This year I’m no longer ‘just a teacher’. I took pride for many years telling people that I was ‘just a teacher’ when asked what my role was at school – it was a role I was proud of, and one I was happy to claim. By the word ‘just’ I simply meant ‘not a head teacher etc’, knowing that the role of teacher is huge and super important. This year, I’m no longer ‘just a teacher’, I’m still a teacher of course (just ask my two year 10 classes, and my year 11 and year 12 Advanced English classes) but I’m also a lot of other things. My role as HT Teaching and Learning means I have many, many more responsibilities. Last week I used Canva to make myself a pretty poster of all my responsibilities which I have put on my office wall to remind me of the balls I must keep up in the air at any one time, and believe me it’s more than three!
I’ve found my new role incredibly rewarding, and also really liberating. I know that probably seems an odd choice of words, but this job truly has given my a creative outlet like no other by giving me the scope to share ideas, and help build new ways of thinking about education with others. I’ve come to my school at a very opportune time of change, driven mostly by new reforms from ‘up top’ but also from a shared awareness of the necessary changes confronting the education sector. It’s certainly exciting, and I find myself getting carried away by the dream of innovations, revisions, creative adaptations and big, big edu ideas. This is my problem: I don’t just think, I desire ardently to do, and will dash around enthusiastically to ensure that doing is done. Unfortunately this evil demon propelling me forward in this endeavour, must be reigned in by the reality of my other responsibility: my students’ learning.
Some days I find myself struggling to separate my dual role as teacher teacher and classroom teacher. My refusal to be mediocre (even though at times I truly do mess up, forgetting essential things, dropping balls all over the place) means that I’m flipping almost manically between two selves. Last Thursday is the perfect example: during my free periods, recess and lunch I had a steady stream of people coming into my office – teachers and students. Year 12 students were coming from my class to seek help with their pre-Trials preparation, students from other teachers’ year 12 classes were seeking additional feedback on their Module B essays I had marked, and teachers were popping in to get advice on their Performance and Development Plans. Add to this emails from other teachers asking for help with PBL project planning, and it made for a very busy day. The thing is, I loved it. All teachers will admit that the reason they chose our profession is because they love to help others. Being able to support so many people in one day was incredibly fulfilling professionally, and a reminder of why I sought out the role of HT T&L. I love my job.
The struggle, however, to juggle all of the balls without letting one slip is starting to weigh on me. I’m not so much exhausted, as I am frustrated by my lack of time to be the best I can be, and do the best I can do. I’m time poor, and the only way out of it I see is less face to face teaching time. I would never want to be off class entirely, my very being thrives on those classroom experiences, conversations and encounters. My year 10 make me laugh, they test my patience, and my good humour, but they also challenge me to try new things, be me in a different way and embrace new ways of looking at texts and the world. My year 11 and 12 students challenge me to see texts through the eyes of those who can’t see their value, or simply can’t see them properly, and I learn to play the HSC game with them whilst simultaneously subverting it to help see the worth of learning for the sake of learning. I don’t ever see myself not teaching students, but I do see the need for a reduced teaching load.
My responsibility as leader of professional learning is profoundly important, and one I cherish and at times put above my role as classroom teacher. My role, I hope, will see me contribute to the learning experiences of many, many students. In order to do that, however, I must have the time to dedicate myself to the learning goals and needs of my colleagues, to spend 1-1 time with them, to help them see their own strengths, and to see themselves in a new way as learners. I need to be able to learn with them, spend time co-teaching with them, co-designing with them, getting excited about crazy possibilities with them. I just can’t do that with my current teaching load, and try as I might the restrictions of timetables just means I simply can’t get around to every teacher. My over-achieving inner 13 year old who has her heart set on changing the world simply can’t accept that. I’m afraid I’ll either keep going at it until something breaks, or until something fails badly. I can accept failure, I think, but it isn’t on my to-do list for this term, lol.
Before you comment and tell me to drop the martyr/hero complex and delegate some responsibilities, believe me those things are on my list. My colleagues are not dependent on me, we are a learning community, I have created teams who are happy to share in the responsibility. (Oh, and my work is just one small piece of a giant, complex school puzzle, so don’t imagine I think I’m the only one working on these reforms, that’s crazy.) I’m no one lady show, and never would I want to be. My frustration is with time, and my lack of it, because to be the best I can be in my role as leader of professional learning I must be available, and my demanding teaching schedule (no, I won’t go the easy way with my classes – firstly it would go against all of my principles to do so, secondly I would not be modeling best practice which would defeat my whole HT T&L enterprise!) just really inhibits that. So what do I want? I want what we all want, and can’t have, I want more time. My goal is currently to get better at time management, I’m getting there but I know there’s still so much to learn.
I wonder how others juggle their executive responsibilities with being the best possible classroom teacher?