I am Beginning Teacher. Last week I left work at 3pm, went shopping and had a leisurely coffee before going to the gym.
On a school night.
There are some teachers, I would be one of them, who would be appalled a teacher much less a Beginning Teacher would do such a thing. They’ll be even more horrified to know that after I went to the gym, I caught up with a friend for dinner where I didn’t spend any time at all talking about school or education.
Yes, I brazenly flouted ‘the Rules’ of the superhero teacher which unequivocally state that on school nights Beginning Teachers limit themselves to: marking; preparation for new lessons; answering parent emails, completing paperwork; analysing assessment data; updating the classroom blog and attending Rules-approved school-related meetings before going to bed late. Maybe, just maybe, that superhero teacher can watch a bit of TV before passing out.
Were you getting weary reading that paragraph? Try living it.
I have, which explains my shamelessness about my early finish last week. Of course part of the reason I was able to skip out so quickly was that I hadn’t spent the day teaching, I was out at a meeting. To be sure I had stuff I could of been doing but that Thursday I did something I haven’t done all term. I stopped working completely when the bells would have been ringing at school.
I’m sure that I’m not the only teacher who has at some point has commiserated with a colleague about coming into school sick, or doing preparation work on the weekend, skipping lunch because of inter-class sport or spent 11-12 hour days at school only to dutifully take the laptop home and keep working late into the night. Yes I realize that my type-A tendencies are major contributor to the this problem, I want my gold sticker for my teaching. Yet I can’t help but wonder shouldn’t teachers be calling each other more often on this kind self-congratulation disguised as self-deprecation?
As teachers we have chosen a path not for the faint-hearted. It’s hard work without trying to be perfect at it. Yet I had a moment of insight as I bounded into school on Friday morning with a renewed energy after spending Thursday doing wild things like sleeping in until 8am on a weekday. Would we rather our students see us as the frantic, overwrought, resentful teachers that never taking time out from teaching can make us? Or as self-accepting, self-aware and self-amused grown ups, which is what we hope our students should become?
I should be just able to self-identify by my work as my teacher, as I am by my culture (ex-West Aucklander, ex-Asian expat, ex-Grey Lynn latte drinker), or my hobbies (geek, cake decorator, world traveller, gym bunny) than I am by teacher status. Yet right now I’m pretty much consumed by that one identity, that of a teacher.
The importance of teachers having a rich an interesting life was outside of the classroom was underscored when I decided to share part of my Asian expat identity with my students. When I arrived in Korea, I didn’t know how to eat with chopsticks so as part of our language learning time last week I decided to teach my students how to use chopsticks.
The desks in the classroom had been pushed back for a performing group to use our classroom during the previous session yet that large open space was exactly what is needed in the a situation when there are nearly 30 kids trying to pick up plastic cubes with chopsticks. Just the act of pushing back the desks completely changed the feel of the energy in the classroom.
I need to remember to do that more often.
When it was time to finish, the classroom was completely covered in plastic cubes. Again it was one of those moments when I was glad my teaching wasn’t being observed as I flitted around correcting my students grip and challenging kids to races of picking up plastic cubes with chopsticks. But when I looked at the video I made of the lesson, every child was totally engrossed in the activity. Wednesday was undoubtedly one of those magic moments in the classroom that many of my students will likely remember many decades from now when they visit a Chinese restaurant and their minds wander back to that morning we spent sprawled out on the classroom floor with our chopsticks and plastic cubes.
So yes a change might be as good as a holiday but I’m sure I’m not the only teacher hanging out for the 3pm bell this Thursday.