Meet Rebecca! A little about myself: I'm a primary school teacher currently living and working in Madrid, Spain. Aside from several years of experience teaching in Sydney, Australia, I have also been incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to teach in Wellington, New Zealand and London, England as well.
I can still remember my first phone call. It was mid 2009 and I was in the cinema watching Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. For some reason, even though I had never received such a call, I knew exactly what this phone call would be about. My nerves, anxiety, excitement and desire to start earning money as a real adult were simultaneously present within those few seconds. I had my finger ready to accept the call and then I started to panic. Within this tiny time-frame, I probably had around one million thoughts…. What if the booking was for a grade I have no practical experience with? What if it is at a school that I don’t like the sounds of? What if it is for a day I cannot accept because of prior arrangements? Would it be silly to ask if I needed to prepare a plan? Should I do so anyway even though the teacher has left me one? Do I act really grateful for this opportunity? Or will that suggest I have no experience and make them change their mind? Do I act like I’ve done this a million times before only for them to realise as soon as I walk through the door that I am completely inexperienced?
I recall when I finally finished with the phone call (probably to the annoyance of all other movie-goers) I was shaking to my core. I was so nervous. I could not shake that the booking was for a 5/6 composite class. Tomorrow. I couldn’t focus on the rest of the film. I couldn’t eat dinner that night. And worse, I couldn’t sleep.
This school was around the corner from where I lived at the time, so if I had actually managed to stay calm and collected, I probably would have had enough sense to realise that waking up four hours before school started was not necessary. But that left time to eat a hearty breakfast (which I couldn’t), choose a nice and powerful outfit (which I didn’t own), walk to school and present myself as a punctual teacher, didn’t it? Being at school an hour before the bell was to ring was not exactly received in the way I had expected it to. I remember being sent to the staff room and told to wait until the teacher I was replacing for the day arrived. I remember trying to make friendly and confident small talk with teachers who genuinely had more important things on their minds than me. Was this what being a relief teacher is like? When was this day, that hadn’t even started yet, going to end?
When the teacher finally arrived and showed me to her classroom, I almost lost the feeling in my legs. I was so nervous that my hands we sweating. I am fairly sure I can still remember the way that classroom smelt. She ran through the day with me and asked if I had any questions. The reality was, I had around a million and five. But questions would make me look really silly, right? And probably incompetent. So… no, I didn’t have any questions - I was just so excited to get started (not), and when was that bell going to ring (please don’t)!
The first lesson of the day was a computer lesson. I remember the class lining up to enter the computer room and having NO IDEA what to do with them, nor how to stop them from talking. They were HUGE and there were SO MANY of them. I had literally NO experience with Stage Three. In this moment, I realised that no matter how many practical experiences I had had at university – nothing was going to compare to this day. I can remember this moment as clear as day. I was completely out of my depths standing in the corridor, not knowing anyone’s name, just begging that they would decide to be quiet and I wouldn’t have to ask anymore.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of the rest of the day, except for two more clear moments. The first was taking them to a PE lesson (run by another teacher), sitting on the bench and finally taking a breath. And then I remember the end of the day, when one boy stood up and actually said, “on behalf of all the children in this class, we had a great day and wish you all the best”. That really happened. But was it that obvious that this was my first day? Did they mean what they said?
When I left the school that day, I could have jumped for joy! I did it! I finished! Woohoo! And then it dawned on me that that was only one day of the rest of my life as a teacher. I am not going to lie. The days that followed were equally as nerve racking, but slowly, slowly, they started to get much easier. Nowadays the thought of being kept awake by my nerves about the next day makes me chuckle – but at the same time, it was certainly a reality for me for quite some time.
Although it still has its days, relief teaching is not, and has not been for a while, scary anymore. Each day that I go to work, I learn more than I could possibly imagine and I absolutely love it. Working with new students and new teachers every day teaches me so much, from behaviour management to teaching ideas, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have so many wonderful and rewarding moments during these days that I sometimes write them down in a little notebook so not to forget them.
If I could give any advice to any contemplating relief teacher (or especially to new grads), it would be two things.
1) No matter how much practical experience you have had at university, you will not know anything until you start relief teaching. Use this advice to inspire you though, not warn you. You are in for a real journey of discovery.
2) What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger! I have had my fair share of challenging days as a relief teacher – but it is important to stay strong and put things into perspective. You will learn more than you could imagine from those days and that knowledge is a really empowering.
Let us know what your first day experience was like. I'd love to hear about it!