing reminder that there is still course preparation to do, so don't get too excited about that latte.

I decided to escape this constant prompting, as I wasted a lot of my pre-probation summer by worrying. So I flew on a giant credit card to Thailand.

Far from a relaxing recline in the sun, I surprised myself by taking up scuba diving. This may not seem unusual except that what really, really scares me is water: being out of my depth, big fish, fish with teeth, small fish, deep water and sea cucumbers. So I didn't expect to be standing on a boat and jumping in among a shoal of barracuda and thenjumping in again hours later to do the same thing in the dark.

Then again, two years ago, I didn't expect to be able to teach.

The guaranteed reaction when I tell anyone is a sharp intake of breath, followed by "Och, you're brave" or words to that effect. Secondary school can petrify people. Perhaps it is personal experience or the growing perception of some children as thugs and misfits. As Dylan Moran comically but poignantly points out: "I no longer see children. I see youths, the kind described on the news."

The word "youth" is increasingly synonymous with disruption, "hoodies" and anti-social behaviour orders.

One recent conversation about this was not with a hoody-fearing agoraphobic but a jet fighter pilot, whose day-to-day duties include facing national enemies and extreme personal danger, at speed. Yet the mention of secondary school made him shudder. That has to say something about the perception of school.

It made me think back to my own secondary years and, sure enough, once I'd removed my rose-tinted bifocals and thought beyond the memories of apple crumble and netball in the sunshine, I realised I had somewhat remastered my memories. School was an intensely social place where the classroom could switch from an inviting open forum for discussion to a place of potential humiliation, depending on the dynamics of the lessonclass.

It can be very scary, swimming and breathing under water, but I realised how quickly you forget your fear once you overcome it.

That is why this year differs so much from last. The stomach still churns before the first week but a new feeling is mixed in with the nerves: excitement, knowing it is the kind of job where you can't guess what challenge might tease you out the comfort zone.

I can say with certainty that beating some personal fears this summer and realising these challenges can be attributed to the resilience I acquired last year.

Nicola Clark was a probationer at Lockerbie Academy last year and is now a permanent English teacherIf you have any comments, email scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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