Saturday, 31 October 2015

Great Expectations

I alluded in my last blog post to a previous version of said post which included a surfing metaphor. Prompted by yesterday's TES article by Professor Colin Richardson I thought I'd post it as he and I had some similar thoughts. 

My prediction is that the Prof's article will not go down well. The main argument will be along the lines of "But we have no control over the pressures put on us by the government, SLT, governors and Ofsted inspectors!"

And it's true, we don't on the whole. But we can control our approach to the workload we are lumped with, and in a controversial move Professor Richardson actually makes some good points.

But first, here was what I began with:

You're lying on your board, eyes cast over your shoulder scanning the waters for the next wave. It appears and you squint, gauging its size as it rolls closer, gathering momentum. It's a big one. Mentally, you fear both riding it and being overcome by it, but those are the options. Better to try and chance success than to be pummelled. A keen surfer at this point is almost unaware of the choice - there is no option for them but to catch the wave and go for it. A stressful situation no doubt, if one lets it become so. But are surfers typically tightly-wound balls of stress? No! We consider them to be the most chilled out, relaxed people around.

I wonder if the knowledge (no doubt compounded by social media's endless brainwashing) that teaching is indeed a demanding and busy profession leaves many-a-teacher quaking in their boots as they anticipate the deluge. When the workload gets heavy they're already resigned to the fact that they won't be able to deal with it all. I wonder if many of us never get on top and ride the wave because we think the wave is just too big to be conquered.

Even a confident surfer knows that any wave might just conquer them, and that an attempt may leave them gasping for air, fighting the undertow. But they also know that they can get back out there and wait for the next swell. They're relaxed about their chances, knowing that perfection is not always guaranteed. 

A lot of teachers are perfectionists - this is not a bad thing, it means they care and want to do a good job. It also means they will inevitably think that their job is never done. And it isn't. There will always be something more to do, something that could be done better. Subconsciously many teachers attempt perfection even when they know it is unachievable. We must begin to realise that we will have a bad observation, we will get the wrong end of the stick with the marking policy and we will struggle to assess without levels for a while. But we also must realise that none of those difficulties spell the end of our career. We must see them simply as opportunities to learn. We must be willing to swim back out to sea, ready and willing to get back up on the board and try again.

And I couldn't have summarised better than Professor Richardson:

"The vast majority of teachers expect too much of themselves. They aspire to unrealistic goals. They always fall short – and deep down they realise that they do. They know there is always more they can do for their pupils. They know that what they and their schools provide can never be good enough for the young people in their care. They acknowledge that their schools can never be perfect. Inevitably, they feel guilty about their shortcomings when they fail to meet unrealistic aspirations.

Consciously or unconsciously, they try to assuage their guilt through hard work and long hours. And they succeed, at least to a limited extent, but at a vast cost to themselves."

I urge you, stressed and overworked teacher, to at least give this article some credence. Could it be that you could make some changes in your self-expectations? Might it be a good idea to put a time limit on your work next week, finishing at a given time rather that 'when the work is done'? They might be piling it on, but fight back by admitting that a teacher's work will never truly be done.

Further reading: Addressing The Balance - 5 tips for sorting out your work/life balance

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