I spent last weekend in Paris. I am aware such statements might indicate a glamorous lifestyle so, to put it into context, my weekends are usually mostly a combination of laundry, lesson planning and sifting through ball pools for missing socks. Paris was very much a one-off, courtesy of Mr Brighouse (mercifully not a teacher) and his company’s endearing habit of celebrating milestones with funded treats for employees and their partners.
Thus on Saturday night, instead of working through a pile of books with a highlighter and a bottle of red, I was sitting in the magnificent Moulin Rouge, filling up on Laurent-Perrier while on stage girls in thongs led miniature horses and one dancer plunged into a giant tank of water filled with writhing pythons.
Walking through the Tuileries the next day, I treated Mr Brighouse to my rhapsody on the glory that is Paris. “You only think this because you’re not a Japanese tourist,” he told me.
Turns out he’d read a news story about how the Japanese embassy was devoting considerable energy to caring for tourists who come to Paris expecting the city of their dreams only to find it blighted by litter, beggars and waiters who make Basil Fawlty look like Jeeves. The condition – “Paris syndrome” – has reportedly led to a helpline being set up and is responsible for the repatriation of up to 20 tourists a year who can’t cope with the disappointment.
I mused on this. It’s around this time of year that the school world experiences a similar phenomenon: NQT syndrome.
For a newly qualified teacher, September is full of hope. Their classrooms gleam with shiny new pencil pots, welcoming book corners and colourful motivational posters, but by half-term there’s a chance the dream has been trampled. Pupils who won’t behave; carefully planned lessons that fail to hit the target; demands for data on top of hours of marking; parents’ evenings; a constant sore throat.
Sometimes it can all seem a bit overwhelming. I don’t know the numbers but I’m guessing the overall rate of those who crumble and leave is considerably more than 20 a year. Occasionally, I stumble into teacher chat on social media and, at this time of year, the NQT cries for help are clarion. Stories abound of teachers struggling: with discipline, with paperwork, with mentors and senior leaders who expect perfection from day one and meet signs of weakness with extra observations and pressure.
Like for those Japanese tourists, it must all seem a far cry from the vision: the inspirational television adverts showing confident young teachers drawing gasps of wonder in science labs (why always in science labs?). How you cope with the disparity between dream and reality probably depends on the school. A friendly school with a commonsense SLT and a supportive staff can be all that’s needed for an NQT to swim, not sink. Anything less, and you might be left feeling like you’re drowning in a bath of pythons.
Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a primary teacher in the Midlands