So as the last second came around in the final exam in University, the cheers and excitement erupted. After four long years of teacher training, celebration and emotions filled the large auditorium. Little did we know that was the beginning and end of the excitement! Now we embarked on the journey of finding our first job. After several interviews that I was “putting down to experience”, finally my luck was in and I received good news that I had a new job.
Starting to teach in a new school was a nerve wrecking experience. The butterflies in the tummy on the first day were doing cart wheels, as I wondered whether there was a particular seat for newbies in the staffroom. Thankfully I couldn’t have been working in a more welcoming school, with all members of staff approaching me and introducing themselves. Which ultimately lead to the difficulty in remembering the various names and the who’s who of the school. So after several weeks of calling people the wrong names, I eventually got the hang of the names and the staffroom proceedings.
Now all I had to conquer was the layout of the building, the new school rules and trying to portray to the students that no, this isn’t my first real life adult job, but that I have oodles of experience. Telling white lies to students to make them think I knew what I was doing, when in reality, it was the first of everything. First parent teacher meeting, first Christmas variety show, first summer exam corrections, first phone call home to a parent, first discipline report sheet, first school trip etc… all new experiences, which as you can imagine was challenging to take in all at once.
Fake it till you make it
So as the “fake it til you make it” routine continued, my love for the school grew. I began to build rapport with the students and show a little personality. We have all heard the phrase “don’t smile until Christmas”. This is a very beneficial piece of advice given to me for laying down the law and establishing stringent boundaries. However this was one of the biggest challenges for me, as a teacher in her early twenties.
Understanding the various private jokes and funny wit of the students has left me biting my lip and trying not to laugh at some genuine hilarious moments. Instead a stiff upper lip and poker face is needed to “not let the guard down”. Trying to remain strict at times when I was in fact, recognising the insignificance of my scolding- in the grand scheme of things. A funny thought was that I was in fact closer in age to my students than I was to my fellow colleagues, a very funny thought.
As well as the other funny experiences I encountered as an NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher), I also had the funny encounters of meeting students outside school. The shocking horror that I have a life was expressed on their puzzled faces. Yes, I buy my groceries in Tesco and yes, I buy diesel in the local garage. #shocking The double takes, over familiar chit chat and awkward eye contact is one of the many glories of shopping in Penneys, which resulted in the famous “Miss, I seen you at the weekend” statements on Monday mornings. Not to mention the sheer panic and looks over the shoulder when socialising on a Saturday night out within in a 30km radius of the school really adds to the ambience of the night, may I add.
I’m one of the lucky ones
Bearing all of the challenges of a teacher in their early twenties in mind, it dawns on me that I am one of the lucky, lucky, lucky ones. I have a job. I have security. I have the funds to pay my way through life and finally be removed from the parent’s payroll. I am blessed to be employed in my first year out in the big bad world. So many teachers are struggling to be shortlisted for interviews, let alone be lucky to be offered positions following challenging interviews. It leaves my thinking how fortunate I was to have made a positive life choice when choosing my subjects to teach at the age of 17. How easy I could have chosen different subjects which would have left me searching for work. Primary and post-primary school teachers are ten a penny and to be given the opportunity at such a young age to educate students four/five years their junior is quite extraordinary.
As a junior member of staff, I have found myself sought upon by students to listen to some troubling issues they may be encountering. From listening to minor issues of boyfriends talking to other people on Facebook, Mams who won’t grant permission to attend teen discos, friends who won’t “like” selfies on Instagram, to not having time to commit to football training because they have too much Irish homework on a Tuesday. The issues of the youth come flooding in. I suppose they feel as it is obvious I, too, was sitting behind the desk not too long ago, that I may be an understanding and non-judgemental person. Lucky for them, my door is always open. However, it has often lead me to consider the various personalities of NQTs who may not be as understanding and non-judgemental. Is it because you are young that it is taken for granted you are readily available to solve these issues or to have an open ear?
Becoming a secondary school teacher was by far my greatest achievement in life. Undoubtedly, like all careers it brings its challenges and funny moments, as I like to call them. I have been blessed to work in a fantastic school with a mixture of students from all societies and cultures. However, for me, I have learned that the practice of “fake it til you make it” will be something I will be doing for another while yet, at least until my mid-twenties anyways- and so the journey continues…