Ask a group of teachers why they entered the profession and I guarantee you’ll get responses like “I had a teacher who was inspirational to me” and “to make a difference to young people”. Certainly, I went into the profession with a desire to help and support others and that hasn’t changed. In my experience, this is pretty typical of most people who work in education- their motivation is usually based around a selfless and giving attitude and sense of purpose.
But there is a tendency in teaching to let this selflessness get the better of people. In a profession that is notorious for its large workload and often working long over contracted hours, it is important to remember to have a life outside the classroom, too. Teachers frequently go above and beyond what is contractually expected of them for the good of their pupils, without the desire for recognition or pay. I believe the best thing about the education system in this country is the altruistic and compassionate nature of the people who deliver at the chalkface every day, but it can be a double-edged sword.
Particularly as an NQT, teaching is a profession that requires a huge personal input and dedication. Finding your feet is no easy task whilst trying to balance a multitude of time-intensive responsibilities, and can at times feel like trying to juggle five flaming tigers whilst tightrope walking. Naturally, this leads to a lot of late-night working and getting your head around a large volume of new duties. Sometimes even having to accept that not everything can be done to the best of your ability, all of the time.
But don’t despair. Remember to keep perspective. Someone once gave me a fantastic analogy: it’s like trying to be one of those people who spin plates on sticks. The objective is to keep all of the plates spinning simultaneously and when one starts to topple you go and make sure that it stays up. It would be unreasonable to expect to keep all of them spinning perfectly, but so long as none of them fall, your objective is achieved. Think of teaching as like this too. Focus on keeping all of the plates spinning and understand that sometimes ‘good enough’ is exactly that. Trust that the rest will follow with time, stay positive and talk with other teachers. Laugh a lot and be realistic with yourself. Would you expect a pupil to grasp a new idea and be perfect from the word go? Or would you allow them to make mistakes and learn from them? Extend that courtesy to yourself, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
I personally remember relating the most to teachers who I saw as human. Who made mistakes from time to time and had the good grace to admit this. I think it is a powerful thing to be able to communicate to my pupils that it’s ok to make mistakes, so long as you admit it and are prepared to make amends where necessary.
Also, recognise that you will be at your best for the pupils in front of you if you are happy, well rested and enjoying yourself. Ask yourself, is it vital that you mark that last set of books tonight, or would you be better off having an extra hour in bed? Granted, some tasks are essential, but it’s still a question worth asking.
Equally, when you are more experienced and you see others in the position you are in now remember how it feels. Sometimes a cheerful face and a short chat can a make a world of difference.
Matt Pearson @mattpearson1991 is a Physics teacher in the UK. Recently working as Head of Physics at a secondary school in Buckinghamshire, he is currently starting work in ITT.