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Reflections on ITT – “Teacher training made me a better person”

Neil D’Arcy-Jones looks back on what turned out to be a relentlessly intensive, yet instructive year of initial teacher training…

  • Reflections on ITT – “Teacher training made me a better person”

The hardest year of your life.

That was the overarching opinion of all my teacher friends. While they were mainly positive and encouraging about my choice of new career, I was under no illusions as to how tough it was going to be. Yet not even my teacher friends could predict how ridiculously challenging this training year would turn out to be.

Before going into the details of my last 10 months, I feel it only right to metaphorically doff my cap to those currently in their NQT year. Despite having had a lot less support and much more time in the classroom, what they’ve achieved during these exceptional times is truly remarkable.

Down the rabbit hole

In September 2020, I stepped inside my first classroom with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I’d spent a wonderful summer doing an English subject knowledge enhancement course to ready myself for my training, and couldn’t wait to impart my enthusiasm for all things poetry, prose and Shakespeare.

My idea of teaching at that stage was all about the subject knowledge, and the passing on of accumulated skills and information – but of course, teaching involves much more than that. Within weeks, there was talk of differentiation, behaviour management and assessment.

The teacher standards loomed large. I was well and truly down the educational rabbit hole. For me, teacher training was much like being in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, with all the attendant bemusement and disorientation.

I remember my very first lesson, covering for someone off sick, helping a class of Y10’s write a newspaper report. Having worked as a journalist myself for more than 20 years, I reasoned that if I couldn’t teach that, I may as well give up there and then.

Juggling act

That lesson proved to be one of many highs during those first few weeks, but there were unfortunately plenty of lows as well. The class of unruly Y8s. The lesson plan that got ripped to shreds (and rightly so). The constant need to teach to the top, while scaffolding up.

Throughout, I found the biggest challenge to be the constant juggling act of it all – making sure my elements of good teaching were in place, while simultaneously attempting to work out the most appropriate teaching strategies for my particular personality and strengths.

As those weeks wore on, that warning from my teacher friends kept coming to mind. Everything seemed far tougher than I’d ever anticipated.

I became aware of other trainees starting to drop out, and was beginning to feel the pressure myself. I’m not ashamed to admit that I experienced serious doubts, and on a couple of occasions, even thought about joining them by throwing in the towel.

I wouldn’t have made it through the training had it not been for my mentors. At every stage, especially during my second placement, they provided me sage advice and constant affirmation.

A better person

The real surprise for me has been in seeing just how many different elements there are to teaching – whether during a global pandemic or otherwise.

If I’m honest, it’s the task of teaching itself that still appeals to me most. When an unruly Y8 explained to me what Shakespeare meant by ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on,’ I knew then why the maths teacher at my second placement school had called it the best job in the world.

There’s no other feeling quite like the one that comes from seeing the results of your teaching endeavours – be it a beautifully penned essay answer, or an idea that suddenly pops into a student’s head from a follow-up question.

Some of the best moments I experienced in this training year were when we all – students and teachers alike – learnt something new. I came to realise that my training hadn’t just taught me how to teach and how to be a great teacher; it had also made me a better person in terms of the skills I now possessed, and had given me a better understanding of the kind of person I want to be.

Neil D’Arcy-Jones is a former local newspaper journalist who has recently completed his initial teacher training

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