Teacher training, I couldn’t believe I was finally beginning the final part of that journey. It began with a two week placement at a primary school ‘To see where our students were coming from’ and I loved it. I wondered whether I should swap over and transfer to primary teaching at this point but I wanted to put my science degree to good use and there was only so much I could do with it at a primary school.
I went ahead and through the next couple of months we did a lot of presentations, lectures on behaviour, techniques, safeguarding etc and the thing I dreaded…team presentations. At the end of our first term we were given the names of the schools we would be going to for our placement where we would be mentored and gain real teaching experience. I was nervous but in a good way and really looking forward to getting in front of my first class.
That first placement was the placement from hell. I went in early, I worked late at home to try and get things sorted but I was sinking. My ‘mentor’ told me from the beginning that she didn’t like student teachers, that we were lazy and didn’t do what we were asked. I see now that she told me everything that my belief system about myself was already based on, that I was useless, didn’t deserve any of this and would never be any good at anything. She gave me no support, no guidance, she left me to flounder and I did. The other teachers in the department noticed and tried to help as much as they could but she was the one who was being given the extra time to do it and wasn’t.
Towards the end of this placement I had started to feel a little strange, then one morning I went into work as normal got into the staff room and put down my stuff. One of the technicians came in and asked me a question, as I turned around and promptly fell over. Once I had been sat down, made to drink a cup of tea and tried to stand up again but only fell over I was sent home. That was the last day I spent at that placement.
My GP diagnosed me with labyrinthis and signed me off sick, I spent the next month with a head that span every time I moved, feeling nauseated and falling over a lot. Remember those times when you were so drunk you couldn’t keep your balance and felt like you were going to vomit when you moved? Well that’s what I felt like, constantly, but without that nice warm glow and increased sense of freedom you get with alcohol. I missed the last week of my placement and panicked that it would mean I had failed the course.
I called my University mentor and explained what had happened, that I didn’t know when I would be back, that my GP had told me the condition was linked with stress and little by little she weedled out of me that I had been stressed my entire placement due to the mentor. She convinced me to not quit the course but to come back to the middle University portion when I felt up to it.
When I finally managed to get back I had a lot to catch up on but I did it and entered into my second placement after taking a deep breath, crossing my fingers and warning the girl who was going to my old placement about the woman who would be mentoring her. My second placement reawakened my desire to teach. I was suffering with anxiety, IBS because of it and severely depleted self image but my mentor there was amazing as were the other teachers I met. It was a more difficult school and yet it was still an easier placement than the first one.
The time flew by that term right up till my final assessment by yet another different mentor. It was the worst lesson I ever taught then or since, the students were appalling, every bit of planning went out the window and the whole hour was spent controlling behaviour. I had such hopes for that lesson, we had a load of fun stuff that those boys would have loved to do but I didn’t even get through the starter. I ended up making them work in silence on some exam practice papers, even with the promise that if they did so for a short amount of time we would do practical work once they’d proven themselves…nothing worked. By the end of the lesson I had gained apologies from most of the class, the last 10% or so at least behaved enough for me to let them go without losing face but one…one would just not quit.
In the end I had had enough and I turned to my school mentor said to her…’Can you deal with him please I’ve had enough of his rubbish’ and walked through to a preparation room next door. As I went into the room and turned a corner I burst into tears and collapsed to my knees on the floor, convinced I had failed, I would never be and never should be a teacher. The technician in there started walking over to me to offer me consolation but as they did the assessor came in and crouched down next to me. She told me not to worry, I had passed. I had done the right thing, if I had tried to do the practical with the class she would have failed me, there was no way anyone should have let them do it, that I had done a great job trying to gain some form of control over them and that if I could cope with them…I would do just fine.
After all that had happened I had missed the bulk of application time for teaching jobs starting in September and even though I did manage to get a few interviews I just missed out on them as they were after physics teachers or someone else had more experience, I was always given great feedback though and my confidence began to return. That summer I signed up for a supply agency and was given a position full time to cover for a lady who was being treated for cancer.
It was not at a nice school but there was a good network of support in the department and school in general so I took it and went into my first full time teaching position. Unfortunately my department head didn’t realise I was only a NQT (newly qualified teacher) and would need support, my first day I felt myself sinking again and in my panic I fell to what I felt most comfortable. I went to the technicians for some comfort and to have a look at what was available, trying to find my feet, when the HoD found me looking at some of the equipment she told me off like a small child caught playing with my mums best china and as she left the room I burst into tears.
The technicians (true to form) consoled me, talked to me, made me a cup of tea and I explained to them that I felt lost, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing and had only come to look and get some inspiration. I didn’t realise that the HoD had walked back in in the meantime and was stood behind me. She took one look at my tear stained face and her image softened, she apologised for not realising and took me through to one of the other teachers who was going to be a mentor for trainees this year. After she had walked me through some of the resources, shown me how their computer systems worked and offered me any help I needed I suddenly found my feet again. Over that term the HoD and I organised things so that I was placed on the NQT program at their school, she became my mentor and I settled into my work.
The classes were difficult and none of them were high achieving. I had children in those classes who were truly abysmally behaved and made my classes nigh on impossible but I also had low achieving classes that were a joy to teach because they were so enthusiastic! There is nothing like managing to help a student who has struggled with everything you’ve ever ask them to do, to suddenly raise their hand waving it around in the air with a smile on their face to say ‘Miss! Miss! I get it! I know the answer!’
I taught students with a range of learning disabilities and behavioural issues, but I very rarely had any major problems except with one or two students and classes. I managed to turn one of the worst behaved girls round to my side and though she never really worked hard, she rarely caused problems in my class and when she did usually left with a smile to go to isolation saying ‘Yeah miss I agree I need to go, sorry!’
During the Christmas holidays that year I was looking forward to going back to work, I had planned my little butt off and was ready for the new term. That new years eve I had woken with pain behind my eyes and as I moved them but didn’t think anything of it, I had been having an ‘interesting’ couple of days that I may tell you about some other time and so celebrated new years with my friends thinking it would ease off the next day.
A few days later I was driving to work, it looked foggy out of my window but in January that was nothing strange, it was only when I got to work and it looked like there was a layer of fog on the corridor floor that I realised there was something wrong. I worked that week determined to get my students back into the swing of things and finally gave in to my HoD’s order to ring NHS direct that evening.
The nurse on the phone told me to get to A&E, yeah on a Friday night in a major city! I waited until early hours of Saturday morning and went in. The Doctor looked like he hadn’t slept in days, he looked at my eyes, nothing visible there to him and so I was given a tablet for migraine and sent home. I’ve suffered with Migraines for years, I know my migraine auras and this was not one of them.
Monday came and I called in sick, went to the GP, was sent to my optician, back to the GP who called Ophthalmology and was ordered to send me straight to them. They found nothing except there was a variation in my visual field and recommended I see a neurologist.
Now as soon as the ophthalmologist found nothing the alarm bells in my mind began to ring I was a neuroscientist after all. I knew that the problem was on my optic nerve though I had no idea what was causing it and my GP? He wanted me to wait, wait a month or so before he referred me to a neurologist (that he wasn’t even going to mention until I did). I was scared and not in a good place but after sleeping on it I decided there was no other way but to find a neuro who I could see privately.
I’ll cut a long story short here because otherwise I’ll never stop typing….I saw a Neurologist privately, told it was Optic Neuritis, given a massive dose of intravenous steroids and heard the words Multiple Sclerosis.
By the time I went back to work I knew I had it but was determined to keep teaching while I went through all this, my students had been let down enough by the supply teachers who had tried to deal with them in my absence.
I lasted until the Easter holidays. I lost the feeling in my legs slowly from the toes upwards and from my fingers upwards too, I was in pain around my waist and struggling to walk so I had to give in and see my neurologist again. This time when he signed me off for a relapse I told the school and supply company that they had better find another person to teach my classes I didn’t know when I would be back.
I think what upset me most about this was that the HoD was trying to push for me getting the position that was coming up. I was a good teacher and was told so by so many people but MS had ruined all my plans, the one thing I had ever felt a sense of accomplishment and achievement over I had lost.