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?