Everyone warned me that the first year of fulltime teaching was completely crazy. I took this advice to heart and thought I was prepared for whatever was headed my way.What I forgot to take into account was that nothing ever happens in isolation. Throw into the mix other random life related, let alone new location related, stuff and you’ve got a pretty crazy mix.
The year, I think, has been a successful one. No student has died under my watch, although there have been a few injuries, and a couple may have even learnt something. The more I think about it the more I realise that teaching is, at its heart, a performance. Teachers perform all day long -trying to engage and inspire students, trying to make them see the world in a different way. This is what of course what we like to think we are doing but the purpose of our our complicated tap routine if often just to get students to remember to bring back their notes the next day. Nevertheless it is still a performance and it still requires energy.
Critical reflection is something that was drummed into us at uni -in fact there were whole assignments where we had to demonstrate our ability to undertake reflection as well as analyse its importance. Whilst the term ‘reflection’ was used so often it became one of those jingoistic words my classmates and I bandied around ironically, it does make sense: by reflecting on your lessons and what worked and what didn’t you can learn and grow and improve things for next time.
Whilst it’s great in theory, there isn’t time to sit down on a daily basis and dissect the components of each and every lesson and analyse how they could be improved, so you’re left with a 5 minute stocktake between classes or whilst making a cup of tea and hope that the mental note you make to yourself about never trying that activity with Year 7 after lunch again, stays with you for longer than it takes the kettle to boil.
Without realising it, I’ve actually taken some of this professional advice and applied it to my life in general. Most school holidays I’ve ended up back in Sydney for a few days at least and not only has it provided me with a wonderful city fix, but it’s also provided me the opportunity to reflect on what’s happened over the past few months when I’ve caught up with friends. It’s been a really interesting exercise trying to sum events up into a few short sentences for discussion over a quick cup of coffee, or extrapolate that ultra distilled version into something more conversational, without straying into the domain of philosophical ramblings, for dissection over a boozy meal. The perspective that a bit of geographical and psychological distance has provided has, I think, helped me to maintain at least the appearance of sanity.
On the personal side –I won’t say private because if I’ve learnt one thing it is that nothing is ever private in a town this size; you can’t sneeze without half the town knowing about it 10 minutes later–I’ve had a few wins: I’ve managed to collect a menagerie of animals and managed to keep the dog from eating at least some of the chooks. I think I’ve done a relatively good job of treading the line between involvement with the community and maintaining some sort of privacy, which I think is half the battle for young teachers in small country towns. Dog obedience classes, involvement with the local theatre group as well as netball training and Parent Teacher nights has meant that a trip to the supermarket or post office cannot be conducted in under half an hour as there are plenty of people with whom you need to stop and chat. It’s such a simple thing but it does make you feel that much more connected.
There are plenty of things about 2014 that didn’t quite work out or that I need to improve. Of the five classes I am teaching in 2015 two of them will have the same content as last. Having stumbled my way through it last year I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to get to work on fine tuning the content and generally knowing where I’m going! I also have my first HSC class this year, perhaps one of my most frustrating and challenging classes, but a good lesson with these guys feels like ten times the accomplishment of a good lesson with anyone else.
Four days into the new year and thirty days left of school holidays, things are looking pretty bright.