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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