New Post: Change is as good as a holiday

Chopsticks
Chopsticks image used under creative commons licence.

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.

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9 thoughts on “New Post: Change is as good as a holiday

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  1. Great post, Stephanie.

    I can really relate to your experience. Teachers need to ensure that there is balance in their lives.

    If we don’t grow as well-rounded humans, who would want to follow us? How can we inspire and motivate learners if all we reflect is a tired, worn out shell?

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  2. I liked your story. I’d encourage you to find time for you. Those days when you are away from school for a reason such as your meeting are perfect opportunities for this because it is hard to leave school at 3 pm at other times – there is always more that you can do as a teacher, parents may be watching and judging, colleagues may be watching and judging!.

    Too many teachers burn out before they have the realisation that you have written about – I’d rather have a happy, healthy, vital teacher in front of the children any day than a tired, grumpy, stressed out one.

    Your principal should be watching out for you too – as a good employer – but you have a responsibility to let them know how you are going – they are busy workaholics too.

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    1. Hi Paul
      Thanks for your comment. Yes you are right that leaving early thing is something I need to work on for next term.

      But my principal is pretty good at remind me to drop by for a cup of tea if I’ve had a bad day.

      Stephanie

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  3. I can relate Stephanie… and I’ve now been teaching for over 16 years. We get too consumed with teaching and all the marking, planning, making of resources, meetings….. and forget out own lives. I am working hard on taking time for ME!! And sometimes that means I’m not fully planned, or haven’t marked everything…. but I’ll get over it and wing it and do crazy things that my kids love anyway.

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  4. Thank you for your post. I can say as a reliever who walks in to many classrooms that children know when your stressed and overworked as a teacher and it does affect them. I literally see children breath out and relax when I get my uke out and start singing the roll. In saying that I’m as very aware that I have it easy and I admire full time teachers. Sometimes I’m a little jealous too, as they have the same wonderful children everyday and they get to see so much!

    So if you are teaching fulltime keep singing, dancing, going to gym, playing with your children or whatever makes you smile and refuels you, because that’s what good teachers do :-).

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