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One, two, three, four more days… and I will have completed my NQT year! It still feels like yesterday that I got the phone call from St Mary’s College in Twickenham, south-west London, telling me that I had been accepted on the PGCE primary course.
However, as soon as the excitement wore off, I started thinking about the practicality of being a student again. I was 34, had two children aged two and four and wanted to go back to uni again? What was wrong with me? Who was going to look after the children? And what about the cost of child care? But after discussing the matter with my husband, who was very supportive, we decided that if I wanted to be a teacher, then I should be.
I started the course in September 2004. I still remember my first day at college, when I finally made my way there, with tears in my eyes and feeling incredibly guilty, after dropping off a screaming two-year-old at nursery and a four-year-old at the childminder's. College was fantastic, probably one of the best times of my life. It was great to be back at uni and I felt 21 again, surrounded by people much younger than me. But as much as I enjoyed attending lectures, I found it quite hard to go back to writing essays and I spent many evenings at my computer until the early hours of the morning, trying to meet the deadlines. You see, while most of my college colleagues could spend the afternoon in the library after the lectures were finished at 4pm, I had to get in my car and race back to collect my children. And what a wonderful feeling that was, to see their little faces smiling at me again. Now I was not the student teacher anymore, I was a mum again. And so back home: feeding time, bathtime, storytime, bedtime… and after that, back to my books.
And then July came. I had survived two blocks of school experience, nine months at college, 15 essays… I was an NQT and I even had a job to go to in September. Many things were preying on my mind when I walked into my new school on Monday 5 September 2005 to start my first day as the teacher in a Year 4 class. My terror was twofold: that I wasn't going to make it as a teacher, and that I might not actually enjoy being a 'real' teacher. I was quite confident because my course had gone well and a great school had offered me a job, but I was still terrified. And I can tell you, no college can prepare you for that first day at school when you are standing in front of 30 pupils.
I took all the challenges of my teaching job one at a time: my first class assembly, my first class Mass (we are a Catholic school), my first parents' evening, my first report writing… and all those times I was faced with difficult behaviour, upset children or apprehensive parents. But the biggest challenge I have faced is in achieving work-life balance.
What I really want is a 36-hour day and four-day long weekends. I have only recently managed to stop myself from working at weekends. Stopping thinking about school and switching off is something I sometimes still struggle with. Eighty per cent of my life is spent in 'teacher mode': talking, speaking, sleeping and dreaming teaching, and telling the annoying ones at the back of the room to sit down and be quiet – even when they happen to be my own children or my husband! I particularly remember waking up at 5am worrying about my class’s latest test results and how to introduce long division.
It has been hard at times and I have never been so tired in my life, but I have loved every minute and I’m looking forward to my new class next September – as a real teacher.
Photo copyright: Martin Shallcross