Teaching was definitely not something I always wanted to do. In fact, if you’d asked me at 16, 18 or even 21 I’d have said it was the last job I wanted.
For some, teaching is a vocation – that was not the case for me. Being a teacher was just sad – something my parents did – not me!
So, after two careers – apparently a lifetime’s quota of job changes – at the age of 27, I decided on teaching. It’s a decision I’ve never really regretted, despite the blips – and don’t be under any illusions, there have been a few of those.
One of the most important times of the day for me is coffee in the staff room as soon as I arrive in school just after 8am and before registration. Working in a school can be quite insular and there are times of the term when stress levels are high. Having time to have a joke or review the previous day and all its tensions, as well as letting off steam, can be a necessary way of coping.
The noise is what hits you first – especially after the peace of a holiday. The corridors seem to bounce and echo chatter and teenage high spirits around. A former colleague once said to me that teaching requires so many more skills than just imparting information and ideas. She was right.
Patience is fundamental, as is a sense of humour. If you cannot laugh with the children and more particularly, at yourself, you might as well go home straight away. The ability to ignore and pretend you haven’t seen or heard something also ranks quite highly, as well as the exact opposite of that – to be eagle-eyed and elephant-eared when necessary. The skill which develops over time is to know which is which.
Then there’s the way to deal with teenage hormones, stroppy children who answer back, refuse to work and communicate through muttering. These are all individual challenges.
Into lessons, and it’s a treadmill until the end of the day. Lunch time is invariably taken up with helping a pupil or group of pupils with a concept they have found difficult, or ‘having the pleasure of a pupil’s company’ in order that they might reflect on behaviour, or photocopying, or marking, or planning, or having a meeting…
Later, there may be a parents’ meeting. Learning to gauge the mood of a parent as they approach can often help tailor the tone of my comments. There’s the parent who wants to impress, the parent who idolises their child, the parent who is brow-beaten already and who hardly dares approach. Again, the variety of parent is almost endless and each requires a different tack.
Being a teacher most certainly overlaps with being an actor. Knowing when to put on the serious face, when to do ‘firm’ or to raise the voice, when to hold back the laughter and look cross – it’s all a show and as such, not always being able to be yourself can be exhausting. I love hearing the little comments in the corridors and classrooms – “What’s your kneecap called? Is it patella or paella?” “What’s that big bird with long legs? Is it a herring?”
Home time, many days of the week, is between 6pm and 7pm. So much for the general assumption that it’s a 9am to 3pm job! At home there’s the marking, more planning, reading, watching and vetting programmes which might be useful, even worrying about what a child may have said and how I responded. There are also weekend activities each term and trips out of school.
Being an adult responsible for the safety of young people out of the school surroundings can be terrifying. Risk assessments, vital though they are, just highlight how frightening life can be when you are in charge of other people’s children. Then there are the concerts and school activities staff want to support for the children’s sake.
For all that, I love what I do. Teaching has to be one of the most rewarding jobs a person can have. It can be frustrating and hard at times. Children can be obnoxious – but they are just that – children – often dealing with far more in their own lives than we can possibly be aware of, and testing the boundaries and limits as adolescents do so well.
Through all this they are wonderful, vibrant beings, full of life, spirit, and joy. They are so full of courage to tackle new things, that I can only look, learn and wonder at how lucky I am.