| Staff Room

Claire Johnston, English teacher, Cohort 2018

London. Spring term only half complete, and 150 final assessments to be marked in Week 5.  Implacable late-February weather.

Enough of the Bleak House homage (well done, English teachers).  But it was a gloomy time of year; and those yet-to-be-written assessments were weighing on my soul.  It took me 15 hours to mark 150 “pre-assessments” only the week before – followed by the torment of “green pen” lessons.  I just could not imagine myself into this time next year.  No longer an NQT –  so with even more teaching periods!  How exactly was I going to cut short the 15-hour marking nightmare?  Or come to love a green pen lesson?  Was it just me, being a perfectionist, worrying about the EEF guidance?  And why was I still struggling with one or two disrupters in each class? Why had I not been able to transform Z into a model student whose only aspiration was to please me with ever-improved work?  Why was she still announcing to the whole class that she hoped Miss would drink bleach or die from corona?

At this low point, a Now Teach email offered some career coaching.  Even preparing for the first session was useful.  It sent me back to the list of pros and cons I made before becoming a Now Teacher, to check the reality against what I had expected.  One big thing stood out as unanticipated: the loneliness I felt at the end of every day, the absence of that sense of shared endeavour which I had so valued as a civil servant.  My day consisted of 7 hours in the company of teenagers, followed by 3 hours of logging, lesson-planning and marking – all of it quite alone.  There just wasn’t enough enjoyment to counter-balance the huge effort required.  I had asked about reducing my hours, thinking that might shift the balance.  The response was simply, “We can’t offer part-time”.  I needed to understand whether and how that crucial balance between enjoyment and effort might shift if I carried on.

In our 45-minute telephone session, Trish listened to my doubts and teased out my worries.  While stressing that she was not in the business of persuasion, she was able to speak from years of experience in schools like mine, managing and motivating teachers, including exhausted NQTs. I believed her when she said it definitely gets easier, that the 10% “extra” would not feel significant, that all teachers find ways of managing their workload without compromising their integrity.  I believed her when she said that English teachers are needed and valued; and that collegiate ways of working do exist. All the best coaching is about persuading yourself, with the help of some wise words. 

The session was the spur I needed to get back on to TES Jobs.  I also took heart from David Weston’s April Teach Meet session on the importance of a collegial culture.  Teachers can suffer from attribution error: “Maybe it’s not teaching.”  I start a new job in September.  Really excited and delighted.   

If you are interested in taking advantage of the Now Teach career coaching offer, please email chloe.poplar@nowteach.org.uk

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