This week has made me realise what it is really like to be an experienced teacher. I’ve been in this job now for 15 years, and when I think back to the nervous NQT I was all those years ago, I can’t honestly believe how far I’ve come. Yesterday, I had to do a “five minute’s notice” assembly. As I tried to think of something to say while doing my register (a multi-task too far, I have to say!), I was reminded of an assembly I did years ago. It was just after I got married, 8 years ago, so I must have done assemblies before that, but I have clearly blocked them from my memory. I had spent ages making a PowerPoint presentation and lots of props. The assembly went well, I remember that much, but I also remember the nerves and huge amount of preparation that came before it. If you had told me 15 years ago that I would wander into a room full of 250 children and make stuff up on the spot, I would have laughed at you. That’s the beauty of experience: the bank of knowledge and stories you have built up becomes enormous, and you can pull all kinds of things out of the hat.
This morning, I had a literacy observation. A regular part of the job, but having been on maternity leave for most of last year, it seems like an extraordinarily long time since I have been observed. I was also being observed by a close friend (She’s the literacy leader, and this is the first time she has ever observed me) and the new head. The only times he has been in my classroom have been where there are no children and I’ve been doing inappropriate things like standing on tables. I felt I really ought to be making a good impression. Again, thinking back to my younger years (my goodness, I sound old now!), there would usually have been a sleepless night and at least one bout of vomiting. This morning, I will admit to a slight flutter of a butterfly, but this was because I was taking a risk by introducing them to Slow Writing, and I really hoped they would approve of it. But there was certainly no lack of sleep last night and my breakfast stayed put. With experience comes the knowledge and security in your skills: I know I’m a pretty good teacher, I know my stuff in literacy and I have my class just where I want them. All of those niggling doubts that I had as a less experienced teacher left me a few years ago. I think the time I really noticed this was when we had our last Ofsted and I had a “discussion” with the Inspector following my observation. I justified everything I did and could provide convincing counter arguments for everything he suggested. NQT me, and even the me who went through our previous inspections, would have nodded meekly and accepted what was said, even though on the inside I would have been screaming at him.
This evening, I delivered an INSET to the whole staff, which a colleague and I prepared this afternoon. We were still busily stapling handouts together as the staff were coming in. NQT me would have laughed (or vomited) at the thought of this ever happening. As the knowledge builds, so does the confidence. I had the safety net of knowing the subject well, and of knowing I had the technical ability to solve problems as they occurred. NQT me would never have had the self-belief to do this. I remember, as a keen new member of staff, agreeing to be a part of the PTFA. I also remember sitting there saying nothing, as I didn’t think I had anything to say that would be worth listening to. So much so, that a colleague and I went to the pub before one particular meeting, and no-one noticed as we giggled our way through it in the corner. Nowadays, I find it difficult to keep quiet in meetings (probably to the despair of the rest of the staff) because I know that I have valuable contributions to make.
Not everyone would have gone into this job being the quiet, shy(ish) person that I was. But even the most confident of people can’t compensate for all the knowledge and skills that experience brings.