When I took a break from teaching almost two years ago, I always knew I would be back. Teaching is in my blood. My family will testify that I have always been teaching, ever since I was very small and I used to spend hours tormenting my ever-patient sister with games of ‘school’. These games slowly became a more measured and determined mission to learn, to gather information and pass it on in a way that made sense and, hopefully, inspired. Having taken a break from formal classroom teaching, I found (and was often told!) that my ‘teacher voice’ did not leave me; nor did my love of literature, pedagogy, or (yes I’ll admit it) telling people what I think, and occasionally what they should do! As I said, teaching is in my blood. I always knew I’d be back.
What I didn’t know was that I would be returning in the midst of a global pandemic. One of the many quirks of the structure of the academic year meant that I received a job offer in early February for a September start. I had therefore decided to return to teaching just before we all realised that the pandemic was to hit the scale that it has. I had anticipated that I would be in my new school as the months progressed, learning its systems and preparing for the next stage of my career. I began writing ‘teacher’ on documents again when asked for my occupation and excitedly delved back into old planning to dig out what could be reused and look for creative inspiration.
When the first lockdown hit, I was at a loss. I saw my friends, colleagues, and teachers around the globe struggling with the new reality they were facing. I looked for ways to help, but as the need to reduce contacts grew I was less and less able to find ways to lend my support. I felt redundant, and wished I could be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my hard-working fellow teachers at such a time of crisis. There being little to nothing I could do, I waited out the summer, prepared as best I could (though how well, really, could anyone prepare for this particular September?) and headed to my new job on the first day of term with a childlike enthusiasm. And what I really wish to share with you as we approach the Christmas break is this: I can honestly say, for all the strangeness of the last two terms, I could not be more thankful that I am back in a school. Teaching is in my blood.
It has been challenging. Of course it has: teaching is challenging under normal circumstances, and these are not normal circumstances. But I love that challenge. I’ve been reflecting a lot (mainly on my extended commute) on why I still love teaching, and I offer you my highlights as a tonic to the temptation at times such as these to seek out the dark places in our experiences. Of course, these highlights are mine and mine alone, and your experience may be very different. But I do hope that somewhere in these shards of light you find a moment of relating and recognition.
~ I get to work with a group of people who enjoy our subject as much as I do. To discuss the minutiae of rubrics and texts and debate the merits of authors and perspectives in the day to day execution of my job is a privilege not open to all and I treasure it.~
~ I am grateful, daily, for the laughter ringing out along corridors - the pure joy of children glad to be in school, amongst friends and learning, is an unrivalled boost during days of hustle and bustle that are part and parcel of life in a school.~
~ The pupils we teach are, largely, so appreciative of what they have. Their extended absence from school has shown so many of them the incredible value of their school experience - learning, socialising, safety. They are grateful and they show it. ~
~ Our classrooms are still places of inspiration, creativity and ‘light bulb’ moments. Even without some of our staples of group work and roaming, learning and fascination is still sparked every day; lives are still changed and passions ignited. ~
~ Teaching matters. This pandemic has taught us much about the nature of education and shone a harsh spotlight on many areas which need revision and improvement. But one fact remains unchanging: teaching matters. Ask a parent who had to juggle childcare, working from home and home-learning how they now view the work of teachers, and you may be pleasantly surprised by their response. Teaching matters. ~
To all of you approaching the much-needed Christmas break - thank you for all you have done and are doing to keep pupils safe, learning and excelling under exceptionally challenging circumstances. Remember all those little shards of light you have had over these two terms and clasp them to you over the holiday. Those shards of light are the reason I always knew I would come back to teaching: teaching is in my blood. And above all - it matters.