It’s been a very long time since my first day at school.
Some of my fellow trainees weren’t even born then. Some of them weren’t born when I graduated from university!
Despite being in the prime of my life, and on my third career, a new jacket, tie, and bright brown leather satchel, made me feel very much the new kid when I first went through the school gates at my first placement school. A heady mixture of excitement and trepidation.
The slow death of the local newspaper industry seems to have been a net positive for the teaching profession. Over the past 10 years, while working for my local newspaper group as its arts editor, I saw a pattern start to emerge – announcements of redundancies, reporters sad at having to leave their newspapers, reporters getting jobs as teachers, ex-reporters becoming infinitely happier. So when the Sword of Damocles finally fell on me in December 2019, it was kind of obvious what I was going to do next, though I had more reasons than most for choosing to enter teaching. For several years prior to my redundancy I’d been running a youth theatre group at a local secondary school, while also moonlighting as an exams invigilator. Now, you might think that pacing round a sports hall, watching young people sit their exams and occasionally handing out the odd ruler and pen wouldn’t provide much incentive for becoming a teacher. I was the bad guy, ensuring everyone was adhering to the rules, without any of the goodwill that would have come from actually teaching them the stuff they needed to pass the exam in the first place. Yet it was doing this that made me think I might make a half-decent teacher. Last summer I was placed in a separate room with students who, for various reasons, couldn’t sit their exams in the main hall. Before the start and after the end of each exam I was able to work up a bit of a rapport with this eclectic group – making sure they were ready, that phones were turned off and that they had all the equipment they needed, as well as handing out tissues for sniffy noses and the occasional teary eye. At the end of exams season, several of them came up and thanked me for making what was a daunting and uncomfortable experience a little more bearable. It was an odd feeling. As a journalist, you rarely get emails from grateful readers. Instead, they’re usually complaints about missing apostrophes or how you’ve spelt ‘Aldeborough’ (Yes, I know – it’s ‘Aldeburgh’). The point is, within the short time I’d spent as an exam invigilator, I’d already experienced the glorious glow that comes from being actually appreciated. Of course, I’m well aware that being a teacher isn’t all about the glow. After securing a place on the training course, I spoke to my many teacher friends – some of them ex-journalists like me – and every one of them told me it was going to be hard. One told me, “At some point during your training, you’re going to think you’ve made a terrible decision becoming a teacher – but then something will happen in the classroom, and you’ll know you haven’t.”
They were right.