Mr Gawain, NQT

Now the new year draws closer. Night passes. The day pushes out the dark – as the Lord bids.

Now neȝeȝ ƿe Nw Ȝere and ƿe nyȝt passeȝ
Ƿe day dryueȝ to ƿe derk, as Dryȝtyn biddeȝ…

The new year comes in for the young knight Gawain as he awaits his fate at the hands of the Green Knight: a cocky, good-looking, well-prepared young man, Gawain in the medieval poem had set out from Camelot to meet his nemesis the Green Knight with high hopes – but it was more ambiguous than he’d thought, and now it’s crunch time.

I won’t labour this analogy, but I am conscious that my corner of edutwitter has been pondering the Polonius-like advice for people starting the adventure of a PGCEs or work as NQTs for some weeks now. The time is upon us; that new year is here. Arthur, stirring in Camelot maybe, wonders how Gawain is getting on, just as I sit in my study and wonder how the students I met last year – the “graduands” from our PGCE whom I will meet again on Saturday – are facing what seem like crucial days of in-service training and meeting-and-greeting the team, and then the parents and children…

Does any[one] have any advice on what to do in first lesson…

What sort of lessons should my first lessons with a class be when school starts?

Any last minute advice ?

And the advice about not-smiling (or smiling) before Christmas piles in from

Teaching is 50% words and 50% numbers…but always 100% you


I understand the need for motivation yadayadayada but sometimes I read utter drivel that is solely tweeted for the purpose of likes/retweets and they mean nothing at all!

Right: so bearing that last outburst in mind, this isn’t advice as such, but self-reflection. My biggest changes in terms of work were probably: starting out as an undergraduate so long ago they would be findings for a History of Ed dissertation (as in fact they almost were a couple of years ago!), when I was caught in the headlights until Christmas; my first job in a Faculty library, where all of a sudden I was on the other side of the counter (and loved it); my first day on a PGCE teaching practice (and actually all of my final TP!); my first days in my first teaching job; my first day as Head Teacher – and then this summer, leaving my job in Higher Education to sit in the study here or in the Bodleian. They all have a theme running through them: that I had very little idea what I supposed to do. As a Head – on my own at the start of September – I sat at the desk and thought “Now you’ve done it.” That’s how it feels on my own again today, too. As a library assistant I had people telling me what to do until I got the hand of it; as an NQT, I tried to do the “fake it ’til you make it” thing. It didn’t work and I sat in my classroom wondering what I was there for…

I’m not going to be crass and suggest that training is useless or that only experience teaches – that’s all silly stuff from people with axes to grind. I will say, however, that when I came to education – or to education management, or to teaching in Higher Ed (not mentioned above) or out at other end, at 60-odd, into my eyrie here at home – the things I brought with me were insufficient. It was maybe an easier transition into working in Higher Education precisely because I knew what the initial tasks were, and I knew they would be fun and hard and complex. I would argue that that is the nature of things: the journey teaches, and while I would seriously urge the twin activities of scholarship and practice going hand-in-hand, there is an underlying attitude also needed: a willingness to learn.

Coming to a new classroom (as a teacher or a learner) with “I am all prepared” as your blazon is to lack a vital element. You are already well-liked on Twitter? It may be you have stuff to learn from actual colleagues. You are well-read and a critical reader? It may be you have stuff to learn from the children or your tutors and mentors. You have worked in schools for ages? It may be you have stuff to learn lurking in the library. Whatever it is, it may be you have stuff to learn. Bloody hell, as I exit to the other side and wonder what my new life looks like I can see I do: loads to learn, from how friendships look to how professional communication now works.

E7C55279-0993-4D7C-A0D1-C5D9609D5121So the advice has to be to recognise that starting out on one of the vital stages of professional formation (a BA, BEd, a PGCE, an NQT year) is just that: a starting out.

And at the start, we all need a friend, preferably a huggable, flesh-and-blood person we know, not just a smile on social media and a “U OK hun?” or people joining you in a moan who don’t know you or your school. Gawain (to return to my original image, with this picture of the Green Knight and Gawain reconciled) could have done with a mentor earlier in his quest to show him ways up the mountain, and Mr Gawain, the NQT (or the new starter on the PGCE, or new head or whoever)  could do with some genuine compassionate mentorship – and thinking of Up the Mountain (see the previous post) I might as well include this clip here of the marvellous picturebook about friendship and mentorship because – well, because picturebooks are always a good place to end.

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