Sunday, 17 May 2015

How I've Stayed In Teaching

What if the key to job satisfaction was not in a change of external expectation but in an altering of internal attitude? Could it be that it's not them who need to change things, but you? At the risk of sounding like an X-factor contestant's deluded parent, I suggest that employment enjoyment (catchy, huh?) is down to a positive mindset. And, yes, teachers - I'm talking to you.

Education - the way we think about it, the way we do it - has changed. What started off in the UK as a sort of people-factory to supply the British Empire with able workers is now something very different, and rightly so. As governments come and go, national pedagogy changes, some Education Secretaries don't really seem to be up to the job, politicians throw the baby out with the bath water (remember Labour's new National Curriculum 5 years ago?) and teachers try to keep up with the developments.

These developments may not always seem like advances but it is up to us to push forward regardless. We must make the best of a set of guidelines we might disagree or struggle with - for the kids' sake as well as our own. Yes, we will have to work hard - but what did you expect?

With an optimistic outlook one can search for solutions to the problems we face. The workload may seem heavy - how can you efficiently lighten the burden? The curriculum content list may seem a drag - how can you uplift it? The hours may seem long - how can you shorten them? Asking this kind of question is the start of your journey to loving your vocation. And just to be clear: I'm talking about making changes in the way you do things as a result of changing how you think about things.

I'm not claiming to have all the answers to those questions however, upon reflection, I can truly say that asking them has been fundamental to my happiness and success. I've not always been successful, I've found many things difficult (like lifting my lessons from 'satisfactory' to 'good' and beyond) and I have learned to be happy. Along the way I've gleaned invaluable bits of advice from colleagues and bolted them together into some sort of Scrapheap-Challenge-pedagogy that really works.

Find the teachers in your school who genuinely seem to enjoy what they do. Adhere to them. Avoid the mood-hoovers and the drains and find the radiators. Learn from them. Find out how they answered those questions - believe me, they will have asked them and found some answers already. For some teachers the answer may be moving to a different school.

Very well, Ofsted inspectors, senior leaders, local authority bigwigs, media men and the rest do affect the possibility of being so positive. As do the kids. There are factors which make it very difficult for us to do our job but there really is only one choice: adapt or die. That sounds harsh but it's true: roll with the punches (sorry, I don't mean to sound like an Apprentice candidate) or leave the profession. And for most of us the second one is not an option - we've invested so much time in our career and we remember a time when we loved it; when we really think about it we still care passionately about the education of children. And let's be honest: our livelihood, and that of our family, relies on us remaining in teaching. We can't leave. So we have to change.

I've often thought of teaching as having an acting job - our roles can be so varied. But let's not get ourselves typecast - let's be adaptable. Jack Nicholson's "Here's Johnny!", Robert DeNiro's " You talking to me?", Roy Scheider's "You're gonna need a bigger boat." - all improvised, all oft-quoted, all examples of how the screenwriters were shown how the script should really go by the ones having to actually deliver it. Pick up the script and improvise - make it your own. Show the director how the part should be played - that's how you will make difference, that's how your voice will be heard. That's what will make education great. It'll also make your job more enjoyable.

In Education today, adaptation of self is essential and it is only made possible by having an up-beat perspective. We can't sit around waiting for the perfect alignment of politicians and policies to begin to enjoy our work. Problems are only problems until they're solved - don't allow them to remain as problems. Ask those questions. Find those colleagues. Make some changes. And above all think positively.

There are many issues mentioned only in passing here that I intend to write on in the near future. The short shrift I've given to particular things is not because I haven't thought about it enough!

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