Which is hard to admit – considering I only graduated as a teacher from university in 2011 – 6 years ago. Of which spent almost a year out of the classroom already.
I have only just barely served out the length of time it has taken me to get qualified.
And yet, teaching, we need to have a talk.
I have this obsessive need to be the best. I was one of those weirdos that found out about epic educational research and read it on my weekends. I bought countless books, and then more books about the reflections on that research. I purchased resources from far reaches of the globe that were all certain to be significant and meaningful and completely on point. I made plans to implement the latest ideas, critically reflecting about where it fits within my current context and overarching philosophy. I joined countless social media teaching networks where the latest developments are paraded in an array of stylised perfection – much like the newsfeed of my social connections. I asked people, talked with them about how and why and when. I spoke about big picture education and delighted in bringing that down into daily practices to meet my little people’s needs. I researched alternative education models and respectfully tried to honour the passions and insights of educational prodigies such as Montessori, Steiner, Gardiner, Piaget, Bruner and contemporary such as Maggie Dent.
I scoured Professional Development and Professional Learning opportunities and loved the challenge of new knowledge, new methods and most of all, new results. Better results. The best results. Whether it was social and emotional learning, communication strategies, mathematical concept exploration, inquiry based learning, peer teaching, phonic instruction, trauma instruction, critical pedagogy, Aboriginal and Indigenous cultural awareness and culturally appropriate education, and then there is all the standardised norm-measured tests… I was aiming for the best results.
This drive to be the best was never from an ego space. Although I wish it was, it might have been less emotionally taxing and success might have been more quantifiable. This drive to be the best was from this place of absolute wonder, awe and probably a decent amount of servitude. Hmm that’s an emotive and contextually heavy word! But seems to fit right here. I wanted to have all of these skills so that I could share these with the little people I was teaching. I wanted to have all of the knowledge and all of the tools so that I could go deeply into my toolbox and find exactly the right combination of tools to unlock every single child’s passion, genius, and joy for life.
I saw (and see?) children as these magical little beings – with the world of potential already inside of them. There is this magnitude, magic, and absolute wealth of perfection. I was determined for them to see that within themselves, no matter what context they had come from, or how broken their poor hearts had been. And there are so many broken hearts!
I was on a mission to find the perfection within education. Although I have since found out that no such thing exists. Well that is fine, I decided, I was searching for the most mostly-perfect system. The one that would have answers and insights to help the majority of people. And not just the “majority” in the one-size-fits all… I was looking for the magic pill that honoured and cherished every individual child. I was looking for a specific set of formulas and/or textbooks, if I had to use them, for which the majority of little people could flourish. I searched in faith-based education systems, alternative-education-philosophy education systems, and finally in mainstream. To which I am even more certain that there is no magic pill or set of formulas – or if there is one, we are so frightfully far away from it, it is nauseating.
I took this responsibility so seriously, and so diligently. I had a spoken mantra of – if a child is not learning, it is my responsibility to figure out why, and rectify it. I had single handedly charged myself with the sole responsibility of changing the whole social, political, economical and neurological landscapes that these children had found themselves in. Effectively, I was frustrated that I had not changed the whole entire world to be a more fair, equal and just place. Before 3:15 on a Friday. This pressure was regardless of trauma, neurodivergence, learning difficulties, financial limitations, resourcing complications and horrendous home lives. It was my everything.
And I almost lost everything.
I took almost a year out of the classroom following the soul destroying death of my mother figure. Suddenly my identity had clearly showed that despite me being so deeply engrained in the validation and valuation of the classroom, there were things in the world beyond that could still crush me. And in fact, it was in having all of my energies tied to systems I could not change, funds I could not raise, and miracles that I could not perform – had actually taken away precious reserves of energy that could have held me together during such a monumental loss… or at least made our last few weeks together more palatable.
And there was still an expectation that I would arrive at work the day before the funeral, and the day after. To carry on. Changing lives. Other people’s lives.
I lasted another 6 months before I left.
I do not think I have fully regained from that. And I don’t know that that is a bad thing.
From the safety of relief and substitute teaching (after months of emptiness and then exploration of early-childhood education and more degrees and certification) I fell back in love with teaching. With the practices and principles. With the programs, products and performances. I fell into obsessive reading and dreaming and planning about other days and other ways. How I would tie it all together! I began going to professional developments funded from my own pocket – and continued this brave search through the new grounds of technology, play based pedagogy and the infamous STEM and STEAM team. This passion lead me back into my own classroom. The passion, the intensity and the necessity continued.
But I can, no more.
Perhaps it is having my own classroom again, having the competing schedules, competing demands and down-right contradictory needs of children, parents and administration that have almost suffocated me this year. Again.
I think that I am an okay teacher. I have evidence that I progress students at least along age appropriate increments, at times more than that. I know that I can break down a concept, and bring you along, no matter how foreign it seems to you… except when I cannot. And there are times when I cannot.
I feel the deep unending love I have for all of these individual little humans that walk into my room each morning, and I genuinely delight in getting to know them, their personalities, preferences, and nuances. I love how much I love them. Wholely and completely. I love that children find joy in being in my room, or that parents write me wonderful recommendation letters because they are sad they cannot bribe their children with my name anymore.
— Like, I think that I am an okay teacher… I could be a better teacher. There is always more research, more innovation, more processes to be aware of.
And that’s the point.
Please don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that the problem is with ‘continued learning’… the problem is with constantly changing goalposts on an institutional level – when we are clearly still not meeting our own expectations. The problem is with the changing fads, the latest gadgets, the quickest textbooks and the incredible investment of time, money, energy and mental space it takes to comprehend this stuff to a workable level – and that’s before we even get to being a ‘good’ teacher – for it to be thrown out next week or month or year for the next must have.
Nothing is ‘floating my boat’ anymore – because I see it as continued ‘not-good-enough’-ness. I see it as constant blaming and shaming me for being a thinking, feeling and being human being. Rather than an information absorbing sponge. And I am a tired and frustrated human being.
I am frustrated with the incredibly low standard of care we have for our teachers – whether it is the general respect, or the process to best improve practice. How is it that we know how to teach our children (with slow, incremental steps, measured against personal accomplishments and successes) but for the life of us, we cannot educate our teachers on new strategies (attend this 6 hour lecture about x, y and/or z and you’ve got it). How is it that we know how, why, when and where to give feedback and compliments to children (targeted, specific, sometimes personal, sometimes public – if positive) but cannot honour our teachers in their daily work. How is it that I have to spend more time preparing my day if I am sick, than if I just pushed through?
I am tired.
And I think I have had enough.
I don’t know where we go from here. Perhaps I am too clouded in my own chaos to even comprehend or see where to. I’d like to think that I will keep mulling away, subconsciously searching for a way.
But right now, I laying down my baton – for the next fearless warrior.
Because, teaching, I can’t do this anymore.