I took the often-forgotten route into teaching, a three-year Primary Education degree with placements each year in different schools, each a very different setting. One thing that remained the same was my identity. I knew who I was, I was the student teacher and I was comfortable in that role.
Identity, according to dictionary.com, is, among other things, “the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time.” My identity as a student teacher pervaded nearly everything I did for those three years. Call me geeky if you will, but I was one of those that would not let the ball drop no matter what. The role of student teacher seemed a natural progression from being a hardworking student at school and sixth form.
So naturally, I assumed the step from student teacher to full-time class teacher would be much of the same, a natural transition that would just fall into place.
”I never expected my first year to be like this.Caitlin BrackenPrimary NQT
I am grateful for my three years, for the rich experiences I had and the opportunities to explore theory and learn deeply what needed to be learned for my degree. But the downside of having three years’ worth of placements is that I became very comfortable in the role of student. I knew what I needed to do on a placement, but this did not prepare me, as I suppose no student teacher is prepared, for the reality of the classroom.
It is one thing to teach another person’s class for a few hours a week, even if that is most of the hours of the week, but it is entirely different, sitting down with twenty nine children in early September, realising that they are all yours now!
Of course, the children have no issue seeing the adult in front of them as their teacher, even if that teacher is a rabbit-in-headlights NQT at the ripe old age of twenty one! My Year Ones never struggled to see me as their teacher, but I had to work a whole lot harder to see myself as the person that they saw when they looked up at me every day.
I can’t remember the exact moment that it clicked, and I stopped feeling as though I was only pretending. Imposter syndrome is very real for me, and I believe it is prevalent across the profession, but there must have been an adjustment somewhere. A tiny one, perhaps, but it was enough that decisions became easier, that I felt a little less stupid when asking ‘stupid questions’ (you know the ones!) and that the second night of parents’ evening was notably easier than the first.
Being a teacher is something I dreamed of, something I worked hard for, something I knew would be difficult but that I persevered for regardless.
“Suddenly everything had changed.”
I never expected my first year to be like this.
I never expected to sit in my classroom one evening and watch the Education Secretary announce that all schools would effectively close in just two days’ time.
I never expected to have two days, without even my full class due to growing numbers of families self-isolating, to wrap up our time together.
As a teacher of very young children, my identity stretches further than purely educator. Every teacher is in loco parentis, but this is heightened when the children are little: they are hard-wired to see a responsible adult in their vicinity as a caregiver. In those last two days, while trying to observe all the measures of social distancing (with little success considering the age of my class) I was motherly, a worry-soother, a reassuring figure who covered up her own worries to smooth over those of my twenty nine charges.
When they had all gone home for the last time, my heart shattered. I knew it was not the end of contact with them, as modern technology would allow me to keep in touch with them fairly easily. I knew it was not the end of their learning, as I would set work for them to complete each day at home. I knew both of these facts and clung to them, but I still cried, because suddenly everything had changed.
Now, I still hold the role of teacher, but my identity is on shaky ground. I don’t interact with my class for six hours a day, I don’t teach the group or individuals. The community that exists in a small village primary school is no longer a staple of my working day. The routine I had built up has changed into something unrecognisable.
Though I would not do any other job, and I realise that at a time like this, others have it so much harder than I do, I cannot be the only teacher struggling with finding my place in the world now that everything is different.
‘Teacher’ is an identity that I built with the support of others in my school family. ‘Teacher from a distance’ is one that hasn’t quite settled with me yet, but it is one that I am working on, because ‘my’ children are worth it. They make me smile in my living room as much as they made me smile in my classroom, and the smiles are what count at the moment.