Not the End of the World – And I Feel Fine

One of the best things about Twitter is that it not only provides the best free CPD you will ever need, it also consistently reminds us that we are not alone. Teachers are very often targets from all areas and if there is one thing that we need to show to each other it is compassion and empathy. This post has been written as a result of conversations with student teachers worrying about whether they are coping, with probationary teachers terrified of being unable to pay their bills and experienced teachers who feel isolated and in despair. It is mostly, however, deeply rooted in personal experience and I make no apologies for the tone. That’s okay, isn’t ?

It’s okay to think that, sometimes, you can’t do this job, to feel overwhelmed, about to be swallowed up. Those moments when you think that challenging class isn’t working out no matter what you try. When that problem student seems to be reacting  badly to everything you do. When you believe that everything is personal. When the marking and preparation are starting to get the better of you and that’s before you’ve even begun to think about those reports and that rapidly advancing deadline. Every one of us feels like that at times. We all do it. It is okay.

It’s okay to, occasionally, have a night off. Even though you have that marking and those reports. Even though, in the back of your mind, you know you might not be totally prepared for the full day. That family meal is more important. The walk in the park on your own, the visit to the cinema, the uncharacteristic collapse in front of the TV. When you mistakenly – or so you convince yourself- forget to bring home that pile of essays that is fairly urgent. No one will die. You won’t be fired. They will get marked. So take a night off. Now and again. We all do it. It is okay.

It’s okay to disagree with management and speak up about it. In fact, it is not only your right but your duty. If they’ve any backbone they’ll welcome your points if they are couched in an alternative. Yes, management are there to make decisions and we are there to, more or less, follow them. However, we are professionals and a climate where educated adults are too afraid to express an opinion is unhealthy and, ultimately, self- defeating. Be informed. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to do so. We all do it. It is okay.

It’s okay to miss the occasional deadline. Despite what you’re told. Schools and departments don’t grind to a halt because you haven’t filled out a class list or ticked a few boxes. Of course you shouldn’t make a habit of it. Of course you want to be a reliable member of your Department. But there will be times during the year where something has to give. Your classes take top billing. Your PT will forgive you. If not, then they’d have found something else to be annoyed at anyway. Things get done. Sometimes not on time but they get done. We all do it. It is okay.

It’s okay to console that kid with a hug or even a wee touch on the arm. You know the one. They’ve just failed to get into the Uni of their choice. They’re having a particularly terrible time at home. They can’t see an end to the bullying. Perhaps they’re just struggling with school in general. The important thing to remember is that you’re not an idiot. You know when it is appropriate to console and better to leave well alone. But these are kids and sometimes they need us to show them compassion and humanity. We are not machines and neither are they. We all do it. It is okay.

It is okay to feel frightened of change. It is okay not to be the smartest person on the classroom, to not always have the answer. It is okay to occasionally sit in the car and weep just before you go into school. It’s okay to get things wrong from time to time. We all do it. It is okay.

You are a human being.

You are a teacher.

And that is more than okay.

A Light That Never Goes Out

The cup slams down on to the desk. Lukewarm coffee splashes onto the pile of documents I’ve yet to read. I don’t sit down in my chair, I collapse into it. The chair doesn’t invite me. I surprise it. In revenge, the wheels send me backwards into a cabinet. Three ring binders, piled precariously, fall to the ground. I can’t be certain but I’m sure my sighs can be heard in at least three adjacent classrooms. I stare at the ten e-mail requests I have received since the beginning of that last double period. This can’t be what it’s all about. It just can’t be.

‘What just happened there?’ should be the question most on my mind. ‘Why did that lesson go so badly?’ I should think about the endless planning I did for this lesson; the immaculate resources I prepared; the constructive yet essential use of ICT. The clear outcomes set, the challenging but achievable goals. Everything was perfect; it should have been perfect. And, of course, I should have been thinking about these questions. But I wasn’t. I had ten minutes to get ready for the next lesson. Another one I had planned for ages. I didn’t have time for questions.

That the rest of the day went well doesn’t really matter. They usually do. However, when I’m driving home, when I’m eating dinner, when I’m spending time with my wife discussing normal things, I know damn well I’ll be thinking about that lesson. I’ll be blaming myself and punishing myself and coming to the conclusion that I cannot and never will be able to be much good at this teaching thing. I’ll be back at my desk for the obligatory two or so hours of marking and preparation. I’ll be in school at 7.30 next morning to go through it all again.

Perhaps this portrays the reality of an impossible job. Perhaps it merely confirms the reality that you never stop learning. Reflecting on what goes wrong makes us stronger. However, thirteen years down the line I’ve finally arrived at the point where I know that, no matter how hard I’ve tried to get over it, that feeling never leaves you. Twenty four hours a day. I’ve dreamt of bad lessons, of troublesome students, of difficult colleagues. I’ve woken up at three in the morning worrying about course work. It never goes away.

This week, despite the media hype, Sir Michael Wilshaw did not say that teachers don’t know about stress; he said that we shouldn’t use the challenges of the job as an excuse. And, as much as that is difficult to swallow from a man who regularly insults and undermines the profession in England and beyond, he’s probably right about that. We are responsible for the education of children. And that is stressful and challenging and seemingly impossible a times. But if not us, then who? The real problems arrive when we lack the voice or the ear or the courage to share those difficulties.

Very often we keep those problems hidden, afraid to admit our foibles. We, perhaps, deny our private concerns, putting a brave face on for colleagues and, especially, management. Because, despite the inner torment, despite the sleepless nights, despite the slightly queasy feeling you may have driving into the car park at times, putting a brave face on is far better than admitting weakness. And so it goes on, it would seem.

But things can change. About a year ago I was invited to be part of the admin team. Why, I’ll never really understand, but I am eternally grateful for that opportunity. Immediately I became a part of a forum to discuss those previously hidden worries. A few months later #pedagoofriday was born, inviting educators, at the end of a hard week, to share, on Twitter, amazing things which have happened in their classrooms. What #pedagoofriday does is change the focus from the worst thing that happened that week to the best, most exciting, most creative. I’m encouraged, from Thursday night, sometimes even earlier, to think about the positive things to share from my week. So, I come home on a Friday and no longer slam down cups of coffee but calmly place well-earned glasses of red wine beside me, while reading about the amazing things that are happening in classes all over the world. That’s what it’s all about. I knew I’d find it one day.