Wednesday, 31 December 2014

#Nurture1415 That was the year that was.

Five Highlights of 2014

1. Discovering that "Everyone is tired, you'll be fine" wasn't something that applied to me. I'm fairly certain that by making this public I'll alienate lots of (narrow minded) employers, and that in itself is a shame.  Following a period of immense stress (that to my credit I spoke up about at work, and kept speaking up about) my body physically shut down.  This has now been officially diagnosed as ME/CFS. I have an answer, this means I can form A Plan.

2. The astonishing number of friends who supported me this year, both in person, and online. I don't want to be asked how I am every time someone sees me and treated like an invalid but I have appreciated the texts and phone calls out of the blue, and the twitter conversations that passed a sofa-bound afternoon.

3. My exam classes that took on the independent learning skills I'd been drip feeding them all year. This worked for them when I left school in the middle of May - they continued to work hard, knew what to do and got excellent results.

4. Cooking. Being at home on my own all day meant I had to make my lunch (rather than a sandwich, shoved down in 15 minutes). I discovered a range of salads via Pinterest, paced myself to make them, then enjoyed eating them over the following day or so.  I started to eat more fresh food and I started to feel better as a result.

5. The Science Learning Centre online behaviour course. The idea of a free online course is excellent, especially given my current limits (travelling, concentrating all day, release time from work, cost) This course was easy to complete - I could do it in little chunks when I felt capable and it changed the way I did things in my lab (I have routines that are public, the classes follow them, we all feel better!) I'm gushing - it was the best CPD I have done in years.  There's another one coming up soon, I think about assessment, I can't wait.

Five Hopes for 2015

1. Get back to work, successfully, full time.  The occupational therapist says I can do it, the specialist says I can do it. My hope is that I am given more time to make it work.

2. Smooth out the bumps.  ME gives me a boom-bust pattern of energy, some days I can feel fine but 24 hours later I am unable to stand. The trick is not to go crazy when the energy is there which is tricky if you are someone who loves to get out there and live life.

3. Exam marking. What can I say? I enjoy it (once the first 40 papers are out of the way) and I'm looking forward to getting back to it this summer (and taking on the challenge of a new exam board)

4. A new perspective on my teaching. After years of taking on new ideas and trying lots of different things I think it's time to take it back to basics - good classroom management and treating the kids as people not data points. More smiles all round.

5.  Me. If I'd spent more time in February-March thinking of myself, standing up for myself and asking for medical advice, I might just have avoided becoming ill. I'm now more conscious of how I'm feeling so this year I'm going to do more crochet/doodling/drawing/lego-building/cinema-visiting, all the things that give me energy so I can better cope with the things that drain it.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Where am I now?

Recently someone on twitter was compiling a list of teaching blogs that had been updated in the last six months - it reminded me that mine hadn't been. So, where am I now?

My resolution at the start of the year working, up to a point.  I happily zumba'd and WI'd and still managed to stay on top of my marking and planning.  I had a couple of job interviews but they weren't a good fit for me. I also suspect that being publicly honest, all be it via this blog, about wanting a work-life balance was putting some schools off.  I suspect that says more about them, and the state teaching is in, than about me.

I've had a set back with my health but I am determined to overcome it. After some time at home I was relieved to discover that I can still teach. Well.  I just need to pace myself and make sure I don't go racing around the lab anymore than I need to.  There's a lightness that comes with realising that teaching isn't everything I am - I'd love to work at a school where that is appreciated and celebrated.  More balanced staff, more relaxed staff, surely means better teaching and more care for the children.

I do wander what I would do if I wasn't teaching. What's my plan B (other than winning the Euromillions)?  I enjoy the intellectual challenge and I love spending time with young people.  

As much as I can I am building up my examiner skills - I have marked the iGCSE Alternative to Practical paper for a few years, and I've now got some experience with iGCSE Further Science (that made my unused chemistry brain hurt a bit!). Doing this, and perhaps getting into question writing and paper checking, is an alternative to teaching full time.

I know I'd miss the contact with the kids, so I've recently been looking into volunteering with the Girl Guides.  I went through the whole system as a kid, it's about time, as much as I can, for me to give something back.

I'm not really sure where I am right now, or where I'm going.  If a great opportunity came along, that fitted with what I now know, then maybe I'd take it.  Until then I'm living each day as it comes.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

How much is too much?

Happy New Year!

I've read a lot of teaching blogs over the last couple of weeks where people have reviewed the last year in their teaching lives and planned fourteen new ideas for 2014. This isn't one of those blogs, but those people have inspired me to sit down and dust off my blog again.

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now, the title of this post. I knew when I got into teaching that it wasn't an 8am to 3pm Monday to Friday job, and I was careful to set boundaries from the start - I don't work on Friday night nor on Saturday, I go to bed at 10pm during term time, so I stop work by 8pm. These were things designed to help me maintain the mysterious work-life balance.  Recently it feels like this "me" time is being demanded more and more by my job and I'm starting to lose myself in what teaching has become.

I know when it started, a couple of years ago. I finally felt confident enough in my classroom practice to start to put myself out there for promotion, more responsibility, leading by example. I hit problems pretty quickly. Whilst I'd been teaching continuously for several years schools were suspicious of someone in their late 30s who hadn't been promoted already. "Why the lack of ambition?" was their unspoken, and sometimes in interviews, spoken, question.  I still haven't found the ideal answer. Being honest about health issues, (but nothing kills an interview like mentioning cancer or referring to ongoing endometriosis) or talking about wanting to be the best classroom teacher I could be first isn't getting me the job.  I got advice from several sources and all suggested taking more on in my current job so I could point to that as something I'd done that had "impact" was the way forward.  So I became the mentor for the PGCE science students, I tried to set up a coaching scheme for year 12 pupils doing science, I became a department coach, I learnt how to use ipads in lessons, I wrote schemes of work, I dealt with syllabus changes, multiple courses, changing classes, timetables that changed mid-term. I've put Blooms into my lessons, I've tried Solo, I've taken multiple new ideas from teachers on twitter, I've got my RSci. I did everything that was thrown at me.  And through it all I attempted to produce at least good lessons, every lesson, for every class I saw.  I dealt with a marking load that involved 13 different classes having their books marked every three weeks. I gave up my PPA time to mentor student teachers who had lost their way. I attended parents evenings, I wrote reports, I took my form through to the end of year 11, picked up a year 10 form and started again with them. I attended optional courses, I attended weekly meetings, I did my detention duties, I attended more meetings, more training. And through it all, like Blackpool Rock, was the dreaded Ofsted threat.

I saw the signs coming and I tried to do something. I joined my local WI and bravely met new people who were outside teaching. I planned lovely, amazing holidays and looked forward to them. I started going to zumba.  All these activities were designed to keep my sanity.  You can see what happened -  a late running meeting and a pile of books that suddenly had to be marked for a work scrutiny means that I don't make it to zumba or the WI. My time started being eroded. I got more and more snowed under. The work piled up. The stuff I was trying to do to maintain Me vanished more frequently.

I thought I was managing. Then the drip-drip of criticism, real or implied, started.  Don't get me wrong, my classes are still getting great results, I'm dealing with any poor behaviour, I'm trying new approaches, taking risks, evaluating and moving on.  But the criticisms threw me, how much is enough?

I'm not the first teacher to find myself here, and I very much doubt I'll be the last. My new line manager tells me that I'm a good teacher, that everyone is struggling.  Others have told me that a leader would cope with the workload, would willingly give their waking lives for promotion.

I'm not sure. I see the increased illnesses I've had this year, the lingering viral infections that just don't clear up. And I see them in other people too. I also see that we all come back to work before we are recovered, trying to do the best for the kids we come into contact with every day.

2014 resolutions then. I need a balance. A better balance. I might have to go part time to get that. I might have to move jobs. I might have to leave teaching. I love what is at the core of my job - spending time with teenagers, helping them reach their dreams, helping them dream in many cases, being that constant in their lives. I can't do that if I lose myself - I need to model what being an adult is, and that isn't making my life all about one thing.

So, how much is too much?