I had intended to write a post about my philosophy of education, about epistemology and paradigms. I had intended to continue the debate around traditional and progressive education, but thanks to the wise advice and example of some of my friends and colleagues on Twitter, I decided to write about who I am, and what I do.
I enjoy my job, I honestly do. Although there are days when I struggle to keep up the enthusiasm and I feel that my lessons are less than good, I am motivated by what I do. The job of educating young people is a challenge and a privilege and I try to remember the enormous impact I can have on their lives. I make an effort to talk to people in my school, and to listen to them too. Time is too short and although the day is long, moments of true communication are few in an average day. The contact I have with other people is the highlight of every day. These moments are usually stolen, between lessons, in corridors, walking across playgrounds. These are the moments which count and which I remember. Occasionally these moments occur in lessons, too, when the students see that I am trying to understand them, when they see that I respect them. Twice last week I was thanked by students because I had given them breathing space when they were visibly upset and angry about something. I am not strong on classroom discipline, but I believe that I have the respect of my students because I give them mine. A year 9 student with whom I worked in my training year, who was on the ROPES (risk of permanent exclusion) told me that I was a good teacher because I respected him without demanding that he respect me first. It is perhaps semantic, but he felt the difference and appreciated me for it.
My work as a sixth form tutor is incredibly rewarding, as I see students growing through adolescence towards adulthood. I stand up for them, and as long as they are honest with me, will generally do what I can to help them. We have been through some tough moments over the past year and a half, and I am proud of them. Tutor time is invariably a mix of YouTube videos, loud music, and discussions on pedagogy and politics. They have a lot to say and their impression of school is that not many of their teachers really listen to them. For an insight into their views, see the post by one of my year 13 tutees: http://eddiekayshun.edublogs.org/2014/03/08/reply-to-children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard-by-year13-student-missybuck96/
What do I do in school? Well, I teach French, with a few lessons of Japanese and a little Citizenship. I do not consider myself to be an outstanding teacher. Most of the observations I have had have graded me “good with outstanding features”. There is always something missing from my lessons. I try to improve, I am open to feedback, I welcome visitors and observers to my classroom, and I listen to my students when we discuss what we are doing. My lessons are usually not very well planned, I struggle to find time to source and create resources for every lesson. I mark my students’ books probably once every three weeks, but when I do, I will write comments for them on how they have improved and what they need to do to improve further. I teach the curriculum, the content, and very often it is “chalk and talk”. I cover the material in the textbook, and I prepare my students for the tests and exams which are coming up. My philosophy of education is often submerged by the daily grind and pressures of classroom teaching. I care about each of my students and about their welfare, their learning, and their development. The buzz of a good lesson is immensely rewarding, and I can see that it is for the students as well. I enjoy parents’ evenings, and appreciate the chance to tell parents something positive about their children. For some of my students, it is the wake-up call that they need. For the vast majority of them, it is an uplifting experience. I am a parent and I know what I need to know and would like to hear from my children’s teachers. Two evenings ago, with a year 10 French group who would probably not have chosen French had they the choice, two students told me how they are enjoying French for the first time since they started learning it. This is important to me. If my students are not enjoying my lessons, it is very difficult for them and for me to go about the learning process. Because we respect each other, they know that there will be tests and revisions and more boring lessons, but they appreciate that I make an effort to reach out to them and to help them to enjoy school. Having an element of choice in homework tasks means that the work is done more willingly, and is often completed to a higher standard than it would be otherwise. If I have to give detentions for lateness, or missed homeworks, or for behaviour, I will use that time to work with the students and to check their work and understanding, as well as talking through the reasons for my keeping them back. It is a useful time for me, and most students do not begrudge being sanctioned when they understand the reasons. My classroom is a welcoming environment and my door is always open.
I aim to collaborate with my colleagues as much as possible, but the constraints of the day mean that this is rarely possible. There are few teachers who will actively seek out opportunities for collaboration, and very often the effort seems to be coming largely from me. It is tiring, but I continue to seek out chances to share with my co-workers. The timetable is such that, even with willing partners, projects such as lesson study or interdisciplinary learning have very little chance of long term success due to the fact that time is not made available for teachers to work together. Despite this fact, I have been involved with, and instigated, many projects across the school through which I have come to know colleagues and students of whom I would otherwise have been ignorant. These projects demand a lot of my time and effort, but they are so rewarding that I continue with them, and they bring me great value. I am aware that it may be perceived that my participation in these other projects may be the reason that I do not find enough time for marking and planning, but I would say that they are done in time which I would otherwise take for myself – after school, at weekends, during holidays. The amount of time I spend on my actual teaching role is considerable, and it would be difficult and in my opinion wrong to add to it.
All of which brings me to my home life. I am fortunate to have a loving and caring wife who understands the demands of my job. I do not really have any friends or hobbies outside of the home, and I sometimes regret this. However, the time I spend on my job usually amounts to about 60 hours a week, and any time I have then I try to spend with my family. I have three beautiful children, a girl aged 15, a boy aged 12, and a little girl aged 5. They are all wonderful and each is different with their own virtues and foibles. I spend more time with the 5 year old, because she demands Daddy time, and perhaps because it is more relaxing to be with her. The two oldest are harder to approach, and I know that a major part of this relational difficulty is due to my stress and fatigue. I imagine that most evenings I do not project a very approachable vibe. Often if I speak to them it is to ask them to do something, or to check if they have done something. I find it hard to relate to them sometimes, and I deeply regret this and wonder what part my job plays in this scenario. The weekends I am either resting or working, and when I do ask them if they want to go out, they often decline – perhaps again because of my tired and stressed demeanour. There is little opportunity for quality time with my wife, and the sacred hour of 9.30 to 10.30 is often spent catching up on family admin or discussing the children. Would all this be any different were I in another job? Probably not. Before becoming a teacher, I had my own business as a property developer / builder and decorator, and there were times when I was at least as stressed as I sometimes get now. The tiredness was more physical than mental, but the situation was similar. There is a lot I could do to make things better at home, and I have worked hard on being more positive when I am tired, and being more patient when I am stressed. I continue to work on this, and hope that as time flies by, I will be able to look back at this time and say that I managed to spend time with my family. Is it better in the holidays? Yes, but the two oldest are usually away with their father, and this missed opportunity of bonding with them when I am more at ease is hard. I love all three of them, and am aware of spending more time with the youngest, but I do what I can to be there for all three of them.
I had intended to write a post about my philosophy of education, about epistemology and paradigms, but this is who I am, this is what I do.