Writing on this site is often a necessary catharsis. I am compelled to openly reflect on my teaching practice. To those of you reading, apologies. I am not thinking of you a great deal of the time. It’s me, not you. This isn’t a break-up as such but it is perhaps a parting of ways.
Here’s a few things you need to know about me:
– I write about the ‘fluffy’.
– I write about the same things time and time again.
– I ramble whilst writing and write whilst I ramble, although to a lesser extent.
– I am self-critical. And self-critical about being self-critical…
Finally, I can guarantee that you will find all of the above irritating beyond belief.
If you’re sticking with it, great. If not, so long. Although I probably couldn’t care less. You see, the only part of ‘having an audience’ that matters is that I am forced to actively reflect in a more thoughtful way than any other means allows.* If you would prefer something more concrete and worthy, there are many wonderful bloggers out there who too satiate my need for a better read!
I always enjoy setting the scene for my posts:
It is 1.30am on Thursday 22nd August (now 2.39am as I do a final edit). In a few hours I will face the wonderful GCSE students I have been privileged to teach this year. There will be a mix of disappointed and elated faces- including my own. I have known for some time that I will not be teaching a single GCSE class next year and although my life will have less stress as a result, it will certainly be far less filled with joy.
This year has seen more than 60 GCSE students under my sole care. I had 4 classes. Each of these took place after so-called ‘normal’ teaching hours had passed. Even after a full and often very long and wearing day, these students had such an immense power to make me forget everything. I am probably safe to admit this now but I would often stagger to the door of a GCSE class and hope it lead to home. I would wish more than anything to be tucked up in bed with a good book or film. Yet, within a few mere moments, those students had surprised me, entertained me and challenged me all at the same time. They brought out the best in me as a teacher and a person. Truly, they did.
Those kinds of students must be the addictive agent in the teaching drug. Reading through my other posts, you’ll notice a theme. I’m often questioning my ability to teach. Maybe not always my ability but certainly my suitability for the role. I’d always wondered what kept me going and in this year, the most testing year of my career so far, it must have been those superstars!
Not to say too much at this stage but there are a number of faces I cannot wait to see tomorrow. Those students have worked hard this year and have achieved what they more than deserved. There are also those who were told at school they’d never be able to do it. They bravely returned to ‘school’ as adults and have achieved more than they could ever have imagined. I think I will struggle not to cry as I encounter those particular beaming faces tomorrow; to have played a part in that stage of their journey is such a huge honour and privilege.
Then there are those who I’ve failed. These are the faces I won’t be so thrilled to see tomorrow.
Yes, I can make excuses for them:
- They didn’t attend enough classes.
- They didn’t work hard enough.
- They didn’t attend the extra revision.
- They didn’t take on board my feedback.
- They weren’t motivated enough.
This may all be true but excuses is all it is. Ultimately, I have failed.
When you work in many businesses, there are targets to meet. If they’re not met, this is questioned. You are tasked with improving and that is the name of the game. If the sales aren’t there, then you’re not performing highly enough.
I love a good docudrama (?) and The Car Dealership from Channel 4 was one such marvel. There was a salesman on this show who was trying his hardest (ish) to sell cars. When he didn’t sell them, it was the customers who were to blame:
- They weren’t interested.
- They ran off.
- They were never going to buy anyway.
- They couldn’t afford it.
What struck me was that someone else in the very same setting was selling more than treble the number of cars as he was at times. He couldn’t just have been given all the ‘bad customers’ could he? As teachers the temptation, at times, is to convince ourselves that somehow we ended up with all the ‘bad customers.’ Don’t get me wrong, I know that some schools, colleges and courses really have a rough deal when it comes to their intake but as soon as I read any kind of success story about those kinds of situations, it makes me wonder. If it’s possible for them, then it has to be possible for the rest of us. Namely, me!
Clearly, I am able to acknowledge that teaching is far more complex that selling cars (although having never done that, who knows?!) The comparison I wanted to make is that their customers want to buy cars. So they sell them. If they’re unable to sell a car to someone who wants to buy a car, then that’s a real failure! Our customers want grades. They want success. If we’re unable to get grades for a student who wants them, then that’s a real failure. Not because we don’t work hard enough but because we need to look at what we’re doing in a different way.
- Some will need more encouragement and motivation.
- Some will need to develop their written skills.
- Some will benefit from more of a routine.
- Some will need to grow independence and resilience.
True success won’t happen overnight and it certainly won’t be easy but I’m positive it’s possible.
Whether I’ll manage it this year or not, only time will tell. What I do know is that no longer will I give excuses. Instead, I’ll look at EXACTLY what would have helped that student to achieve. This is far more helpful and far less dismissive of students.
This year, I will have a mantra.
I will strive for the best- not just for those who are already willing and able but for each and every single student. I will never give up.
Writing that makes me feel a little sick but it’s the truth. This year, I didn’t do that. I was too quick to give up and give in. Far too soon, I wrote a student off. I can’t believe I did it, but I did.
Admittedly, it is typical for me to be far more harsh on myself than necessary though. I can honestly say that my students get the best of me- most of the time. But do I always get the best of them? That is the necessary mindset I intend to change this year.
NO GIVING UP. NO SURRENDER AND NO MORE EXCUSES!
Are you with me? Now I care! Are you there? It’s not over!
*Having said all of the above- I do write other posts that are far less reflective and hopefully far less annoying as a result!