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Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 8: Newly-Qualified Teacher

by flock1 

Posted: 03 August 2006
Word Count: 1328
Related Works: Life in an Inner City Primary - Chapter 4: Liveredge Middle School • 

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Chapter 8 - Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT)

PHIL JACKSON WASTED NO TIME IN SECURING HIMSELF A JOB. At the start of September he began work at a local middle school teaching Year 6 pupils. I, on the other hand, was in no rush to get a job. In fact, I spent a rather enjoyable time on the dole being a general waster and layabout. However, after six months, with no money to call my own, I decided to get my first job. I registered with a supply-teaching agency. A few days later the phone rang.
“Are you available for work today?” asked a female voice introducing herself as Claire from Supply Teach. Mind spinning, I told her I was. “Great!” she said. “How soon can you get there?”
“Half an hour?” She gave me an address and phone number.
When the taxi dropped me off outside the school at 9.15, I walked to the main entrance. There I was arriving for my first day of paid teaching. I was nervous as hell.
“Ah Jason. Glad you’re here,” said the Deputy Head of West Green Middle. “You’ve got Year 5 until playtime. Then Year 6 until lunch. After that it’s Year 8 Library time.”
“Year 8?” I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Don’t worry, it’s only for thirty minutes, then you’ve got half an hour free until you take Year 5 again. By the way, how long have you been a supply teacher?”
“Actually, this is my first day.” I could see no reason to lie.
The deputy looked taken aback, but soon recovered. “Mmmm. You’ll be okay I think. Just let them know whose boss. Come on, I’ll take you to the classroom.”
I entered the classroom without smiling or even making eye contact with the children. I headed straight for the desk at the front. Everyone was quiet. Ignoring them, I read over some notes about the lesson. I finally looked up at the faces before me. They all stared back.
Standing up straight, I folded my arms then clearing my throat. “Right. Listen carefully. I won’t say this again.” For an opening line in front of children who didn’t know me, I thought it was a good one. It portrayed control, meanness, with a sprinkling of ‘don’t mess with me.’ I looked at each child in turn, lingering upon certain individuals who seemed the potential troublemakers. Then I launched into my prepared speech. “I’m not going to tell you my name. I don’t want to know any of yours either. But I’ll tell you something for free. If I do ask you your name, then it means I don’t like you. Simple as that. You’d better hope this doesn’t happen though. You won’t like it one little bit.” My eyes located a pigtailed girl on my left. I stared right at her. I was most surprised when she began to cry.
“What’s more,” I continued, pressing my advantage to the hilt. “If I hear anyone speak during the lesson, I’ll ask you your name. That would be a very bad thing. Got it?” Nobody dared speak. Only a few children had the presence of mind to actually nod. Everyone was just staring at me. Most looked alarmed. I folded my arms. “And don’t even think about asking to go to the toilet because you already know the answer.”
With not squeak coming from anyone, I decided to tone things down slightly. “And I’m pleased you’re all sitting quietly,” I said. “Because now you’re going to work in silence doing your geography work. Off you go.”
For one whole hour, nobody spoke. It was total silence. I was King of the Jungle and they all knew it.
Lesson two went just as well. Word must have spread about the Teacher from Hell. When I entered the Year 6 classroom, they all looked wary from the start.
Year 8 library time worried me slightly. As it turned out though, these bigger children offered no resistance to my methods either. They all read in silence. Indeed, at one point a couple of teachers passing through the library had to do a double take. They both looked incredulous.
“How did you do it?” they asked me in the staffroom later. “How did you get thirty 14-year-olds to read in silence? Tell us your secret!”
I told them. They laughed.
“Wait until you get a class of your own.” one told me. “It’s different then. But top marks. We don’t get many supply teachers who can get Year 8 to work quietly. Amazing actually!”
At hometime, after getting my timesheet signed, the Deputy came rushing up to me. “Jason, I’m glad I caught you. I’ve heard positive things about you. I can’t believe it’s your first day. You must be a natural. You were better than the supply teacher we had yesterday. She only lasted half an hour. And speaking of this, have you considered more permanent work?”
“I don’t know really,” I admitted. “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“It’s just we’ll have a couple of vacancies coming up in a few weeks. It’d be great if you could apply for one. I’ll take your address, we’ll send out an application pack if you like?”
“Umm, yeah, that’d be great.”
With that, I shook Mr Eccles’s hand and left the building. I’d just completed my first paid day of teaching. It had been a roaring success.

A week later, a memorable day of supply teaching came at Banbury Middle School. It involved a blind girl called Kiran Hussain.
Banbury Middle was a strange sort of establishment because it had been merged with a school catering for visually impaired children. About twelve of these kids were spread throughout the school, Kiran being the worst afflicted.
“It’s a bit of a shock the first time you see her,” warned the Deputy. “So I thought I’d better give you advance notice. She’s usually got an assistant, but he’s ill today. Kiran will be fine by herself though. She’s a bright girl, and the other kids look after her. It’s just the initial shock of seeing her that can upset some people.”
Twenty minutes later, as Year 6 started arriving, I stood at the front, watching. And then Kiran arrived, flanked by two classmates. I was knocked for six.
With the Deputy’s forewarning, I’d mentally prepared myself for a girl with perhaps odd eyes, maybe even a missing one. But this was worse, far worse. The eleven-year-old had no eyes at all. Nothing. Not even sockets. Where her eyes should have been, there was only skin. It was as if this area had fused with her forehead, making a flat expanse stretching from her fringe to her nose. I forced myself to look away.
As Kiran sat down, she folded her arms and waited patiently for me to start the register. So did the rest of the class. I did so, thinking about how Kiran coped with life.
Very well, it seemed. Apart from her sight, she was a normal girl. And the Deputy was correct, she was clever. While the rest of the class wrote in their books, Kiran tapped away on a specially designed computer that converted Braille into written English. At the end of the lesson, she even stood up to read her story. It was very good, a most imaginative effort. The rest of us clapped when she’d finished. At playtime, two friends led her outside. Fifteen minutes later, she came back in. This time I didn’t stare.
And all day she was fine. And the more I watched her, the more I realised how happy she was. I felt humbled in her presence. I went home feeling strangely lifted.
The next day, the phone rang yet again. It wasn’t Banbury Middle this time, it was a different school. And though I didn’t know it at the time, I would end up spending the next twelve years working there.

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Comments by other Members

Cornelia at 14:49 on 03 August 2006  Report this post
This read well enough , although it lacked the drama and uncertainties that enlivened the early chapters. One or two initial points move me to comment: a) the part about being a lay-about and waster chimes odd with your choice of profession, although arguably you could just have been exhausted from the training, or perhaps it's hyperbole, - it's something you could make clearer; secondly, it seems odd to take a taxi to work if you are a teacher, and very odd if you have been on the dole for six months. Otherwise, an enjoyable read.


flock1 at 16:50 on 07 August 2006  Report this post

Thank you for your comments. All of them are appreciated. And I take your point about being an idler with no money, suddenly getting a taxi to work. I've actually gone back and changed the text, even though it did happen like that!



Richard Brown at 17:28 on 09 August 2006  Report this post
Although Sheila's doubtless right about the change of pace, this didn't mar the enjoyment for me. I thought, in particular, you told the story of the blind girl very sensitively.

Maybe the text has particular resonance for me because, more decades ago than seem possible, I attended a grammar school in the part of the world where you were working. It was fairly chaotic until half a dozen new teachers arrived, all of them wielding whippy straps that they were not afraid to use. (You can guess that I am talking of quite a long time ago!) There was a kind of war for a while but order gradually spread. We pupils thought of the incomers as monsters but I guess they were well-intentioned. They certainly improved the levels of learning but there were a few casualties in the process.

Incidentally one of these strappy masters had a particular antipathy to the word 'job' which he said we were never to use! He would not have approved of its double appearance in the first two lines of this chapter. And I think he might have suggested a 'who's' rather than 'whose' later in the piece.

Small things - I think the story still rolls engagingly on but once more I would suggest a different 'hook' at the end. I think you need more mystery - the revelation that the next 12 years were to be spent in one establishment might deter some people. Keep us guessing!


crazylady at 21:37 on 21 August 2006  Report this post
Still here - still enjoying the story.

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