I was in that bizarre place that was forcing me to relax and not do anything about school

14th September 2001 at 01:00
Hell for the conscientious teacher who has the gift of a six-week holiday

I wasn't that keen for the new term to start. I was continually reminded of that tired comedy sketch where you've got a guy of indeterminate age moaning to an off-stage woman that he doesn't want to go back to school. "I don't want to go, Mum," he's moaning. "Nobody likes me, they all make fun of me, and I haven't done my homework." "Don't be silly," says the woman, entering in a frilly apron. "You've got to go, you're the headmaster!" Don't panic. I haven't lost the zeal for my profession. I haven't extinguished that vital pedagogic flame that gives me a burning desire to spend my Sunday afternoons marking and my evenings reading government circulars. It's just that I'm starting a new job and all of a sudden school's lost that cuddly, non-threatening, touchy-feely place that it used to occupy in my mind.

I'm not an NQT any more. Indeed, according to the rate that people seem to be leaving the profession, I'm virtually an elder statesman as I have a whole three years' worth of experience. So being new, but not new, puts me in a place where I feel unprepared and frightened, yet with the grim knowledge that I shouldn't be. I'm new, but I'm not glossy and shiny. I'm enthusiastic, but I've passed the stage where I need to fill my waking hours running extra-curricular activities. People are expecting me to have a vague idea of what I'm doing. I don't. The NQT safety net has been removed, as reflected in my (slightly higher) pay package and my (slightly heavier) timetable.

Which leaves the big question. How much room do I have to make a fool of myself? Because I will. It's inevitable, partly because we're talking me here, and partly because doing a new job in a new place is full of the kind of pitfalls that can obscure highly competent, three years old teaching. There's no point delivering a pacey (note the new national literacy strategy lingo), dynamic (my own, wishful-thinking addition) lesson if you end it 15 minutes early. Or you hold forth brilliantly on Paradise Lost for an hour before realising that it's Year 8 sitting bemused in front of you. Or you wait 10 minutes in your classroom for your reading group and then realise they're waiting for you in another building which is a bus ride away. These things happen. But it's the anticipation of them that's giving me sleepless nights.

I spent the summer in that weird no-man's land of being between schools. I wanted to prepare, but I didn't know enough about the pace of my groups, the homework timetable, or other things that you only get to know when you're familiar with a place. I wanted to find out A-level and GCSE results, but I didn't want to be hanging round my old school. I wanted to see my old colleagues but I wondered if I'd lost the right to that old camaraderie. I was in that bizarre place that was forcing me to relax and not do anything about school. Hell for the conscientious teacher who has the gift of a six-week holiday.

I need to start going through the day without running an alternative timetable of my old school in my head. I need to stop thinking, "Thursday, we should be having assembly but we're having a form period instead." The old ways must wither and die. I must resist the temptation to ring up my old colleagues and share anecdotes, and instead spend time with my new colleagues and get to know the kids they're talking about. It's amazing how being familiar with a school can give you that sense of security that hides a multitude of teaching sins. Gone are the days when I can mis-time an activity and let the kids go early to break. Gone are those periods when I can abandon the lesson and gossip about holidays.

I'm just not comfortable enough to do that any more. That's why I wanted a change in the first place. I want to be a better teacher, and I am the kind of person who gets lazier the more comfortable I get. Goodbye cosy teaching armchair, hello career-enhancing wooden stool. I have given myself a proverbial kick up the arse and I know I've made the right decision. Let's just hope the bruises don't take too long to disappear.

Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London comprehensive

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