I had my first son aged 18, which meant I didn’t go to university like everyone else. So a few years ago when my children were still young, I decided to train to be a teacher.
It was risky, as it meant investing five years in my own educational development and reducing my income with no guarantee that I would: a) be any good at it, or b) enjoy it. Despite all that, though, on 24 February 2020, I started my first job as an English teacher in further education.
Was it worth it? Well, we might have gone into lockdown 24 days later, but I think you’ll be surprised to hear: I love it.
Fast forward a few months and I’m starting a new (and my first full) academic year. I think because I’ve been with the college since February, my colleagues forget how new I am to all of this, and I often find myself asking, “Sorry, what do I need to do again?”
Even though this is my first-year teaching, I’m not required to complete QTS, I don’t have reduced teaching hours and I don’t have a designated mentor (although all my colleagues are great).
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I might have an English degree, but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing. How can I, when I’ve never really done it before? I sold myself in my interview, though, and convinced my new employer that I’ve got what it takes. However, there’s a fine balance between asking enough questions to make sure I’m doing the right thing and asking too many questions that even I start to doubt myself.
Despite this, I really have had the best few weeks in my new role. I’ve grown in confidence and it’s surprising how quickly you pick things up. I know far more than I realised. That’s not to say it isn’t hard. Teaching can feel isolating when you start out. Students, particularly those studying English at FE (because let’s face it, who wants to resit their English exam for the second, third or even fourth time) can have a very strong mindset. Then, even if you find yourself with a gap in your timetable, it’s rarely shared with a colleague, and always, always filled with admin.
The impact of coronavirus
Ten weeks into term and I find myself isolating. Luckily, I’m well. I know that I shouldn’t complain too much because of this, but if I ever imagined that teaching from home would be easier than being in the classroom, I very quickly realised that’s not the case. Hours of planning went out of the window, and I had to figure out how to get them to engage online. This wasn’t going to be easy.
You have to understand the demographics of those you teach, and no matter how hard it can seem when you receive your 30th email claiming “I can’t find the work anywhere” when you know it’s there, you have to persevere. It’s my job to understand the barriers to learning that my students face – and no matter how simple you think you’ve made things, if they’re reaching out to you, you have to see that as a starting point, and you just have to figure out another way of enabling them to access learning.
Moreover, and always in the back of my mind, I’m very aware that I need to make sure I’m keeping up to date with my own professional development. I feel the pressure to continue progressing and evolving as a teacher, and not just settling into a routine now that I’ve secured a permanent teaching role. I want to do my job well because I want to see my students achieve, but I also want to enjoy what I do for as long as I do it, and that means investing in myself and developing as a teacher. How do I fit all of this in during a pandemic? I don’t know yet, but I know I want to try. I want to get through the year and get through it in the best way I can.
One thing I’ve learned is that regardless of your experience, your knowledge or skills, everyone in the education sector has found it hard at one point or another this year. The most important thing I’ve recognised is that working as a team (which I know I’ve said can often feel difficult when you’re locked away on your own in a classroom for hours on end) is essential. I really value the friendships I’m making on this new venture of mine. Stick it out and stick together. Talk. Laugh. Cry. There’s always next year.
Amy Helen is a pseudonym. The author is a new English teacher in a college in the North East of England