Teaching is kind of like being a parent.
It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, how many courses you’ve taken or how many times you’ve borrowed other people’s children to have a practise, nothing can prepare you for being a parent.
Just like nothing can prepare you for being a teacher.
Read this through and if you recognise any or all of this as how you’re feeling at the moment, don’t worry. It’s totally normal to feel like this for the first half term.
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1. Nobody can prepare you how much you would feel responsible for the children in your class.
The first morning of teaching, was there a moment when you stood or sat in front of the class and they all looked up at you with those enormous eyes and you thought, “Oh my God, they’re all just looking at me”?
I know that I have it with every single new class.
Even now. Even after all these years.
You stand in front of your class and you think, “Everything they learn this year, every bit of progress they make, every new learning experience they have… will only happen because of me.”
What a responsibility.
Those 30 children only get one shot at the year group you teach.
And it’s up to you to make it the best it can be.
2. The Von Moltke effect.
Von Moltke was a Prussian General in the 1800s who once famously said, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”
What he meant was that it doesn’t matter how much you plan for an attack, you can’t plan for how the enemy will react.
Once the attack starts, all you’ve got to rely on is your wits.
I often think of this quote when I’m teaching and have passed it along to the students and the NQTs I’ve mentored.
Because it applies equally as much in the classroom as it does on the battlefield.
You’ve planned the most amazing lessons and you’ve scoured the Internet looking for the perfect resource for each one.
Well, not just one resource of course, five resources for your five differentiated groups… and a special one for Sam.
You have visions that the children will sit, utterly fascinated by your modelling of your holiday writing, through which you’ve liberally scattered Wow Words and a variety of sentence openers as well as optimistic sentence structures to successfully extend your higher ability learners.
You have your talk partner questions carefully planned using Blooms Taxonomy and a colourful self and peer assessment sticker for the plenary activity.
But ten minutes into the lesson, Tom has already hit Anna and is sitting in the ‘Quiet Corner’ yelling how much he hates you and this school and how he wants to go to a different school.
And that makes Sam antsy, so he’s twirling a pencil round and round on the table top, making a noise that’s distracting Annabelle, whose hand has been up and down like a yoyo for the last 5 minutes, telling you how much Sam’s noise making is annoying her.
But you know that if you ask Sam to stop, he’s going to find another way to fiddle and frankly the noise isn’t that irritating. Not compared to Ashim, who’s writing about his holidays but sounding each word out in a really loud voice and saying each letter individually several times before committing it to paper.
And your TA is doing her best to help those who are struggling but it’s like all the learning they did yesterday fell out of their heads overnight and the beautiful display you spent all day creating in the summer holidays that models wonderful writing may as well be made out of invisible paper for all the children are using it…
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3. You don’t expect the feeling of utter helplessness.
When a lesson goes like this, you wonder where you went wrong.
Why didn’t this lesson go as you planned? What happened?
And you feel helpless and useless and as though maybe you weren’t meant to be a teacher after all.
Every time your perfectly planned lesson doesn’t go to plan, you worry that your utter incompetence has just cost the children another day of learning.
Every time a child is rude or hurts someone, you worry about what you did wrong that made them think it was OK to do that.
Were you not clear enough with the classroom rules?
Did you not follow the school behaviour policy correctly?
Was it because you raised your voice? Or because you didn’t?
Perhaps the writing the children did wasn’t as good as you were hoping.
Now you’re wondering if you spent enough time planning, enough time finding resources to support the lower ability, who spent almost the entire lesson writing the Learning Objective and playing with their rulers.
And worst of all, everyone else is somehow making it look easy.
When you pop into your mentor’s classroom, they’re all sitting quietly, writing in joined up handwriting, using a dictionary for the tricky spellings and using their VCOP pyramids to independently up-level their work.
And you wonder what you’re doing wrong that you’re children are nothing like that.
4. The interference.
You spent the whole summer planning for your class.
You planned English and Maths lessons, SPaG, Theme, RE and everything else. It all fit perfectly onto the timetable with no minute of the day wasted.
And then on your first day your Deputy Head told you that your class would be learning the trumpet between 1:45 and 2:45 on a Tuesday afternoon.
A time that essentially wipes out the entire afternoon because there’s no reasonable amount of time before or after trumpets to get anything else done.
So you rewrite your timetable, making allowances and squeezing things into smaller than ideal time slots.
And then your Head of Year tells you that there will be an extra-long assembly this Friday because the people from the school charity are coming in to talk about their cause.
So that’s your RE lesson for this week out of the window, putting you a week behind already.
So you spend an evening rejigging your plans so that you can still cover everything in a smaller number of lessons.
Finally, a TA pops her head in and asks for the House Captains between 12 and 12:20 every Thursday so they can count merits.
And you stop trying to plan your week.
You throw your hands up and decide to just go with the flow for the next few weeks.
And then you get an e-mail from your English Coordinator reminding you that any child who hasn’t reached reading level 5 should be spending 20 minutes a day doing catch-up phonics with your TA in the group room.
And you sit and cry.
5. The guilt. Oh, the guilt…
You get to school at 7:30am.
You’ve dropped your own children off at the childminders or your Mum’s house and kissed them goodbye with pangs of guilt, knowing that you won’t be the one dropping them off at school this morning.
Once you arrive at school and load all the planning and resources from your memory stick to your laptop, you start to print planning and get resources ready.
You spend a minimum of 10 minutes trying to extricate yourself from conversations that you don’t have time for and have finished the marking you were too exhausted to finish last night.
You know that the children whose books were marked this morning got the raw end of the deal because you didn’t have time for such detailed feedback and you feel guilty about that.
The lessons go OK, but at playtime, Kevin got sent back in to take his inhaler.
You were supposed to remember to give it to him before he went outside, but you forgot because you were already panicking about the amount of writing the children produced this morning and stressing about how long it was going to take to mark tonight.
As Kevin’s face appears around the classroom door, you immediately know why he is there and feel guilty that you forgot something that was so vital.
At lunchtime, you take 20 minutes to decompress in the staffroom.
You eat your sandwich and manage to finish a whole cup of tea.
You even laugh at a joke someone told.
Then you feel guilty because you haven’t started any marking and, if you don’t get it done before 6 o’clock, you’re in danger of having to plonk your own children in front of the cartoons tonight so that you can do some marking before tea.
The thought of this makes you feel guilty.
At home time, Sarah’s Mum asks if you managed to find her missing cardigan.
And you realise that you forgot to look in Lost Property at lunchtime like you promised her you would.
And you feel guilty because Sarah had reminded you twice about her cardigan today but both times were right in the middle of a lesson so you couldn’t stop what you were doing and look right then.
And you’d told Sarah that you would look at lunchtime and you had sat and enjoyed a whole cup of tea and laughed at a joke instead and completely forgotten about her cardigan. And this makes you feel guilty.
6. The love.
But here’s the thing.
Just like a new parent will spend a significant amount of time crying from exhaustion and frustration because their child just won’t eat/sleep/poop/stop crying… so will you.
And just like a new parent, despite the lack of sleep and the fact that they haven’t showered in three days, will stand over a cot and look at their infant who is finally asleep and feel nothing but pride and love… so will you.
There will be times when you are exhausted and on the verge of tears, and thinking of giving it up.
But then Katie will bring you her writing and she will have spelled ‘went’ without an h. Finally!
And she will look up at you and she will say, “Look! I remembered! I spelled ‘went’ properly!”
And she will be so proud of herself. And your heart will burst with pride too. Because you taught her that. You made a difference.
And there will be times when you’ve spent another 40 minutes sitting with Sam, who has lost his temper again and kicked a Dinner Lady and been sent inside to talk to you.
And for the ninety-ninth time, you will talk to him about what he was feeling and which choices he could have made instead.
And he will look at you and say, “I’m sorry.”
Words you thought he was incapable of saying.
Because he trusts you. And he doesn’t trust anyone else in the world.
And you’ve seen the way his mother talks to him – shouting at him in front of everyone and telling him he’s useless.
And you know you just made a major breakthrough. You just made a difference.
Not to mention the times a child will finally understand place value or be able to name the colours in French or use scissors to cut a straight line successfully because of your efforts.
Or the times a child will say something so kind and helpful to another child as a result of one of your PHSCE lessons that you want to cry out of sheer joy.
And that’s why we do it.
There are times when it feels like the worst job in the world.
And, like parenthood, it does take over your life.
But the payoffs, when they start to come, are the best thing in the world.
When you know that you’re making a difference, everything else fades away and you are rejuvenated.
You go and mark the next set of writing extra vigilantly and you rethink your theme planning for next week because it was rushed and not really geared towards your class and maybe there is a better way of doing it…
And at that moment. Then you’re a teacher.
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