I had just left university and was in much better shape then when I had started. I was eating healthier and was enjoying going to the gym. I also had a much greater sense of who I was as a person and was much more comfortable in my own skin. I’d decided to become a music teacher in the final year of my degree as I’d taught piano lessons since the age of sixteen. I had enjoyed these and was pretty good at them. It seemed like a natural progression. Also the options at the time seemed limited to either becoming a freelance musician or becoming a music teacher. I chose the latter as I wanted to help young people become as passionate about music as I was, talent was also an issue with the former!
I stayed in London to study for my PGCE and began the course full of enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoyed it. I did well in my placements, and it was generally considered that I’d become a very good teacher. My tutors and mentors liked the fact that I was able think outside the box and to create creative and enjoyable lessons. Being young and enthusiastic also meant the students to reacted well to me.
Despite the course being intense I lived on campus so was able to go to the universities gym 3-4 times a week, I was getting in good shape, was pretty lean and had a decent amount of muscle. I was getting good at taking lunches with me on school placements and this generally consisted of pasta with vegetables and soya protein chunks and still enjoyed toasties for dinner most days. I’d spread hot chilli sauce on the bottom layer of bread followed by spinach, mushrooms, a boiled egg or mini omelette, topped with blue stilton. This was then stuck under the grill until the cheese melted and the bread was lightly toasted, they were epic and I’d got the whole process down to a fine art. For breakfast and dinners’ dessert I had a concoction that my brother had devised. This was a mashed banana at the bottom of a glass jar, with peanut butter mixed in, followed by oats, protein powder and water. This was then mixed together until it had a good cement like texture. I still have something similar for breakfast today, except now soak my oats overnight.
Due to the demands of the course I was also less able to go out as often but still liked to let off some steam once a week at the students union. I was by now much better at controlling my drinking, and could enjoy the effects of alcohol without losing control. My improved physique and the increase in confidence it gave me lead to a fair amount of success with the ladies, and this gave me a further boost. I was by now much more concerned with the way I looked then I ever had been before and spent a long time doing my hair (even going so far as to straighten it.) I had also become an avid reader of ‘Men’s Health’ magazine and followed a lot of the nutrition tips and workout programmes published within.
At the end of the PGCE I was able to secure a job at a school in London without too much difficulty and was hugely excited to start down the road of becoming a successful secondary music school teacher. I rented a house in Tooting Broadway with a friend from uni and one of her friends and was all set for adult life.
The start of adult life didn’t quite go as planned (I’m not sure if it ever does to be honest.) My first term as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) seemed to go very well, my head of department told me that from the lesson I had done as part of my interview process she could see that I had the x-factor and was going to be an ‘outstanding’ teacher. I received good with outstanding features for my lesson observations and received an outstanding for a lesson with my tutor group. Despite this, things started to slide in the second term and I was beginning to struggle with the workload and what what was expected of me. In hindsight I could have probably utilised my time more effectively, I spent a long time designing slide shows to accompany my lessons and planning for unique and exciting lessons rather then sticking to the schemes of work and presentations that already existed. This meant that I gave myself a much greater work load then was needed.
During this term I received a lesson observation with a class that I’d been struggling with for a while. I didn’t actually think the lesson went too badly (it was certainly better then some of the ones I’d had with them!) but was informed a few days afterwards that the lesson had received a grade of 4 (I can’t remember exactly what this means but its the lowest grade you can get and means that your lesson was crap.) I was stunned when I received the comments written during the observation and how bad they were, I’d never before done a lesson this bad!
Shortly after this I received a letter in my staff pigeon hole stating that I had conducted a below satisfactory lesson and that if I didn’t improve I could be in line to fail my NQT year and that I urgently needed to turn it around. This caused me a massive amount of anxiety and I felt I was failing the school, myself, my department, my family and most importantly the students. I resolved to keep pushing through, to work harder, longer and was determined that I’d be able to sort it out. This resolve led to a work ethic that simply wasn’t sustainable and certainly didn’t benefit my lesson outcomes. During the second half of term I was working constantly. I worked until 0200 and woke up at 0400 in order to do more work before heading to school. Obviously in hindsight this had no benefit whatsoever and obviously working for a long time doesn’t mean working well, but at the time it was what I felt I needed to do. I felt that as I was messing up this badly I needed to suffer for it and to go that extra mile. I was also not eating much, I skipped breakfast in order to get to school as soon as possible and had a couple of rye-vitas with peanut butter for lunch. Evidently none of this is a recipe for any kind of success and I remember a few times in the staff room my head feeling like a pressure was squeezing in on it and would have trouble breathing for a few minutes.
Another lesson observation loomed, the deputy head was conducting it along with my head of department. This was the big one and it would make or break me. I spent a long time on the lesson trying to get it just right, it was a tricky one and was a lesson on literacy so wasn’t meant to contain any music. I was a little unsure of what I’d come up with so showed another member of staff my lesson plan and ideas and she said it looked good, I asked my head of department if I was on the right lines with and she said as long as could demonstrate literary progression I’d be fine. I was all set!
Again I thought the lesson was pretty good, considering it contained no music. However, this was not the case, again the write up on the lesson was terrible. On receiving this feedback I was broken and had no more fight left in me, I’d given everything I had and was still coming up massively short. I was told that I should probably resign as there was little chance that I would pass my NQT year. I felt like I had no other choice but to write a letter to the headmistress tendering my resignation and apologising for letting the school down.
On leaving the school on my final day I was absolutely devastated and phoned my mum leaving the school for the last time and just sat on the steps in front of the school gates distraught and in floods of tears (luckily all the students had left.) I felt embarrassed, guilty and a complete failure. All my plans for the future had come crashing down and adult life had sucker punched me in the stomach just as it was beginning.
I spent a week at my mum and dads to recuperate and to get my head together before heading back to London to do supply teaching. This was actually great experience and I managed to get quite a bit of regular work with a few schools who seemed to like me and couple of them offered me full time positions and were very positive about my teaching. By this stage, however I was missing playing music and decided to plunge headfirst into joining the Army as a military musician.
Despite being 7 years ago I still look back on this episode with a certain amount of sadness, guilt and shame at the way I so massively managed to fail at a job that I really wanted to do well at. Despite this, I’m glad I experienced it as it’s episodes like these that make us grow stronger and more resilient. Not everything in life is going to go your way and all you can do is roll with the punches and come back stronger then before having learnt the lessons that life has dealt you.