Today teachers and students breathe a sigh of relief because it is the last day of term and the Christmas holidays begin. Schools around this time get a funny vibe, people carry on because they have to, there is some excitement about the holidays and nobody cares about things in the same way they did back in September.
This is interesting because I thought I would never be “that person”…what I mean is, a person counting the weeks and days to the end of term. However. I shamelessly began counting towards the end of November when I piles or student work to mark and also when I kept hearing: “this is the longest and most difficult term for teachers”, “it is cold and dark”, “it is the flu season plus there is a pandemic” etc.
I usually ignored comments like those and just got on with my life, I did not want to get into that mindset. Nonetheless, at some point this crept in and I longed for the end of term like never in my life. Part of the problem was that I worked many extra hours just marking and really struggled managing my workload.
Part of this was expected as it is my first term as a qualified teacher and I have 90% of the responsibility a teacher has. Compared to my training year, this is an increase of almost 50%.
I am currently on the Early Career Framework and I have a lot of support and continuous training. However, the best thing that has happened to me has been to share my experiences with colleagues who have been in the same situation before and to be open about my weaknesses/areas of development. On the conversations and a couple of workshops I attended, I learned strategies to be more efficient with the things that take the longest in this profession: marking, feedback and student reports.
Although I heard this over and over since the beginning of my training, it took me a while to implement it and to get my head around it.
- Being systematic: if I need to repeat a task or if something takes too long, I need a system. For example, when marking a writing activity, I can write a code that relates to a specific action (sp = spelling mistake). When students get their feedback, they will be given examples of these common mistakes, check against their text and improve it. They will do the thinking!
- Begin with the end in mind: Planning a sequence or even a whole term in advance. My friend Adeline, who is an early teaching career mentor calls it “retro-planning” and held a brilliant workshop on this. If I know where my students must be at the end of term or what the assessment is about, I will consider that into each lesson and provide them with all the knowledge and practice they need.
- Just ask for help: this is the most obvious one but as a new teacher I wanted to give the best of myself and show that I could do it. But in just a term I had days in which I suddenly disliked teaching, I had no patience for my students and was unwell. I had a cold for about a month, my voice weakened a lot and I had to teach some lessons whispering or using Spanish audios.
I knew this but I had to learn the hard way anyway… When marking, I fell into the trap of correcting every single error and wrote the correction in another colour myself. Students spent about one minute looking at it and very few actually cared about improving what they had done.
I also began teaching without really checking where I was heading. I had to look at the assessments eventually and realised I did not have enough time to teach all the content. I had to modify assessments or rush teaching and kind of hope for the best. At the end of the day this created a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Did you not feel betrayed at school when the test included topics you barely covered in class? I did! My students coped with all this but it should not happen again.
Finally, I did not need to strain my voice, lose my appetite or sleep less. I did not do a good job at taking care of myself and this impacted my mood and health to some extent.
Well, today is the end of term and I am glad. I joined the many countdowns and who knows, I might do it again. However, I have decided to set sustainable systems and to get my workload under control with retrospective planning which tells me where I am going and keeps me on track. Most importantly, I am going to take care of myself, after all, I love teaching but this is just a job, I have a family, friends and a purpose in life which is strongly linked to my Christian faith.
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1 KJV
Learning takes time and the only way to learn is by doing, finding out where we failed and correcting it. I am ready to rest but also to have a great 2022 in the classroom!
Merry Christmas and a Happy new year!
This post is day 9 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit 100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.