Molly, early 20s, is a recently qualified primary school teacher with a specialist interest in SEND. She is part-way through her first year of teaching but has decided to leave for a new job in September. She lives in northern England.

"I don't think your training can ever really prepare you for what it is like. You have to just jump in at the deep end and see if you swim. It's quite scary! But, over the year it has become apparent where I want my teaching career to go.

"I have a girl in my current class whose home life is, shall we say, far from ideal - she's extremely vulnerable. It's pretty obvious she doesn't see the point in coming to school. Education isn't really something valued in her family. She spends a lot of time being with me, just sitting in the classroom with me at playtime. She won't leave my side sometimes, she's like my shadow. In some ways it's heart-breaking. She doesn't feel like she gets that kind of attention from anyone else but I just feel the sense of how accountable I am to her. Nothing can prepare you to realise that every decision you make is completely yours. It is on me to make her feel safe, make her feel comfortable when she's at school in a way that she doesn't at home.

"Over the last few weeks, there have only been a few children in school because of the lockdown situation but she was one of them. She wouldn't eat her dinner; she wouldn't talk to anyone. So, I'd sit with her at lunchtime and if she woudn't eat, we'd just sit and talk. I'd try and make her laugh or smile or anything. Amongst my colleagues, there was a bit of a dislike that I was spending time with her like this. The school are having a big push to get the children to be as independent as they can. I mean, that's fabulous: I completely agree with that. But, when a child needs that support, needs that assurance then, for me, that takes precedence over everything else. Independence can come with time. Knowing they are loved and supported: that needs to happen first. I mean, are we asking children in primary to grow up too fast? Maybe we need to understand that trauma can present itself in different ways. I know how that feels. There were things in my life that meant I had to grow up ridiculously fast too. I know what it feels like to not have that sense of support.

"I know that progress and academic results are important, but I think a child's mental health and wellbeing is above all that. And, I think for a lot of people who work in education, it's not - not at all. You can't expect a child to have high expectations for themselves if they don't have that foundation, that feeling of safety. It's just not practical either. The amount of things you feel like you have to tick off as a teacher - there is just no time to actually help all of the children in the way that they need. The timetable, the curriculum - it doesn't respect them. I think I've struggled with this over the first year and that's really what made me want to go in a different direction.

"The new job happened really quickly. I just saw the advert a few weeks ago. I wasn't sure about it, but I applied, and I got it. I'll be moving into a secondary school to support the social and emotional needs of vulnerable pupils. I'll still be teaching the curriculum, but it will be a curriculum more tailored to what they need. It's going to be very, very interesting to do that but, it will have its challenges as well.

"But I can see this is what I am supposed to be doing with my teaching career: I am hoping to take my Masters in the next five years and that will take me in the right direction to becoming a SENCO. It feels really exciting!"


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