Yesterday was my last day working as a teaching assistant at my secondary school, and I now can look forward to starting my new job as a trainee history teacher. I had only been there for less than a year, and so I didn’t expect any huge fanfare upon my leaving. I was therefore taken by surprise and hugely touched by the farewell messages and the bountiful gifts I received from my colleagues.
My greatest surprise, however, was the reaction I got from the pupils I have been working with. One girl, who I don’t teach but who attends my knitting club, came up to find me during break just to give me a hug goodbye. My year 7 tutor group wished me luck but also kept asking me if I could change my mind and stay on at the school. My reply was that I was leaving so I could become a history teacher. “Why can’t you be a history teacher here?” they asked.
I was truly not expecting them to look so glum at the prospect of my departure given that I have been rather strict with them of late, handing out sanctions much more freely than I did at the start of the year. “Aren’t you glad to see the back of me after all the telling off you’ve had from me?” I asked a group of rather challenging boys in the class. “No miss”, one of them said, “we like it when you’re strict with us.” Well I’ll be damned!
Sitting at home this morning, enjoying my newfound freedom, I’ve been reflecting on this rollercoaster year I’ve had. It’s not been an easy one. I have had to cope with poor behaviour, rudeness, aggression and the emotional problems of some damaged kids with harrowing back stories. When I first started, I envisaged my role as primarily an academic one, passing on the knowledge and expertise I have been so lucky to have acquired. In reality, my role has been just as much a pastoral one, meeting social workers, calling parents, giving pep talks and trying to keep the peace in disputes between pupils. It’s taken me out of my comfort zone and been incredibly stressful at times. But having emerged from the maelstrom, I can appreciate the steep learning curve this experience has given me, together with a greater appreciation and understanding of social groups that my privileged life and education had not given me access to before.
I can savour little victories, like the year 10 boy who had stormed out of several lessons because I had objected to him swearing or asked him repeatedly to lift his head off the table and do some work, who just last week asked the English teacher if he could move desks and work specifically with me. We had a productive lesson, at the end of which he had a beautifully annotated poem and written some fantastic paragraphs about it.
I now know this. It’s going to be difficult and challenging at times but teaching is the right career for me. And when times are tough, I just need to remember that teaching is a privilege. Getting to know these young people, building relationships of trust and opening up to them new vistas of knowledge that will empower them through life. There is no greater job on earth.
It’s a shame to ruin my fine ending with this postscript, but I just wanted to add a small piece of advice to any present or future school leader who might be reading this. Departmental staff rooms are not a good idea. They fragment the teaching staff and create cliques. We’re all in this together (to use a hackneyed phrase) so let us also sit together in one collective staff room.