“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase” – Martin Luther King Jr
Fresh out of teacher training, not even half way through my NQT year, I started to see the school that I loved and the education system that I wanted so much to be a part of begin to crumble. I saw the effect of the new scheme of work on staff on students and on myself. The job that I loved at its core was still the same; I still got to teach the students and enjoyed every minute with the students, especially those in my form. But, the expectation, not just on staff in terms of data and results, but also on students to be able to do harder questions right of the bat, was soul destroying. Good students, who try hard and want to do well, began to fall behind, develop defeatist attitudes because the content was just so different. It didn’t help that we had a change in leadership and the beginnings of academisation, as well as the almighty powers that be changing education at every possible opportunity. It all left me asking myself: should I stay?
At this point I think it vital to say that I love teaching and I could never see myself in any other career. The students make even the worst days hilarious. I arrive home every day, feeling as if I’ve made a difference, even if it’s in just a small way. However, everything else is just changing too fast. I didn’t and don’t want to change schools as it’s pretty much the same in all schools, but I wasn’t sure staying was a good option either. At some point as a teacher, you have to put your own needs first and look after you. I already struggle to manage health issues and the level of stress that comes from so much change and pressure is unhealthy for anyone.
So around Christmas last year, I made possibly the most irresponsible, impulsive decision I’ve ever made. I would quit my job and leave teaching for a year to Travel the world and focus on me for a while. I think if it hadn’t been my NQT year I might have even left that week! Alas, clearer heads prevailed and I gave myself one year, one year to save, plan and go.
A few weeks ago I let my school know my plan and now it has all become very real. Some may say that giving 6 months’ notice was silly of me; however I would hate to see a school that I do still love, struggle to replace me because of the teacher crisis, especially in Maths. I would have felt guilty and at the end of the day I want the department and the school to excel. I am excited to see where education will be when I return and I can only hope the dust will have settled and the education sector can recover to its former glory.
I will 100% be going back into teaching after my travels, hopefully far wiser and more experienced in life. I hope along my way I have the opportunity to visit other schools in different cultures, especially in Africa and South East Asia, however that is not the basis of the trip. This blog is simply a way for me to express my opinions on anything educational, mathematical, or even scientific (my second specialty). Please feel free to get in touch with me via twitter if you want to discuss anything I say, or even have any suggestions for places I should go, I need all the help I can get.
I am simultaneously petrified and extremely excited, the countdown has begun, I leave on January the 5th 2017!
It never fails to amaze me how intuitive some students can be. They can know my mood within a matter of seconds and it will have an impact on their mood, be that positive or negative. Sometimes this is helpful, if I've had a bad lesson before they can tell now is not a good time to push me. Most days I have a rather sunny and positive personality, which students tend to gravitate towards, they will brighten up as they walk in, even the quiet students will have a chat with me. All of this is only good if it then means they will settle into the work, which mostly, they do. When I'm on my game, my class is active, dynamic and a place of discovery. I always said to myself if I'm bored in a lesson then the students must be too. So I didn't aim for my students not to be bored, I aim for me not to be bored.
However, what happens when I'm so stressed and over worked that I can't find the time of energy to plan fun and dynamic lessons? Everybody suffers, I'm bored the kids are bored and is a viscous cycle.
This is not my first fight with stress and not will it be the last. As teachers we've all been there, many are constantly there. So what do we do? These are my methods :
1. Fake it till you make it - not good long term, but if I need to get through a lesson, plaster a smile on put a bounce in your step and plough through. Usually all it takes is a funny comment from a student or friend and I've snapped out of it!
2. Tick off some jobs - I absolutely hate having a mile long to do list! It's not the fact that I have lots to do, but that there are SO many things on my list. I will stay an hour or two later one day and get as many of my small tasks done as possible, giving me more time to focus on the larger jobs.
3. Meditation - seriously. No I'm not a hippie or anything. Meditation is the best thing I ever discovered. I wrote an article for ukedmag on this too. Studies show its great for students and staff. I do 15 mins almost every day, if I stop for a while I can anyways see the stress creep back in. I have all my students take three deep breaths before exams too.
4. A long bath - bubbles, book, candles the whole nine yards. Time for just me to relax and zone out.
Now here's where it gets tricky....
I've had a really rough week, I've done all of this and I'm still struggling to keep my head above water. I tried to talk to some colleagues and to family but it got me more angry and more stressed out. As teachers we have a lot to complain about, so when I get someone going they will tell me about 5 other problems I wasn't even aware of. Venting is good, but perpetuating the issue, not so much.
Eventually I realised my best option :
5. Seek help - talk to your head of department, boss etc. So much of what I was stressing about, in the grand scheme of things, was not that important. Books that could wait a week to be marked, tests that someone else could moderate, tips on how to analyse data faster. I should have done step 5 first, but pride is a funny thing.
We always expect our students to ask for help when they struggle, so why do we feel like as adults that's weakness? Surely the weakness is in not asking for help?
All I can say is I feel ten times better, already excited about some of my lessons next week!
It would be great to know if anyone has any other tips that work?