#Whoiamwhatido What made Nichola?

Who I am and what I do.

This is the second time I have written this post. The first got lost in the world of cyber space so lets hope I can get in everything I did last time!

Teaching has been what I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I grew up surrounded by teachers. My mum and many of her friends were/are teachers and from an early age I knew just how hard that job was going to be. I saw the mountain of marking, I saw the late nights and weekend work. I even saw close up in the classroom what it would be like. Many a time when my school holidays were different or as I got to 6th form age, I had more free time, I would go in to mum’s school and help. She taught part time in a junior school, mostly teaching art and design, alongside sets for English and Maths. While there I saw good teaching, bad teaching and plenty of staffroom banter. I learned early the rules of the staffroom (that’s X’s cup and Y always sits there etc etc) and heard the horror stories too. When I told my mum that teaching was something I wanted to go and do, she did try and put me off a bit, as did some of her friends. However, the foundations were set and this was to be my chosen career choice. I knew what I was walking in to and it still thrilled me.

After my GCSEs I headed to 6th form college and took a wide range of A levels; Classical Civilisations, Performing Arts and Geography, with the usual General Studies taken too. Never before had someone taken that combination (I had wanted to do Geology but that was cancelled due to lack of interest and Chemistry but it clashed with Performing Arts which has always been my biggest love) and I guess this eclectic mix was to be a sign that specialising in one thing was not for me! I even spent some of my limited free time back at my old primary school, supporting one of the teachers that had been there when I was young, though never taught me. Yes, primary school teaching was definitely the one for me and my UCAS form became full of applications for B.Ed courses.

I started my B.Ed a fresh faced 18 year old and found it all a bit strange settling in to life in Halls of Residence away from my family, learning to live in a city and being a grown up! I feel that my course gave me a great starting point. Going to live in a city such as Manchester meant that I was given a real variety of schools with different catchments and challenges. I taught from Reception through to Year 5 over the four years and from leafy Cheshire village schools to a deprived part of North Manchester with a 98% Muslim intake, no one can say that I didn’t have the opportunity to learn. Each and every one of these experiences changed me as a teacher in some way. I was lucky that every teacher mentor supported me and encouraged me to be the creative and fun teacher I feel I am today. I am always thankful that they let me in to their classrooms with open arms and each and every child taught me something. I strongly believe in the undergraduate teaching degree as the best way for primary teachers as it gives so much more depth than a PGCE has time to do.

My final teaching placement, in a 1 form entry primary school in a suburb of Manchester, was to be in Y3. Some great timing was given to me and the class teacher I had been working with went on maternity leave just as I finished my final placement. The Head Teacher offered me that half a term on supply as I knew the children well and she would give me the time off to go to the last few lectures I had to attend. This was a great opportunity and sunk me right in to the ‘real’ world of teaching. I was the one in charge. Those 30 children were in my care. My course and this final placement confirmed what I’d always known really, that I was an Early Years and Infant teacher. Year 5 and 6 scared the living hell out of me!

I was lucky to have a number of options offered for my NQT year, thanks to getting on to the Manchester and Trafford NQT pools. I turned down a school in a challenging inner city part of Manchester as I just felt I couldn’t get the support I needed and instead accepted a Reception class teacher position in an infant school, not far from my final placement.

Standing in the classroom during the summer holidays, setting it up ready for the children to come in the following week, I remember being terrified. I was in charge of the 26 little 4 year olds that would be looking up to me as their very first teacher. It was me who would lay the foundations for their school life. Thankfully they were a great class and although they brought some challenges in terms of behaviour and learning, I found my way through it, not least because I had the support of a fantastic teacher. R was in the adjoining classroom and we shared an outside and crafty area. R taught me so much about great early years teaching and I am forever grateful to her and what she did to show me the way. She still is a great teaching, inspiring young children from the moment they enter her classroom and I feel blessed to have been partnered with her. Her views and opinions on play based learning and the fun factor while still being firm but fair, play a strong part in my teaching philosophy. Sadly it was only a 1 year position and I had to job hunt for my second position. I obviously made an impact on the children and parents, I have the letters and cards still to prove it. I still look at them from time to time and always appreciate my relationships with them. In fact at the time of writing this, that year group are the ones who take their GCSEs this year. A scary thought when I think about those little faces looking up at me from the carpet on that first day in September 2002!

Unfortunately the job market was super competitive and I didn’t get a new job in time for the September start. So I did what any other teacher would do, I went on supply! Supply is amazing for shaping your thoughts on teaching. You get to see the good, the bad, the ‘oooh I like that I’ll take that idea’ and the ‘goodness me, I’d never do it like that!’ I found going from school to school inspiring, though was really glad to secure a 2-term contract at a Primary school at the other side of town after a term on supply. It was going to be a challenge. I had been given a Reception and Year 1  class so had 2 curriculums to teach. For me, play-based learning was the only way to reach those very young children and their challenges. I am a firm believer in the Early Years being all about learning through fun, engaging activities be they at a table, on the floor, outside or in the sand/water trays. I took on the challenge and felt I had done well, so when the permanent job came up, I applied and got it. Having just got engaged, this felt great as I needed the security of a full time, permanent position. However, things were not to go as smoothly as I hoped. A clash between me and the senior leadership team made life hard, really hard. The commute was getting to me and I started to look for new jobs, closer to home. Unfortunately it was again a super competitive market and I kept getting interviews (which was great as I was told that there were over 100 applicants for some of the posts) but I was always the bridesmaid and never the bride, with no obvious things to change from my feedback. I was getting disheartened and started to struggle to cope.

Then one morning, everything changed. I woke up in total agony. I couldn’t move. My back was causing me so much pain that I rang my GP and got an appointment that morning. I’d even had to take a taxi as I couldn’t walk or drive there myself. After talking to my GP for a couple of minutes, I suddenly burst in to tears and told him everything about work and how hard I was finding it. I felt hurt, bullied, intimidated and threatened. He immediately signed me off with work related stress. The next few weeks and months were tough. I became a bit of a recluse, using the internet as my way to speak to the outside world. Chatting with my friends in forums and chatrooms became the only social interaction I had. I was scared. I was confused, and for a while I considered never teaching again. My confidence had been knocked so much that I doubted if I could do it anymore. I resigned my post with no job to go to. I had to for my own mental health. The relief after sending in my letter of resignation and going with my mum to collect all my things (I couldn’t bring myself to do it on my own) was immense and I had given up on finding a new job for September. Supply was calling again but I wasn’t sure if I could do it. My whole being felt like it had been questioned. I believed in what I had been doing, being creative, fun, imaginative.

One night I was talking online with my friends about my situation. They had suggested special needs teaching as something I would be good at. I said I’d considered it as an option further down the line but wasn’t sure if I was ready. I had had experience with children with severe learning difficulties during my university summer holidays where I worked as a 1:1 playworker to allow them to attend summer playschemes  and my time at a local SLD/PMLD school had given me an insight in to what might be in store if I chose to go down that route in future. I said I wouldn’t turn it down, but that nothing ever came up and I probably needed more experience. The next morning I spotted a job at a local SLD/PMLD school. I thought fate was calling me and went for it. It was the end of June and I still had not had any success elsewhere. What’s the worse that can happen I thought to myself? They say no just like all those other schools had, was the worst I could think of, so my application was written and sent off the next day. I went to the interview and had a tour around the school. The head was an inspiring lady and after the tour I wanted the job so much. Something just felt right. Thankfully, that head saw something in me and gave me the opportunity. A one year contract to see if I liked it and they liked me. I have been here 9 years and gone through 2 Outstanding Ofsteds and one Good in recent months so guess her belief was founded!

The heaviness that had been weighing on me in those previous months instantly lifted and I felt inspired once more. My desire for a creative, imaginative and play-based curriculum had come back. I knew it would be the only way forward in this kind of school with the children who were to be in my next class. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. I felt a little like a fish out of water for the first couple of weeks, but thankfully I had been given a team of very experienced TAs. They taught me so much and I am thankful to them for fully bringing back my inspiration and supporting me whilst also respecting me enough to let me try things out and learn. I continue to be inspired by some amazing teaching assistants at the school who have so much experience, knowledge and expertise that people would be fools to ignore their talents. Team working is hard at times, and we will not all get along all of the time, but I strongly believe in using the talents presented to you, to get the best out of staff and children.

Moving in to special education has been life changing for me. I have found my niche. I love being creative with my curriculum to reach the hardest to reach pupils in society. I love teaching children with PMLD. My early beliefs have not changed, but I have found the right channel for them and I treasure those special moments when you see something click. I have been in special ed for 9 years now and I know it is where I want to be. I also know that right now the classroom is where I want to be. I have friends who are senior leadership teams, deputies and even heads but this is not for me. I love being in the classroom.

I have had some challenges, high points and low points but each one of them has shaped me to be who I am and formed what I believe.