Monday, 27 October 2014

Getting my teaching 'mojo' back.

If I had been asked over the last few weeks if I loved my job I'd have said no.  If you'd have asked me if I was enjoying it I'd have said no.  If you'd have asked me if I saw myself staying in teaching past my NQT year I'd have almost certainly have said no.  Like many NQTs I was struggling my way through the last two weeks of a long half term and I just couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.  My worry wasn't that I couldn't do it all but more that I didn't have the motivation to want to do it.  I came into teaching because it was something I wanted to try, something I thought I might enjoy and not because it was all I'd ever wanted to do.  I'd lost my enthusiasm for teaching and all I was seeing were the piles of marking, the report data to be entered, the detention slips to fill out both in paper form and online and the emails to field about various members of my form group.

As an NQT it's very easy to get bogged down in everything that is expected of you and not see past it.    I set myself time limits in the evening and don't allow myself to work all weekend because I know that working myself into the ground isn't the way to go.  Maybe it's because of this that I haven't been able to feel on top of things, but even if I worked all the hours possible I'd still not be on top and added to that I'd feel awful too.  I can see how NQTs and more experienced teachers can run themselves into the ground with work, especially if teaching is all you can ever see yourself doing.  You want to feel like you're doing a good job, that you're achieving something and succeeding.  I'm gradually coming to the realisation that as a teacher that's not something I'm necessarily going to feel.  There isn't the feeling that I can work all evening but have something to show for it, the hours of work are put in just to get from day to day and that's something that I'll maybe have to accept.

For me, the major problem with this is that I have found that I don't have time to plan the sorts of lessons that I can be proud of.  I find that I am just getting by with planning lessons that are just OK most of the time so that I can get it all done.  This has a knock on effect as I don't enjoy teaching those lessons as much as I used to when I had planned something a little different, something with a variety of activities and something which the kids enjoyed more as well.  My classroom gives away the fact that I like to use lots of different resources and have things going on, my walls are covered with colourful displays and I like to experiment with different resources - I'm dangerous walking down the kids party aisle or going to a pound shop!  Any trace of these things had disappeared from my lessons of late and I was resorting to text book exercises and the like.  This isn't the teacher I saw myself being, and for my sake as much as the students I teach I wasn't willing to let this happen.

Over the last week or so I have taken some time to reflect on how I'm feeling about teaching and where I see myself in the future.  Right now I honestly don't know where I'm headed in the long term, I just know that for now I need my teaching 'mojo' back.  I need a kick start and another injection of enthusiasm.  I recognise that year 8 and 9 are my stumbling block and I need to find ways of enjoying these lessons more, this will probably start with being tougher on behaviour.  I've been given support with one particular class but I know I have a way to go with this.  Some of this is having new behaviour policies to get my head round and the accompanying paperwork which does nothing to help the situation and just makes setting detentions or removing students from class more of a hinderance than a help at times.  In contrast to this I know how much I enjoy teaching year 7 and year 10-13.  I know that these are the lessons where I can really experiment with activities and which give me something to stick my teeth into.  

This half term, as well as resting, I am going to use the opportunity to have a real think about what is coming up this half term and how I am going to balance the mediocre lessons with the ones that I can be more proud of.  

Added to this I aim to blog more.  Although this may not seem like a logical step for someone that is trying to cut down on work and use her time better I really enjoy writing and want to be able to get more involved in the ever expanding community online.  I think that continuing to blog will remind me of the things that I enjoy about teaching and why I find education so interesting.  Part of me regrets my decision to step back from NQT chat as this was a fantastic way in, but I wasn't able to give the time to it that I wanted to.  Once I get my hands on a project I like to make a real go of it, as much as this can be a great thing it's also dangerous for me as I'll dedicate everything I can to it.  

After attending ResearchEd in September and reminding myself of one of the things that I enjoy about teaching a Masters in Education is still on the horizon.  I've quizzed the Twitter community on how managable this is and with the opportunities for distance learning are around I don't see why I shouldn't give it a go come July/September.  I don't know where this Masters could take me but again, if it is something that continues to expand my ideas about teaching and education and remind me of the reasons I do what I do then it can't be a bad thing.

Excuse me whilst I open my planner, spread my schemes of work across the desk and leaf through a text book whilst I wait for amazon to deliver my latest education related book, I think it's time to get my teaching mojo back.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Trying to keep all the plates spinning.

Teaching seems to me to be one big balancing act.  At the moment I'm trying to keep all the plates spinning and it's less a matter of if one is going to fall but when.  There's the planning, the marking, the following up on homework and behaviour, the new staff induction meetings, the NQT meetings, the tutor group and all the mini spinning plates they bring with them and then of course there is the endless amounts of paperwork and emails.   Oh and the data and reporting that has already started, don't forget that.  Before I continue, I want to make it very clear that I am being well supported by my school, department and mentor and this is not a reflection on them, just an observation on teaching in general.

At the end of my training and the very start of this year I'd convinced myself that 'it gets better' 'the workload will get smaller' 'you'll have your life back eventually' but I'm becoming quite aware that this probably isn't the case.

I'm an organised person, everything has it's place and time and I like to keep on top of things, but that's just not possible anymore.  I was talking to another NQT in my department the other day and we spoke about just trying to keep our heads above water.  It's no longer about being on top of things but just trying to do enough to get by.  This is with my 10% reduced NQT timetable, the free time is meant to be used for observation and development but at the moment I need that time to get everything else done.  I'd love to be out and about in school seeing and doing more, I'd like to feel like I'm teaching good lessons not ones that are just about good enough, I'd like to feel like I'm achieving something rather than just getting by.  Unfortunately all of these things require time, more time than it's possible to give.

I'm assuming that this is a common NQT feeling, but what concerns me more is that it may be something that teachers are feeling further down the line.  Is this something that goes away or do all teachers feel this inadequate?  

All through my training I was determined that I would never be part of that statistic, you know the one, the one that's always quoted about the amount of teachers leaving the profession within the first five years.  I was convinced that I would leave my training year fully prepared for this and the fact that I was so organised was going to help me.  It would seem that I was wrong, over-optimistic and perhaps naieve. I'd decided that the people forming that statistic weren't prepared, they didn't really want to teach, maybe they went into it for the wrong reasons.  It wouldn't happen to me.  

Don't get me wrong, I'm not ready to become part of that statistic yet.  I'm determined to see out my NQT year and see where things take me.  There are days that none of this matters because someone in my form has done something brilliant, or something really clicks in class, or I actually manage to leave school at a decent time and go home smiling.  I just wonder how sustainable this sort of workload is.  I don't know how people do it, being 23, single and living with my parents I don't have commitments outside of school.  I can give as much time to it as I need / want to.  How do other people do it?  Surely something has to give?

I realise that I'll just have to accept that this is the way things are, that I can't be on top of everything and that's the way things go.  It's the reality for thousands of people every day.  I just can't help but wonder if things have to be this way?  Everyone talks of reducing the workload and pressure on teachers, but how do we go about this?

(To confirm, before anyone makes comment, I know that this sort of work load is common across many professions, working long hours and trying to strike that balance and many people don't manage it, this post is just a reflection on my feelings on the situation in teaching.)