This morning I woke up with mild dread in the pit of my stomach. It’s the first teaching day of the new school year and I have that familiar feeling that has never lessened in the 14 years I have been earning a living standing in front of teenagers and trying to teach them.
I used to think that this feeling of dread came from me knowing I didn’t really want to be a teacher and it probably did to begin with. Now though I believe much of it comes from a place of fear- that I am not a good teacher, that my students won’t make the progress they should in my classes and I think the dread stems from years spent being judged against official ‘satisfactory lesson’ criteria after the isolated lesson observations that can make or break you as a teacher.
There was a time when I thought I had an idea what a good lesson was supposed to look like- when I was fresh out of college and mostly acted like an amalgamation of all teachers I had known in the hope of growing into one….over time though my understanding of my own job and of what I am supposed to be actually doing has become more blurry.
Should I be focussing on the learning or is it all about managing behaviour at the moment ? Should I push the students hard to ‘add value’ or ensure that every child can access everything? Should I be using technology to engage the students even if it doesn’t enhance their understanding or should I only use it if it makes a difference to their learning? Is it all about the content, helping students to ace their exams, or should it be all about the transferable skills they are developing? Is it all about collaboration between students and group work or do I get them to work independently so they have a better chance of absorbing the masses of content they are expected to know and be able to evaluate by the end of the year?
I am a creature of habit. I like routine. I like knowing what I am supposed to be doing. I am also conscientious and want to do a good job. That makes it scary to stand up at the front of a classroom and feel that at any moment somebody could decide that you aren’t quite doing what you should be doing even though you are doing what you think is best and what you were taught to do.
Over the past year I have started to let it go and to step back from the new initiatives, from the competition between teachers to be innovative. I have reflected on what I think it means to be a good teacher and I have made my peace with that. I still woke up with that sense of dread this morning but it is much lessened since I decided that if I do my best then it is enough. I can’t control what other people think or feel. Trying to fit myself uncomfortably into a teacherly mould that is ever shifting has only served to make me frustrated and sad so I have made peace with myself and my profession. I can’t shape anybody else’s reality but I can shape my own. I can begin each work day with a peaceful heart and make it my aim to simply be the best teacher I can be for that day. To me that means a teacher who is kind and caring, who supports her students to the best of her ability and encourages them to pursue their own personal best.
“Be kind when possible. It is always possible.”
This powerful teaching comes from the Dalai Lama and it is my goal for this year of my professional life. To be kind to my students, my colleagues and myself.