I started this school year writing a blog post reflecting on what happened at school each day. I stopped when all the shit with the plague happened (which is bizarre because history will tell us that is the only period worth remembering). Well, I’m always one to go against what is expected, and so now that all the shit has started to settle (well, school is resuming as – storta – normal next week at least anyway) I’ve decided to come back here to continue with my reflections. Lucky you, huh?
The thing I wanna write about now is one anxiety I have about next Monday (when students return full time and normal timetabling resumes). It’s not about getting COVID-19. It’s actually about workload. What does that tell you about the teaching profession when you’re more worried about burnout than a potentially fatal, highly contagious virus that’s shut down the world? It tells you that teaching is deadly. Even if you take that last sentence figuratively, when you’re a teacher it consumes your life, which means you really have no other life separate from it. It is a sort of living death. That sounds all very Yeatsian, but what I’m trying to say is that even though lock-down and teaching remotely were really hard for a range of reasons, I actually felt alive and relaxed for the first time in a while. OK, so maybe I’m just talking about the last two weeks, and maybe I’m just talking about my own experience at my school, but that’s OK cos I’m not claiming to be talking on behalf of anyone else here. I am being honest. The last two weeks (where only year 12 have been on campus full time, and juniors one day per week) have been fantastic. Juniors have been asynchronous except for one period per week (not necessarily the in-school period). It’s just freed up so much time to get all the other teachery work done. I’ve managed to give meaningful and regular feedback on work, keep track of where each student is with their learning, write programs, plan high quality lessons, write reports, do HT admin stuff (too boring to list) all within school time! I’ve even been able to go to the toilet when I need to, and eat lunch at lunch time! I’ve been able to attend staff, faculty and executive meetings from home – sometimes listening to the feed whilst making dinner! When the work day is done, I’m finished. No working after-hours or on the weekend. Basically, I felt human and alive – not a teacher robot.
Next week won’t be like that. Next week we will return to the old timetable. Next week the bell times will go back as they were. It’s all going to come crashing back – all the reasons why I’ve contemplated leaving teaching. To be honest, during all of this crisis, I haven’t once thought about quitting. I spent a lot of time angry and hurt, but I never once thought I’d quit. It’s weird, because prior to it all I thought about quitting often. Like easily once a week. So what does this say about the job? I was speaking to a colleague yesterday and she echoed my concerns. We share an anxiety bond, and like me she admitted she was less anxious about the virus and more anxious about the return to the intensity of our teacher workload. We shared the positives of the last two weeks, and our new appreciation for how a reduced face-to-face teaching load really can improve teaching and learning. It could keep more teachers in the profession.
As a Fed Rep, that’s the thing I’m going to be fighting for. We need more teachers so we can reduce teaching loads and improve the lives of our teachers, and our students. We can say it’s up to individual schools to innovate in the post-COVID world, but it shouldn’t be an individual case thing – it should be a centralised decision so all teachers benefit.