From as early as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a teacher. I’ve wanted to make a difference in a child’s life. I’ve wanted to impart my knowledge and wisdom onto them. I’ve wanted to make a child feel loved, cared for, important and smart, when they might not feel that way at home. I’ve wanted to have played a role in making tomorrow’s world a better place, because maybe I could teach the person who discovers a cure for cancer? Maybe I could teach the teachers of tomorrow?
When I lived in Cyprus, I made a club with my friends where I would be the teacher, they would be my pupils and I would teach them what I had learned at school that morning. I guess now you could say I had mastered my learning, if I was teaching it to other children after school.
I thrived in my year 10 work experience in a local primary school for 2 weeks. I went back to volunteer and help out whenever I could after my GCSEs and during my A levels. Being a teacher was all I ever wanted to be. Until one night.
I was so desperate to become a teacher as quickly as possible, that I begrudgingly went to University for 3 years to train because it was the quickest way to do it. I never wanted to go to university as a child or student sitting at an interview with the careers advisor .
I’ve taken quite a few knocks along the journey to becoming a such a ‘great’ teacher, as I’m so often told that I am. I failed my AS levels spectacularly. I got Us in everything but English Language. I picked myself up and dusted off the humiliation. I worked harder in my second year of sixth form but felt like such a failure at the same time. A feeling I am so frequently familiar with these days.
I had torturous placements in schools at University. In fact I failed my final placement because my mentor thought I couldn’t teach year 3, at all. I had to spend my transitional placement building my confidence back up, at a local school where I was teaching year 3 again. I had a great mentor there, who was a life saver in reviving my dream of becoming a teacher.
After graduating, I struggled to find my first job because my confidence was so low and my Grandad had just passed away. I started doing supply with an agency and did that until Christmas. In January, the local school, that saved my dream, gave me a chance to teach a class, make it my own on a term by term contract for a sick cover that lasted until July.
I started my NQT year, officially, at a school in special measures around Christmas time in 2011. Naively, I told myself it couldn’t be as bad as the rumours kept telling me. I worked hard, took a lot of bullshit from a few colleagues and parents that year. The school went from special measures to good in my second term.(We were almost outstanding, but progress had not been sustained for a long enough period of time.) I don’t remember much about the last HMI visit there, except that it was on a Wednesday and Thursday. I was a zombie in school, on the Friday and my other Grandad died on the Saturday morning after that. It was the shittiest week of my entire life. I finished my NQT year successfully, the next Christmas, with a borderline outstanding RE lesson observation.
I have felt like such a failure on many occasions in my adult life. Apparently, I haven’t changed that much over ten years because I still feel quite like a failure most weeks. Sometimes, people can tell you that you are amazing at what you do, but you never really feel that way. Why do we put ourselves down so much? Is it because our job is so relentlessly challenging and everything is always made to feel like it is our fault first and nobody else’s? We can’t pass the blame when it comes to accepting responsibility for the lack of progress in our children within 10 months. Especially when they have such poor attendance, or a disruptive member of the class, or a completely different, harder, ridiculous curriculum to learn! We’re not allowed to make excuses for why the numbers are so low, just give reasons for why they might be.
Last year, I taught year 2. It’s a lovely age group to teach, if you don’t mind wobbly teeth and snotty noses, but it’s also a stressful one. I taught my class to be independent children. It took me 9 months to train them to actually get up and find the resources that they needed, instead of waiting for pencils to drop out of the sky and land in their hands. By the end of the year, they could walk sensibly and silently to assembly, without having to be reminded 20 times, along a stretch of corridor. They cottoned on that when I said they’d be in at playtime, I meant business and they would finish their work then, or in detention, or worse still…golden time! All because I did such a sterling job!
Well one night last year, I didn’t feel like I was doing such a great job anymore…
Today I feel like the worst teacher in the world. The worst person in the world. Today I forced my wonderful children to sit in silence whilst I read out petty rules for a standardised reading test, which I am supposed to make feel like a ‘normal’ lesson. I’m sorry, but in a normal lesson, I don’t have 8 adults dotted around the room siting 1:2 ratio with the children, encouraging them to have a go and read the next sentence. I only have 2 adults between 27 children. My children might not be brilliant readers with expected level comprehension skills but they can tell that something very different is happening when we have more adults than normal for a reading activity.
Due to the strange circumstances of this ‘normal’ reading activity, a child had a panic attack at question 5 on the test because they couldn’t find the answer in the reading booklet and everyone else was turning the page over to the next questions.
I’m such a horrible teacher, that I made a child, who has been absent for 2 days, sit both reading tests in one morning because the other 83 papers, for each test, cannot be marked until he has finished them.
I’m such an amazing teacher, that I am now having to force my children to write crap about crap so I have enough evidence to suggest that they could be working towards or at expected levels for ‘average’ 7 year olds. Statements that were only really given to us 3 months ago. Really? Like we don’t have anything better to do instead…like learn how to swim?
My children can’t even spell 50/109 Year 1 and 2 common exception words, yet I am expecting them to tell me that a bird is a noun and kick is a verb. Beautiful is an adjective and gradually is an adverb. A contraction is a… a prefix is a… a suffix is a…etc. I am 27 years old and I remember exactly when I learned that nouns were nouns – in year 3. I remember when I learned how to use connectives other than and or because to extend my sentences and keep my writing interesting…year 4.
Im nothing like my year 2 teachers, Mrs Donut (Don-nut) or Miss Evans. I’m the kind of teacher who makes children sit compulsory tests so the progress can be measured, I can tick off crap on assessment sheets to prove that each child is actually not working towards age related standards because my children are bored of having to write everything. They don’t want to write. They just want to have fun. I want to have fun. We want to make jelly, cakes and magic potions. We want to play pretend, dress up in old clothes, play with dolls or cars. Play in the sand and water trays and have longer gymnastics lessons on the apparatus.
Instead I am sitting on my kitchen floor, sobbing hysterically at what an awful day I have put my children through. I’m crying because I know non of my children are working at greater depth, only a few are working at expected levels, most are working towards expected levels at best. I’m crying because after a long, stressful day, I have just dropped my dinner on the floor. It is 10pm and I’m tired. I want to go to sleep, but I can’t because I need to assess 27 children on things they can’t even do properly, despite my best efforts. All I keep thinking is…in just over a week, I’ll get to feel like this all over again when we do the Maths SATs.
Why did I want to become a teacher again? Why did I choose a career that makes me feel like this so often? Will I ever find the balls to just quit and work in tescos instead? Will I ever feel like I’m good enough? Will I still be able to do this when I’m close to retirement? If I feel like I do now, then. I’m not sure I’ll make it to retirement. Not in this vocation anyway.
Whizz forward a few months to November, and I’m playing back the horrors of that week, last academic year. I’m now realising that no matter what my job entails, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the children I teach. I know them. They know me. That’s all that matters. We can read better than last year. We can count further than last year. We can remember how to count in 2s, 5s and 10s with more accuracy this year. We can swim further than last year. We can do loads of things that we couldn’t do when it ‘mattered’. But did it truly matter? Does it really matter? Each child is different. No 2 people are the same. So what if they couldn’t do it in June? They can do it now and I know exactly why… there is no pressure to get it done now. I’m not pulling my hair out when they are struggling to write an exclamation sentence, or add two two-digit numbers together, because it just doesn’t matter. The only things that matter is that we are here, we are learning and we are still trying to have fun.