Recently Qualified Teacher Jordanna shares her experiences as a young secondary teacher

Words by Jordanna Kennedy

Miss, have you been to University?”. I’ve been asked this question more times than I’d like to admit. “Well, obviously… how old do you think I am?”. Maybe the better question would have been “How young do you think I am?”. Of course it goes without saying that your average Year 8 student has very little awareness that by the time you’re a teacher, you’ve been to University. Yet, it never fails to surprise me when I’m asked that question.

What came next only boosted my ego: “I bet you’re 18”. The truth is, in my first year of teaching I was officially the youngest member of staff in the school. I just didn’t realise it would ever be so apparent I was the youngest. After all, Generation Z began in 1997, the year I was born. That makes me the same generation as the 30-odd young people in my classroom.

My age hadn’t phased me in my ITT year. I was one of many fresh-faced graduates, Straight Outta’ Uni. Ready to change the world. You’ve heard it all before. My first teaching role saw me return to my own school a mere four years after I’d left the Sixth Form. I’d only just turned 22 and suddenly my own teachers were now colleagues.

Rule Number 1: Please Jordanna, don’t refer to your fellow staff members as “Miss” or “Sir”, you are not a student anymore. Maybe it’s because I’d already been in this environment not so long ago, but Term 1 and imposter syndrome struck. Many, many doubts entered my head. Does age automatically equate to authority in a classroom? To respect? To better progress?

I vividly remember the first moment I questioned if I was old enough to be responsible for 30 young adults an hour. While leaving my classroom, a Year Nine student held his fist out. I looked at him, completely baffled. “Fist bump, Miss!” It took me a second to actually realise what was going on – it’s been a while since I’ve given anyone a ‘fist bump’. “No thank you” I replied. I don’t give ‘high-five’s’ and I certainly don’t respond to fist bumps. That’s the kind of thing you’d see on a Get into teaching ad.

Here we go, I thought, they think I’m one of them!

Students see a young teacher and presume they’re in for an easy year. Only, I had clear expectations from the start, a consistent approach that followed the rest of the school policy and I didn’t buy into any ‘fist bumps’ trying to win a student over. If you can act like you know the ins and outs of every single topic you teach (which I’ll admit, I definitely don’t), then you can act like you’re the most experienced teacher they’ve laid eyes on (which again, I most certainly was not). Maybe I didn’t look and seem like the ‘fresh meat’ I’d thought I was.

Later that term, I realised there is actually a lot to love about being the youngest teacher in school. I have a great relationship with the students I teach, especially my form group. I remember one of them asking me: “How come one day I’m getting like 10 negatives from you Miss, but the next day I’m crying to you about everything, as if you’re my big sister?”.

It was a slight exaggeration, but I am a stickler for the rules. If your top button is undone, you’re wearing earrings and you haven’t got your planner signed, I’ll deal with that first. They are the easy fixes, the silent routines these students will never realise they need. Yet, I’ll never leave a student feeling like no one actually cares.

Some may say I show my naivety here. Just another NQT with the time and energy to waste a lunch listening to hormonal teenagers. It doesn’t actually matter what they say. Right now, I can be a listening ear. In fact, most importantly, our students are a listening ear too. I want them to hear that I remember what it is like to be their age; to be lost in what sometimes feels like a system that forgets they are individuals.

If they don’t listen to me when I say that the emotional uproar of your teen years will come to an end, who will they listen to? I don’t mind being the ‘go to’ when it all gets too much, if that’s what they need. Because it’s not just about them venting over a boy who won’t reply to their texts or a friend who’s fallen out with them. There’s more to it than that.

Our young people have important things to discuss: the rocky relationship with their parents; the food they eat (or unfortunately in many cases, don’t eat); the pressure they feel; their mental health along with everything that being a teenager in 2020 chucks at them. They know I understand.

The return to school in September, following a whole six months of ‘distanced learning’ was daunting for even the most experienced teachers. I didn’t really help myself here, as I’d got braces on my teeth over the summer. I want to be relatable, but maybe I’m taking it too far now! Having been brought up in the next town from where I work, I get the same questions with every class at the start of term. I either know their cousin, was in the same year as their sibling or our parents are friends. Well, in the return to school this year that wasn’t the case. It was:

“Miss, I know your Mam…”

“Oh really, is she friends with your Mam? Your auntie?”.

“No, she’s friends with my Grandma”.

Oh… I see. Great. Have I aged a generation in 6 months? Maybe lockdown has been harder and longer than I thought.

Now, in my second year of teaching, I know I still have so much to learn. I’ll never stop growing as a teacher and if I do, it’ll be time for a new profession. But I’m more than happy to pass the baton onto this year’s NQTs.

You will thrive from the difference you can make in a young person’s life. Maybe we’ll all lose the enthusiasm for it one day, but there is something special about being a younger member of staff.

Just a final piece of advice: if you mention the likes of TikTok, Fortnite, Among Us or anything else along those lines. It will Blow. Their. Minds.

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