Saturday, 20 January 2018

B a l a n c e

It was a cold and rainy day in January. The morning never really arrived, it was almost dark outside and the curtain made the bedroom gloomy and shadowy. I woke up, confused as to whether it was Friday or Saturday - but hearing 'Saturday' brought some, but little, relief.


Becoming a teacher is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It's the only job I have ever enjoyed, and it's challenging in a new way. It's not like getting your head around why you actually hate Cathy more than Heathcliff; if your dissertation actually makes sense or everyone thinks it's more made up and conceptual than it actually is; or if you've got on the right bus and, if you have, why it seems like it's going in the wrong direction. 

Imagine you're cooking a meal for 30 people you've never met. You've got a few recipes, but none of them are complete, and missing quite a lot of the key instructions. You need to source all the ingredients yourself, and you're not sure how easy it will be to get hold of them. Some people have allergies, you know that, but you're not really sure what they are and whether they're more intolerances than allergies. You don't really know what kind of food these people like, and how fussy they're going to be if they're not keen - they might even refuse to eat it full stop. You have one oven, and not enough time on the day to prepare and cook all the food, so you need to spend most of the day/evening before making sure everything's ready. When the guests arrive, they eat the meal. Some guzzle it down, and you can tell they've enjoyed it; others liked one course but not another; and some just pushed it around their plate, moaned about the food and ruined the dinner for others. At the end of the evening you feel relieved, but also aware that you could have done better and that, next time, you'll know better. Hopefully. Depending on the circumstances. 

And that's what teaching is like. I look forward to going to work almost every day, and I want to be there and I want to be better. But work isn't just what's in the classroom, it's the preparation and the marking and the constant necessary, but semi-unavoidable reflection on everything you've done and are doing. And much like making the meal, it's the fear and the preparation and the relief and the responsibility that's the hardest. So whilst the absence of an alarm, and slower start on a Saturday morning is much needed, it still doesn't feel like the end of the week. 

That's where balance comes in. Before I started my PGCE, a friend said "it's the best but the most bonkers year of your life" and that sums it up perfectly for me. I feel like I'm all over the place a lot of the time, in my head more than anything else. It's about managing the workload and the guilt of the workload, and learning to switch off to lesson rationales, PowerPoint animations, and whether the printer will still have that frustrating streak on it on Monday, and being able to relax and enjoy the time that you have that is, and should be, yours.  Sometimes it's about being selfish and saying no because you're too tired to do the yes and putting yourself first; but it's also about recognising who the no is for - and whether you're not doing your life in favour of always giving 110% for everyone else's. 

Under the stress of the training, and in the seemingly endless cycle of sleep-teach-mark-repeat, I still don't know how teachers find the time and the mindset to be totally relaxed (and would welcome any suggestions!). Finding the balance seems paramount, to strength, sanity and sustainability. Saturdays should be Saturdays, no matter how dark and rainy, and the weekend should be something to look forward to rather than tainted with guilt. And sometimes you need to remember that if they didn't like the food, they can always get a McDonald's on the way home - and they might like it next time. 
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Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Sunday Before Blue Monday


We know the Sunday night dread well. The sun goes down, the heating comes on, and our minds are full of the perils of packed lunches, work worries and ironing. Before you know it, you realise Blue Planet isn't on anymore and you're settling down to an evening of disappointing tv and running tomorrow's activities through in your mind. 

Do you know what makes that feeling worse? Discovering that there's this thing called Blue Monday, which is supposedly the most depressing day of the year, and it's tomorrow. 

But on Blue Monday Eve, I'm trying extra hard not to dread tomorrow. Because I'm actually not dreading it, because I love my job, and I like going to work - and let's face it, it can't be worse than last Monday (more on that later). I'm going on the idea that the thought of Blue Monday is far worse than it is. That we're surrounded by people and adverts and robots telling us how things are, and how things should be, and it's easy for your own feelings to become sucked in and manipulated by that. And for all the talk of nuclear war, and Trump's state visit, and M&S' Christmas sales being really very disappointing, 2018 has been alright so far.

I made a few resolutions, and I feel like reflecting on them 2 weeks in is perhaps a better test of how achievable they actually are. My first was to go the gym twice a week. I haven't done it - I went once, last Monday. But it was a truly horrific day of having my university observation cancelled at 5 hours notice, after weeks of work, approximately 10,000 words and a whole Sunday of really hardcore preparation, it felt like it had ALL gone to waste. It was no one's fault, but I was so angry I could have punched someone, anyone, everyone in the face. But I still went. And then I got ill, so I haven't been since...but I will because I'm determined to enter 2019 looking like a 5ft Margot Robbie. My second was to have one tech-free evening a week: no phones, tv, laptops. I did contemplate extending it to electricity until I realised that 1) I'm not Amish and 2) this is about making my evenings more relaxing not entirely unpleasant. I am loving it. It is calming, and it is quiet, and I've already read two excellent books this year. 

My third was inspired by a friend: do not take on stress which is not your own. It's something I'm infinitely guilty of, and is going to be my mantra for the year. After 8 days back at school, I'm already worried about why my year 10 didn't realise that blueberries existed outside of muffins, how my year 9s will ever be able to answer a 9 mark question in 9 minutes and why I'm contacting every teacher I know to try and find a school for me to spend the next three months at. They're kind of all my problems, but they're kind of not. They're things I have to engage in, and I want to engage in, but ultimately they're all short-term for me and they're not just my responsibility. I want to try and work out a balance where I can try and help everyone and not destroy myself in the process. There are a few others which I'm working on. Have better packed lunches (can confirm that just adding lettuce to a sandwich does not achieve this), always go for a walk on a Sunday, and learn how to parallel park. They don't feel like major achievements, but they're things that I think will make a difference (however big or small). 

And now, when I think about Blue Monday, I feel a bit better. I'm feeling pretty good about what achieved this year so far: from making it through my first nightmare week, to managing to take year 7 on a field trip with a rash that felt like I'd fallen in a thousand stinging nettles, to spending a totally guilt-free Saturday with my best friends checking out wildlife photography and eating massive pastries. So whilst I might only have a really boring lunch for tomorrow, and I have to teach a whole hour and 40 minute lesson on the demographic transition model, I'm going to enjoy my Sunday beef stew and have an early night. I'm sure there'll be worse Mondays. 

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