It’s not a post about trying to win that elusive interview or capture the next promotion. It’s far more important really; it’s about being in the right mental place to be able to keep doing the job we want to do, and can sustainably maintain. I’ve been reading Martyn Reah’s initiative this week about developing conscious steps to maintain teacher well-being and his call for all of us involved in the profession to develop a healthy mental and physical response to the demands of the role through the #teacher5aday approach he blogged about here.
As circumstance often conspires – it has been a bit of a yin and yang week in which a range of seemingly unconnected events found themselves drawing ties into this initiative. There was the news report earlier in the week with David Cameron calling for more maths and science entrants to the profession so we can ‘win’ some sort of race. (It’s that mentality, David, that will see the planet, its resources, its biomes and its climate going to hell in a handcart in the not too distant future. Start talking about co-operation and feeding each other with the long spoons around the table and there might just be a chance of a rather more impressive future). This was swiftly followed by a report saying we are recruiting only 67% of the necessary physics teachers that schools will require in the next few years. And that was followed by a chat with a neighbour as I was hanging up the Christmas lights on the ivy, that his son-in-law had just, very happily learned that the papers had come through that he can take early retirement at the next half term from his role as head of science/physics at a local secondary school. Ground down and out by the job, he has lurched for the earliest and most remunerative-eroding release.
It was a week in which two blogs in particular struck a note. One, by Loic Menzies ( @LKMco ) called the lie to the demand that teachers end all society’s ills. Yes, we make a substantial difference; certainly, we should work as hard as we can; but unless the rest of society’s efforts are geared towards the same end of reducing inequality, need, and ignorance – then there is a limit to what we can be expected to achieve. Read the fine post here on the limits to heroicism.
I then came across @davidrogers ‘blame it on me’ post. Always genuine, ever honest, David has a knack of cutting into the heartwood and letting in light on the core. Yes – we can feel victims, yep – plenty out there to lay it at our door. But if we then pass on that blame – to parents, SLT, other departments….. we simply allow the blame vein to course down through us and on to some other recipient of our choosing. So – cauterize the blame flow. Yeah, it’s me. So what. I’ve absorbed that – applied a tourniquet, now move out of my way while I get on with the teaching and learning that I think is important. But I won’t be passing on the dark substance. It stops here.
I’m only in a school one day a week now. But here’s my take on the #teacher5aday initiatve
Connect with that teacher that first came into the job. The one that is still there inside you. You may have to dig through accumulated layers of knocks, disappointments, and even cynicism – but reconnect with that ‘you’ that first thrilled to running a classroom, or a department, or a school. You found it amazing and energising then. That is still there – if you allow yourself to look for it and reach towards it. If it’s tricky – spend time with some new teachers, or recently promoted colleagues. Rekindle the light in the eye with the glint of what is possible. We make a difference. A damn good one. Who dare stop us acclaiming that.
Walk, cycle, … run – away from the place. Far away – but within sight. Look back and see where you work and put ‘scale’ between you and the place where the frustrations and anxieties swirl. Then take in all that’s extra in that landscape – from the sky, to the human and natural setting, to the time-frame that we carve our graffiti of a career into. When we were at university at Lancaster, when things got too much with work, friends, stuff – we’d ride in an achingly old Vauxhall Viva up the road to Clougha Hill to the east of the campus. From halfway up you could look back down over the Lancashire plain, to Morecambe Bay, the Cumbrian fells in the distance – and the small white lego-bricks of the university itself mid-distance. And the problems resized to manageable proportions that lasted even as you drove back to your study room. Exercise that sense of scale regularly in whatever way does it for you.
Miners shift tons for the one nugget or vein they’re after. I sense we’re increasingly alienated from the processes that we feel obliged to plough through to notice that they can be found – as long as we look for them. That data that we’re expected to laboriously put onto spreadsheets that we dont’ really believe in – either its authenticity or its eventual use….. notice one positive thing about one student held within those numbers and colours – and praise them for it next time we see them in a corridor: subvert the ‘administrative burden’ into a delivery of a flesh-and-blood point of human celebration. The pile of marking that is unremitting in its intolerance of your time…. promise to notice four students who have been provoked into something rather amazing by you: remind yourself – and tell them. Notice the gemstones. Subvert the drudge.
On my mid-life bucket list was ‘play the bass guitar’. So, for my 50th – I went and, self-conscious of my silver hair and wrinkles amongst the adolescents, came out with amp and instrument. Jamming along to Maroon 5 on a Friday night is probably a sad sight to the rest of the family. To me – I’m lost in another place. I love it – however badly it sounds. It’s enough to hear something come on the radio for me to divert from the marking, pick up the guitar – and try to pluck an accompanying bass line. Then it can be an hour navigating the same song from youtube or spotify – and I’m in a place that is more important than the marking, the planning, the scheduling. Find something. A thing that makes you so absorbed when you do it, that – for a while – it’s the most important thing that you can spend your moments doing. Learn to indulge in ‘play’.
When it least seems opportune – because we’re mired in the relentlessness of persistent demands – it is the right time to take on something new. Something of our choosing, that we value, that matters because it meets a need we feel strongly about. It may feel counter-intuitive, but the energy we rekindle when we feel we are exercising control over one matter can flow and extend into all the turgidity of what has become routine and sapping. It’s where we convert the ‘controlled’ to ‘autonomy’. It gives the base-load ‘lift’.
Do read some of the other #teacher5aday posts. It’s intriguing how different people have interpreted the five challenges. Find what will work for you. May it be a good year to come.
PS – If Maroon 5 read this – if you’re ever doing a gig in Yorkshire, and your bass player has to pull out suddenly, I’m here. Got my own amp – and everything…. But I usually need to be in bed by 10.30 pm these days…. just sayin’…