Rights and wronged;Career development

24th September 1999 at 01:00
A newly-qualified teacher says she was given inadequate support and then dumped without explanation.

Since joining the teaching profession I have become accustomed to using the word "right". There is the attention-grabbing "RIGHT!", the reassuring "Right, you're nearly there", and then the congratulatory "Right, well done". Then of course there are the rights of the pupils, and the staff who doggedly complain: "She had no right to put me down for cover this week." As a probationary teacher starting this term, you have a right to a mentor, an induction programme and other support. What happens if you don't get that?

I started a year ago as an newly-qualified teacher, before the probationary year was reintroduced. I thought I was prepared for anything, but nothing prepared me for what actually happened.

Since childhood my mother has described my first day at school - how I looked worried briefly, then skipped away happily. This was all reversed on my first day as a teacher. I was the only NQT and there had been no induction day.

So, along with my new Year 7 pupils, Ilearned that only two windows in the classroom opened, the toilets smelled and that the technology room was on the second, not the third floor.

Mercifully, my first few days and weeks passed without any major traumas. Then, in January, I sensed that something awful was going to happen. I was sleeping badly and started having nightmares. My predecessor had failed to mark any of the Year 11 coursework and the moderation date was fast approaching. I knew other NQTs had been approached by their schools about becoming permanent members of staff while I had heard nothing. Meanwhile, the headmistress started to open and close my classroom door with alarming frequency. She was doing it to everyone else, but as an NQT, I felt the monitoring had a special significance.

The bombshell came when I was suddenly told I would have to re-apply for my job, and that it was going to be advertised in The TES. I was devastated. My mentor had not even been consulted. My head of department couldn't explain why and how the situation had arisen. To this day I still don't know what I did wrong.

I didn't get the job, and not even the temporary position was offered. At the end of the last day of the Easter term I received my feedback. "Members of staff say you are too laid back," said the head. "I appointed you on a temporary contract because there were only two of you at the interview. You've got a lot of potential and we'll help you achieve that."

It was all news to me.

Over the Easter holiday I did nothing but worry. Was I really that bad a teacher? I lied to my friends, ashamed to tell them I had failed. I was depressed.

Going back to school proved harder than I had anticipated. I started to develop out-of-body experiences, imagining I could see myself teaching, and identifying all my faults. I applied to schools with varied success. I felt I had to put on a brave face.

I approached the headteacher to see if I could have a copy of my college reference for a job application. She told me I could have it in two weeks' time because the school budget was more important. Just when I thought things could get no worse, I discovered that the girl I'd met while waiting to be interviewed had not only got the job but was completing her teaching practice in my school. So for six weeks I had yet another reminder of how unsuccessful I had been.

I decided to enrol with an agency, which offered me a long-term position - in the school where I had just lost my job. Luckily, after several interviews, I finally found a school that had faith in me. Just as well, as I was prepared to leave teaching altogether. Believe me, shop work has never looked so appealing.

Everyone says I was unlucky. But in spite of what happened, I managed to fulfil my targets for the year, which included doing a class assembly and participating in the school play. I know my main mistake was trying to cope on my own, but I find it frightening to think that if it had been the new probationary year, which the Labour government has now re-introduced, I might have been failed for good and would not be teaching today.

* First Encounters, page 27

The author is a teacher in south London who wishes to remain annonymous.

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