It was a “Dragon’s Den” moment last Tuesday, the final grading meeting. Two inquisitors from the university questioned me about my folder of evidence and wished me well with my future career. An email came the next day, congratulating me on having achieved qualified teacher status. The educational authorities are wise enough to realise that it is only the first step and that the first year after qualifying is spent as a Newly Qualified Teacher, with continued mentoring and lesson observations (in 2020, it becomes the first two years).
There was the option to finish in school last Friday and spend three weeks on “enrichment,” visiting other schools and observing other ways of doing things. I decided the best enrichment I could achieve was to continue working at becoming a better teacher, spending sixteen hours a week teaching lessons and the other time learning more of what I needed to know.
An odd moment came on Monday. I was teaching a Year 7 class and looked around the room for the regular teacher, usually at the back typing emails. He wasn’t there and there was a feeling of relief when he came back into the room. Of course, he didn’t need to be there, I could cope by myself, it’s just that there was a reassurance in knowing he was present.
Thirty years ago tonight, I remember a similar feeling of wanting reassurance. I was instituted as rector of my first parish on 26th June 1989. The parish of Bright, Ballee and Killough was a beautiful area on the east coast of Co Down in Northern Ireland.
It was a wonderful summer evening, the countryside around looked perfect, the view across the sea to the Mourne mountains was something from a picture book. The church was packed for the service and there was a huge tea afterwards. The speeches included ones from local clergy and lovely words from a gracious lady who was churchwarden in Killough expressing delight that the parish had got their “own man.”
At about 11 o’clock in the evening it was still daylight, the last of the people had gone home and I was left standing in the parish hall with the two churchwardens. They were cousins, big countrymen of few words, who called me “Mr Poulton,” (seven years later one of them still called me “Mr Poulton,” he could never quite adjust to the idea that a clergyman might be addressed by his Christian name).
Standing there, I realized that I was 28 years old and I was on my own in looking after this small rural community. I remember feeling almost a sense of fear and panic about what I was taking on and a great sense of loss that I would no longer be with the saintly rector who had been so kind and helpful during the previous three years I had spent as a curate in Newtownards. There would no longer be a chance to turn to him for reassurance.
The months that followed were a time of learning lessons very quickly. The months to come now will be another time of having to learn quickly.