Currently I’m on my well-earned first half-term break as a Newly Qualified Teacher. I’ve chosen to spend it in Holland with the other half (where he lives) and had plenty of to-do lists on my to-do lists, thinking that with all the free time I could get ahead of the game for once! Oh how I was wrong…
I’ve spent the whole week on the couch or in bed feeling sorry for myself with a nasty cold and a side order of cough and cold sore. Woo!
Ah, must focus! Firstly, I’m now writing as a qualified teacher (yay!), which is something that I didn’t think I’d be able to achieve this time last year when the dark mornings and nights settled in and the little monsters began to show their true colours. But, we rare breed of Teach First participants stuck it out in our challenging schools and made it through our Initial Teacher Training year to come out the other side with a PGCE in our pockets and a cushy £4,000 pay rise. Sounds like a fantastic reward, right? After all those essays, late nights of planning and marking and being verbally or physically abused, my house mate and I were looking forward to the 20% pay increase. Unfortunately we were bitterly disappointed with our first pay cheque, as the pay rise only equated to an extra £100 a month! Maybe we wouldn’t have had such a shock if we taught maths instead of English or languages…
But still, a pay rise is a pay rise and we have now come to enjoy (to a certain extent) the ever so rewarding job that is teaching.
They say that your NQT year is significantly better than your PGCE year, and I can now personally confirm that this is true. I have thoroughly enjoyed the first half-term as an NQT and this is mainly due to 3 reasons: no essays, more confidence, and better work-life balance.
Even though I did enjoy doing the academic essays and research for my PGCE, I found that the sheer work-load required in teaching took so much of my energy and time that I couldn’t do everything to the best of my ability. This grated on me immensely as I am a competitive perfectionist, however the experience has enabled me to accept that ‘good’ is good enough and that whatever’s not done is not done. I do believe that what is expected of teachers means that the profession is becoming unsustainable as a long-term career. Fortunately I have two amazing role models in my life, both professionally and personally, who have taught me that you can only do what you can, and that sometimes it’s best to shake the previous day, week or half-term out of the window and move on. One of these role models is my mum and we have a joint approach to handling rough times and so in the words of ‘ole Rafiki:
I guess really the difference is having slightly more time and brain capacity to deal with the other things that are on the Medusa of to-do lists.
Now, the ultimate difference and golden revelation has been my approach to a work-life balance. I think not having a work-life balance throughout the PGCE year is almost a rite of passage, as there is so much to learn that you would miss out on various skills or experiences if you didn’t spend hours planning or marking or doing any of the other million things I’m thinking of right now. So for any PGCE students reading this, I’m saying that even though it seems like hell right now, it’s ok, it’ll all be worth it come this time next year.
It is only at this stage that I feel comfortable with my work-life balance. Everyone works differently, however I’ve found that personally I work best in the morning, when no bugger is around, and I can have my cup of tea and teacake (or crumpets if we’ve ran out of teacakes) in peace whilst my laptop, internet and SIMS take their usual 10 minutes to start up.
Therefore, now that I’ve got the freedom that comes with having a car, I get to work for 6.30/7am, finalise the lessons I have that day, teach, do my duties, wolf down some food, teach some more, deal with behaviour and emails, mark, plan a little bit more, pack up and head home anytime between 4 and 6. This is a typical day. Sometimes we have meetings that are sometimes useful, other days we have CPD sessions or parents’ evenings and multiple open evenings until 7, even 8pm. Yes, the hours rack up and my hourly rate dilutes, but by working this way, it means that I never take work home with me and I can have the lifestyle that comes with a 9-5 job. I’ve even found that when I do take work home with me, it never gets done because I’ve worked so hard in the week that I can’t possibly do any work effectively and so it never comes out of the bag! Now I just don’t waste the physical effort, and go to the gym & spa instead!
If I stay in teaching, my aim is to become like my second role model (that is my HoD and subject mentor), where I can rock up at 8 and leave at 3, nail the job and effectively lead a team of some of the most caring, hard-working and resilient professionals I know. But right now, I’m going to enjoy what’s left of the half-term, and celebrate Halloween in Amsterdam by going to an aptly named bar grill: Cannibale Royale. How cultured!