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 pedagoo.org 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.

7 thoughts on “A Light That Never Goes Out

    • Thanks for the comment Joyce. I think that could be the same for an ability to keep learning, to discuss our own learning and, ultimately, a personal involvement in our own development. Good point.

  1. Great piece! Working in primary is no less challenging even if we know the learners better having so much day to day contact. But what you all are doing on the pedagoo links is superb! Having been through exhaustion recently I know it makes a difference.
    We need all the positives we can get!
    Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words, because your words become your actions, because your actions become your habits, because your become your values, because your values become your future!

    We all need light and sharing and each other. ‘Me too’ is a response we hear too little!

    • Thanks Sarah. Yes, Pedagoo is and will, hopefully, make a big difference. The difficulty will be getting more and more teachers involved in the conversation.

  2. When you think of all the role models we have, those we aspire to be like, the great heroes of this or any other age, you can bet anything you like that they all had times when they said “well, that could have gone better”, or “Oh £$%&, I’ve made a right *%*% of that”. Nobody is perfect, most of us are a long way off, so why beat ourselves up when we fall short of perfection. I would hate it if everything went the way I planned, because then I would learn nothing.

  3. My mother, a fellow teacher, used to smirk and say, “My lesson plans would run perfectly if it weren’t for the students.”

    …but whatever the lesson, you are obviously modeling a “writer-ly” life (a phrase used by Colleen Cruz). They’ll remember that more than the individual lesson(s).

  4. Pingback: Monday Mentions | Expat Educator

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