Mr Duckworth Vs. The Universe

I want to write about my worst day in teaching.

This was not my worst day, this was a great day.

Last week our school organised a really great day for the Year 10s. The was a range of sessions put on for them to help them think about the future. One of these was from the police and looked at knife crime. It was a pretty hard hitting session and hopefully goes someway towards helping our young people be safer in the future. There was also a session on using Unifrog. This is a website to help students with future career options, apprenticeships and university applications. It works really well and helps them to clarify what they want to do and how they might get there. The best part of the day though was the mock interviews.

three women sitting beside table
Photo credit: Tim Gouw

The Year 10s had been invited to come to school in either professional clothes or their school uniform. A huge number took up the opportunity and looked incredibly smart. Employees from all around Bristol had come in to run the interviews with the students. Each student received an interview (many by a pair of interviewers) and detailed feedback on how they did. For some of the day we had 60 interviewers in, so many that students were able to talk to some prior to interview, be interviewed by different people and then speak to a third set for a de-brief. The interviewers spoke highly of our students, their attitude, engagement and ability to speak about themselves. The whole thing was fantastic. The Head of Year 10 did a brilliant job in organising it and deserves huge credit. As I say, the whole thing was a huge success.

I thought this was about the worst day of my career?

So getting to that…
Many years ago now I tried to organise a similar day. The focus of the day was on Year 10s future. They were going to write CVs. They were going to search for careers that they may want in the future and find out about them. And the main event! They were going to be interviewed by professionals from local employers. I had about 20 interviewers book. Students had been told to turn up in professional dress. I had it all planned out. Students had a set time for their interview and time to prepare and discuss after with a member of staff. Everything was going to be great. This was the first time the school had run a day like this. What an opportunity.

person using laptop
How I check my emails, obviously…

So the evening before… I got a few emails come through from some of the interviewers. They were not feeling well. They would not be able to make it. This could be difficult. I was down 5 interviewers. I got my laptop out and had a look at the schedule. If we shortened each interview by a few minutes we could still get through everyone with the 15 interviewers who were coming in. It was going to be fine So what if I needed to spend an extra hour re-doing the schedules. So what if they had all already been printed ready for each student to get there own. This was fixable, the day was still going to be great.

So, tired but satisfied, I go to bed.

The big day. This is going to be great. I am going to give the students a really useful day. I am going to show the school that I can organise this kind of thing. This will make up for last year when I tried to book coaches for a trip for the whole year group only to find there were NONE available due to Glastonbury. That would be forgotten and my organisational skills would be lauded. Get to school extra early. Print out the new schedules. Everything is ready. Quick check of emails before I go to welcome the interviewers.

man in bluee ssweater
Universally agreed image of panic


6 more interviewers not able to make it. Someone emailed me at 1:30 am to tell me this. The other 5 that morning. Ok. What do I do? Still have 9 coming in. How am I going to organise this? Legs feeling a bit wobbly to be honest. Struggling to actually think. Panic creeping in. Need to go to reception to welcome those that have turned up. Receptionist coming to speak to me. Some phone messages left for me. 4 more interviewers not able to make it. I can barely see. I can barely breath. This is going to be a disaster. Genuinely no idea what I should do. Starting to sweat. It is not warm. Sweating profusely now. Sweating from stress alone. Really panicked. This is going to be worse than last year. What… should… I….do? Somebody is talking to me. What, visitors for me in reception. 5 people waiting for me. Something about interviews for Year 10s. I had 5 left. There were 20 yesterday. Now only 5. I actually cannot remember what happened next. I only have fragments of the day. I do remember the ones who did turn up being really nice and accommodating. I remember that not that many students actually got to have a mock interview that day. I remember that some of them had made a real effort and dressed very smartly. I remember being in a constant state of panic and stress. Running around trying to find things for students to do when they were supposed to be interviewed. I remember being very angry at a student that mentioned that the day was not actually very good. I wish I had not shouted at them. They did not deserve that. I remember regretting that and feeling disappointed in myself. I realise now that if I had asked for some help, sat down and thought of some solutions I may have been able to do a much better job of rescuing the day. I didn’t do that. I just ran from one place to the other (that awkward, I am not running because I am a teacher and in school, holding my lanyard so it doesn’t flap about, type of run).

It. Was. A. Disaster!

green and white signage
I wished I could have found a way out.

It was a disaster because people let me down at the last minute. It was a disaster because I had not planned for that and ensured I booked more people. It was a disaster because I let the stress of the day get the better of me. It was a disaster because I lacked the skills to rescue it. It was a disaster because so many of the students did not get that mock interview they were expecting.

This was my worst ever day in teaching. It was horrible. I have had some other tough days, some difficult incidents but this felt like the worst. It was a whole day of it. I felt totally trapped and could see no way to fix it. This was worse than the time as a NQT with a new class I asked a student to wait behind at the end of the day. I wanted to speak to him about the fact he was talking when I was and had done no work. He proceeded to headbutt the wall repeatedly and threw a chair across the room. It knocked down the plastic covering of the strip lighting. That was a bad day. It was worse than the day I tore my trousers in school. This was actually two days. Twice I have torn a pair of trousers. It was worse than the day I discovered, in my first teaching job, that a student had secretly taken a photo of me. This was back in 2007, before we were all vigilant for this. The photo appeared on YouTube. My face had been animated to open and close like I was singing. The whole top part of my head was moving. I appeared to be singing along to a track be a band. The band’s name was made up of 2 words. I am not comfortable repeating either of those words. It is fair to say they have not appeared on Top of the Pops. This is also why once a year I spend 2 hours trawling through the internet checking for videos, pictures and other search results about me. This has, to this day, been the only one. It was worse than the day I was told to go to a conference about supporting PP students. I sat in the conference for 2 hours before I finally realised that this was the Primary School one. The Secondary was the next week This was worse than all of these days. Worse because I could see no way out of it. Worse because, really, it was mostly my own fault. It could have been avoided. It could have dealt with better.

fawn pug lying on floor
A sad dog…

I wish that this story ended by me telling you that I was the amazing Head of Year that organised the 2019 mock interview day at the start of this post. I am not that person. I have come a long way since my attempt. I am not the same person or teacher I was then. That day has had an impact on me, and maybe made me better for it. Although the worst day, probably not the lowest point in my career. I will save that for another day.

Really though, this blog has been about how I contributed to the worst day of my teaching career and to admit that I was really quite jealous seeing somebody do a much better job of it years later. Maybe just ignore that last part and pretend it was profound and humble….

One thought on “Mr Duckworth Vs. The Universe

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