First encounters

1st October 1999 at 01:00
Alison Richards prepares for the fray of her first class

Where did those blissful, carefree summer months go? It seems only a moment ago I was gushing thank-yous in gratification for a job (yep, I did get one in the end); the reality of starting seemed a lifetime away. I still don't feel ready. Give me teaching practice any day. Why didn't I appreciate those induction and observation days - where you could become hopelessly lost before the kids had a clue who you were, when you could daydream your way through someone else's lesson while making a note of certain pupils' names (you know the ones I mean).

Even when you actually had to teach a lesson, it was reassuring to know that Mr I've-been-in-this-job-for-20-years was hiding in the store cupboard waiting to bellow if needed. All that's really changed is that I have a piece of paper with the words "successful completion", which, if you think about it, doesn't really say much except that I have come through the course alive.

Some people may argue that that in itself is test enough to being a teacher. At the moment I am not so sure. Talk with other teachers usually goes something like: "Of course your first year will be hell but after that it should get a bit easier" Or: "Much harder than teaching practice but at least you're getting paid". And: "Just don't expect to have a social life," all said with that knowing "I've-been-there" wry smile ("and thank goodness I don't have to do it again, ha ha").

I try to console myself with the fact that every NQT in the land must be going through the same thing. Actually I must have thought this to be quite reassuring as I've moved in with one. I remember swearing blind I would never be a geography teacher, so how come I've ended up living with one as well?

My parents think it's hilarious. Their daughter, who, at university claimed to be an ecofeminist, and to prove it refused to shave her legs and went tree-climbing at Newbury, has in the end conformed "just like the rest of us". Not only that, she's even been to IKEA.

So it is no wonder I haven't even looked at any lesson plans yet - I have had a lot to come to terms with. Nothing to do with being in denial of course. I've had a few rehearsals in my head but I still can't decide between a beaming: "Hello, I'm your new geography teacher," or a fierce:

"Copy out my rules in silence, or else."

On teaching practice I thought how great it would be to start with your own classes. I didn't consider that I would have to decide how to start them. Will the pupils be able to tell, I wonder. This then sets off a whole stream of concerns: how do I avoid looking like a nervous quivering - oops I mean newly-qualified teacher? Navy blue power suit or relate-to-the-kids trendy? Briefcase or plastic bags? Cycle or abandon all principles in case I have to make a quick escape? All this before I've even begun to think about what I'm actually going to do in the lessons.

The other day I had an e-mail from my PGCE tutor telling me not to worry, after the first day I'll feel like I've been doing it for years. I began to worry - tired, worn-out and disillusioned after only a day. I then realised that (hopefully) she is talking about my confidence levels. Mmmm, I think I have to prepare myself to be a nervous quivering teacher for a little longer than a day, there is probably something in the fact that NQT status lasts for a year.

The best advice I've had is to put three large letters on the inside of your door at home so you will see them and remind yourself every morning as you go into school. TNS. Take No....use your imagination.

Alison Richards teaches geography at Oulder Hill Community School in Rochdale. She finished her PGCE last year

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