You're a phoenix...

14th January 2000 at 00:00
You just don't realise yet. But fuelled with idealism (and biscuits) you will rise, says Gemma Warren.

I want to talk to you about something you probably haven't thought about. Promotion. It seems to me that everyone's moving up. We're fast-tracking, up-grading, streamlining - all those things usually reserved for the world of big business rather than your local school. We're rushing to get points on our pay scale the way that normal people get notches on their bed posts.

This can be disconcerting when you've just started teaching. When you can hardly make it through the day on your NQT timetable, the idea of adding to your responsibilities seems laughable, and voluntarily adding to them, well that's only for people who put "sado-masochism" in the "other interests" section of their CV. (I do think there's a strong argument for including "sado-masochism" in the NQT competencies, but we won't go into that now.) When I was on teaching practice, my head of department was the living incarnation of Superwoman. While I was struggling to teach two lessons a day, she taught a full timetable, managed a department, managed a family, managed time, and still managed to be effortlessly lovely to anyone fortunate enough to cross her path. "How do you survive?" I asked her once. "No sleep," she told me. And probably a bit of sado-masochism too. Confirmation, if it be needed, that the NQT year is one of the most horrific tortures ever dreamt up, is the fact that everyone is so desperate to leave it behind.

You should take promotion seriously. See it as a viable option rather than the Holy Grail - often sought, never achieved. And your NQT year is exactly the time to be thinking about where you want to be going - apart from the Seychelles, naturally. Take time to look around the school during your first year and get involved wherever your interest strikes you.

One mistake that NQTs make is thinking that their opinion and skills aren't valuable. And one mistake that schools make is not listening to and valuing their NQTs. Think of yourself as the streak of gold in your school: its most valuable resource, waiting to be mined. It took time before I stopped thinking of myself as the geographical fault. Few other people are new enough to see school through fresh, if not exactly rose-tinted, spectacles. Few are still untainted enough to be classed as belonging to the human race, rather than the teaching race; a different spcies entirely, living mostly off digestive biscuits and, like true immortals, managing to survive without procreation.

Use your NQT year like a map to prepare for where you want to go. Or if you're feeling more like a smouldering heap, think of yourself as a phoenix, ready to rise majestically from your pile of marking to take on the world next year. I promise you that around the beginning of the summer term, you'll look up one day and suddenly find your desk a bit clearer, and your pile of marking a bit smaller. Fight that sense of insecurity and panic, then reintroduce yourself to the world. I don't mean the real world, naturally.

When an internal post came up in my school, I decided to apply. I know what you're thinking because I thought it too. I'm not good enough. I'm too young. What if I don't get it? They'll think I'm getting above myself. How can I apply for something against someone who's been here forever? What if I don't get it? Will they remember that it was me who last broke the photocopier and hold it against me? Will having a new job leave me with even less time to try to get laid? Will I have to buy a trouser suit? What if I don't get it? I've just got a job, why the hell am I applying for a new one? Why did I go into teaching in the first place?

I can understand your worries. As a new teacher, you're cursed with five million times more angst that your average teenager. But have faith in your power to promote yourself - you do it every day in the classroom, and kids are the hardest customers in the world. People who won't walk under ladders are absolutely right - they were built for climbing.

Now take a pair of scissors and cut this article out, because I know you don't want to hear about this now. You've got too much else to worry about and you're wondering why you've just spent pound;1.10 on someone telling you to work harder, when you could have put it towards the price of a Cosmo, which could remind you how you're not having sex. But trust me, and look at it again this summer when you're beginning to feel sane. Don't listen to those people who say that the best things come to those who wait. You're a teacher. Of course you can find 120 seconds in a minute. You've got to be in it to win it, and that new job's got NQT written all over it.

Gemma Warren teaches at The Latymer School, Edmonton, north London. She is a columnist in Friday magazine.e-mail:

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