They say that your probation year is a roller coaster. They’re right – if only because your hairstyle is certain to fall into disarray and there’s always a chance that someone near you will vomit.
Just before last Christmas I collapsed in the staffroom, shedding glitter like dandruff and haemorrhaging seasonal goodwill. “Is it always like this?” I gasped.
A colleague thought for a moment before replying: “No, the first year’s the easiest. Next year you have to do it all over again, but with a little less enthusiasm.”
I’m not entirely sure I agree. Having conducted a very unreliable straw poll of colleagues in their first year of real, proper teacherdom, I’ve discovered that what we’ve lost in starry-eyed enthusiasm is more than made up for by our increase in confidence.
I haven’t met a single newly qualified teacher who got through last year without experiencing at least a little self-doubt.
Standing in front of your very own class for the first time, you become acutely aware of just how much you didn’t learn at university.
All the Pinterest boards in the world can’t make up for having no idea how to actually teach someone to read.
The amount of energy I spent second-guessing myself last year was phenomenal. “Is that right? Will that work? I’d better plan something else just in case this part bombs…”
The constant feeling of being two steps behind everyone is exhausting. And there is a very particular kind of headache you only get in a staff meeting when you don’t understand the acronym being discussed but have a sneaking suspicion that it will triple your workload.
But the ups? There is no feeling in the world like a good lesson going well. Or when children dance out of your classroom chattering about what they’ve just done. Or when even your most reluctant writer gets fired up and writes something (anything!) with ferocity and passion. Those rare Friday nights when you’ve achieved what you set out to do that week and can leave without a huge bag of marking over your shoulder.
That’s what we live for as NQTs – the fleeting feeling that it might all come good, that you haven’t completely ruined 29 young educational lives.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s my advice to anyone feeling the pressure in that terrifying first year:
1. Learn as much as you can from everyone around you, but don’t try to be them. Schools value diversity among their teachers, and you bring something unique to the table.
2. Celebrate your victories, no matter how seemingly insignificant. When wee Jimmy finally ties his shoelaces, remembers his times tables, hands in his homework or manages not to punch someone when he gets angry, crack open the bubbly and throw a party.
3. Don’t worry about your hair – you look great!
Joanna Rose is a recently qualified primary teacher