It goes without saying that BEING WITH my class is the main part of my teaching life but being APART from them is a big part too. Not only do I spend time after school every day doing student-focused work, like planning and evaluation, but I also think about my students and about teaching further into every evening.
But there are also those times when I don't think about my students or about teaching at all. This requires a significant shift in mentality. I have learnt that if I sit down in the evening to do even one school-related task I almost inevitably end up doing a planathon (and STILL feel behind!) I've learnt that if I want to disengage my teacher-brain, I have to switch it off completely.
This all-consuming aspect of teaching has made my pretty resolute about carving out time for myself that is at least nominally separate from my teacher-brain. I cocoon my weekends (well many of them) and approach Mondays with a possibly flawed sense of fatalism.
And then there's actual holidays. Yikes. This one was especially intensive because I went home to see my family. I knew without a doubt that I didn't want to do any 'school work' while I was in Windhoek.
I prepped and planned and generally tried to organise the classroom so that when I walked in 10 days later I'd get a comforting sense of purpose and flow.
Well, my morning didn't really turn out like I'd hoped. Within the hour I felt impatient and frustrated - at myself and my students, but mostly at myself. I did the gaping fish. I did the stony stares. I felt tired and I didn't feel fun. Why hadn't I spent my whole holiday preparing a world of activities so that this day could be lit? Why didn't I anticipate the lacklustre mundanity of trying to get seven-year-olds to listen to me quietly for unreasonable lengths of time?
At the end of the school day, small groups of students darted and drifted in and out of our classroom, as they always do, wanting to chat, to ask me things and to be comfortably in our space. I even got a marriage proposal - well a declaration really.
We laughed together, we hovered in this calm merriment and I thought about how much I'd looked forward to seeing them that morning. Deciding to disengage my teacher-brain is always a big decision. It has a cost, but I have to believe that it also does me good. A pause. A rest... a gathering of other self-fragments. My afternoon was better than my morning. The teacher is back at her desk.
This week I'm writing about internal teacher dialogue and its impact on teacher-self-esteem and resilience. I'll also be writing about writing. A teacher writing about other teacher's writing. Meta. Read my first 'author snapshot' about the awesome CULT OF PEDAGOGY blog here.
Earlier this week my wonderful teaching assistant left school by 9:30 to take her sick baby to the clinic. In spite of being the actual teacher, my heart sank at the idea of managing the kids by myself.
The day went from bad to worse. I stood in front of the buzzing room of little bodies gaping like a fish, trying to work out how to address the children without simply screaming my head off. Every utterance was swallowed by the din. More than once I seriously wished that I could walk out the room and hide somewhere.
Not only was I struggling to get the children settled, I'd also realised that the activity I had set for them was actually too difficult and this was making them even more restless and disengaged. Eventually I called-in all their books (in the manner of a paper-cellecting whirlwind) and handed out loose paper. We started a new activity where children worked in pairs to build and write sentences, instead of working on their own. It was still noisy, but it was way more productive and by the end of the day the children were actually unusually calm. I eyed them suspiciously, disbelieving. How did this happen?
I am glad that I talked myself through the gaping-fish moments, that I changed my tactics and that I didn't give up. An earlier version of teacher-me probably wouldn't have worked all that out. Getting your ducks in a row takes time and having your ducks in a row is something you can't take for granted.
Read more snapshots here.
The internal dialogue that goes on in my head during my standard teaching day runs a few parallel conversations at once. The first is like a radio sports commentator. It rattles off the happenings, the plans, the moment to moment. It tries to keep track, it’s trying to be everywhere at once. It’s all going so fast, I’m definitely behind. No I’m just in front in the wrong direction. Aaaaarh!
The second voice is a crusty little naysayer specialising in self-doubt, self-deprecation and anxiety. This voice keeps a running commentary on what I think I’m doing badly.
The third voice is like a desperate overworked nurse. Fussing and tutting and pouting and sighing. Uttering encouragement and motivational pep talk that can easily get drowned out by voices One and Two. This is the ‘I just need a cup of tea and to have 5 minutes away from the children and it doesn’t mean I don’t love them’ voice.
These three voices squabble and compete for my attention and often they don’t leave me with much peace of mind. I’m hyper conscious of everything I am ‘achieving’ throughout the school day and the sense that I am walking the wrong way up an escalator is recurrent (thanks sports commentator voice). I am also prone to negativity (thanks naysayer voice!) that has definitely had an effect on my self-esteem both as a teacher and as a person generally. The third voice (nurse voice) is the one trying to hold things together, but like putting a plaster on a gaping wound, the placations might be temporarily soothing, but they don’t necessarily tackle the underlying cause of injury.
In a way, this blog is an attempt to introduce a fourth voice to my inner-teacher dialogue. A voice that brings my internal perspectives together, that validates them (because even negative voices are valid) but also puts them in perspective and holds them to account. This is something that, I believe, writing can do.
Coming up in The Visionary I will discuss teacher journaling, some inspirational teacher writers and strategies for making your internal teacher talk healthily critical, rather than self-defeating.
Coming up in The SQ I will be discussing teacher self-esteem and the impact of continuous negative dialogue, self-doubt and self-criticism on teacher’s confidence, anxiety and mental health generally.
Thanks for reading.
A daunted but determined teacher irons out the creases of her brain.