It’s been a challenging year. For much of it, I had utterly fallen out of love with teaching and decided that it wasn’t for me. The crushing workload and constant onslaught of soul destroying government changes to the system made me feel like I was on a hamster wheel: constantly exhausted, stressed and completely unappreciated. Paperwork and observations took up increasing amounts of my time as the prospect of an Ofsted inspection loomed (and never eventually came…roll on next term!). I always had marking to do, always had a lesson to plan, a new text to read and work out how to teach, a new scheme of work to create, a parent complaint to deal with, some paperwork to fill out, a student to console or chase…there was never a moment of rest, reflection or completion within a day. There was always more to do and never a tidy desk to look at and feel a sense of achievement. I often found myself wondering why I was putting myself through it all.
I had plenty of dark days, beating myself up for making yet another bad career decision, for ruining my twenties with aborted career plans, for being a failure at everything I set my hand to. I cried myself to sleep, wondering what I was going to do with my life, where I could go next, when all I had ever wanted to do was be a teacher and now that had all turned to dust.
But slowly, as the evenings grew lighter, the weather grew warmer, and the exams loomed, I began to emerge from my despair and view things from a different perspective. Putting aside the paperwork and the pressures, the actual act of teaching itself is extraordinary. It is endlessly creative, exciting, interactive and full of possibilities. Every lesson is an adventure; a journey of discovery not just for my students, but for me, too. I get to experiment, to try out new methods, to hone existing skills and to develop my own knowledge of literature through listening and responding to the insights of the young people in my classes. Every day I learn something new, and every day I am exposed to fresh ideas and intellectual challenges. In the process of doing this, I get to build relationships with hundreds of fascinating and utterly unique young people, who all come to my lessons with entirely different perspectives. Over time, I get to know them individually and find out what makes them tick. I enjoy teasing out their personalities and being welcomed into the turmoil of their lives. I can see when they’re not happy and need a quiet word of encouragement or commiseration. I take pride in their achievements and give them the praise some of them will never get at home. I laugh with them and cry with them and have a bloody good time with them. They are my joy, my pride, my inspiration and my reward. They are worth every tear I have shed this year, and it took me nearly leaving them behind to realise it.
It makes me sad that teachers have so little respect in our society. It makes me sad that the government treats us with contempt, and treats our children like cogs in a machine. It makes me sad that our pay system is based on the results our children achieve in their exams, as if that is the only worthwhile measure of what we do on a day-to-day basis. It makes me sad that our curriculum is constantly being tampered with to suit the whims of an unqualified and unexperienced government minister who thinks that teachers can’t be trusted to use their expertise and experience. It makes me sad that so much of my time is taken up with pointless paperwork that has nothing to do with giving children a good education. There are so many things that make me sad about our education system and there are so many things I wish I had the power to change.
However, ultimately, I can choose to let these things ruin teaching for me, or I can choose to focus on why I became a teacher in the first place. I became a teacher to make a difference to childrens’ lives. I wanted to be a positive influence. I wanted to open their eyes to the wonders of the written word, and empower them to use language to express themselves creatively. All of these things I get to do on a daily basis, plus so many more wonderful things that I never even imagined would be part of my job description. Yesterday I received a card from one of my most talented pupils, who wrote ‘thank you for teaching me that anything is possible.’ It made me cry because when I read those words I knew that despite all of the difficulties I have faced this year, I have still managed to achieve what I set out to do in my classroom. I couldn’t ask for anything more, really. Being a teacher was never going to be an easy option. That’s why all those people who say teachers are slackers and they wish they got our holidays aren’t queuing up to train to be teachers themselves. But something I have learned this year is that sometimes taking the hardest road is the most rewarding. As my summer holidays start, I am exhausted, mentally and physically, but I already can’t wait to do it all over again.