Starting again: every year, every term, every lesson.

I am standing at my classroom door but remain just inside. One class gone and another waiting to be let in. These few seconds in my room alone is my time. My nice, safe, relaxing time. It’s been a long day. My feet ache, my head hurts, I’ve not had a cup of coffee or a swig of water in hours. I’ve got papers to write, lessons to plan, parents to call, and nine classes of assessments to grade this weekend. My brain feels like water leaking out of my ears because I am so tired. AND I’m about to teach my worst class. All term. All term I’ve tried to train this class but for apparently nothing. What were they like last lesson? Talking over me, climbing on tables and chairs, throwing papers and spit balls. And so much bottle flipping. Okay… breathe. Breathe. I take deep breathes, I wiggle and correct my tie, step outside and welcome the class in. I start again.

Even though I am a trainee teacher, and have been for only a term, this scenario could have been only too real for me quite a few times during the leo-busylong stretch from September to December. When I was training, the most resonant thing that was said to me was that during the long, dark November nights, “tough” will not even begin to describe teaching. They were sometimes right. After a sixteen-week term, cosy Undergraduate research transformed into hectic inner city London school. The days were long and my patience often wore thin.

Despite all of this, or perhaps in light of this, one of the most important things I learnt in my first term was to reflect and to simply start again. This is something that many educators have been doing for years. For example, Kevin Gannon reflected on a challenging semester where the ‘seductive cult of busy-ness’ became too much to handle and The Quirky Teacher reflected that they needed to ‘do’ more and ‘write’ less in 2017. Starting again means different things to different people: for Kevin it meant making aims for his next term, for others it might mean wiping the slate clean with a challenging pupil (or an even more challenging colleague) or perhaps even opening the classroom door, completely forgetting how soul-destroying your last lesson with Year 11 was. Regardless of how you do it, starting again is not only therapeutic, it is utterly necessary.

First, and perhaps most importantly, starting again is good for promoting a teacher’s sanity. In a recent article, Toby French wrote about the change that teachers can bring to student’s lives, even if implementing that change isn’t the most stress-free of journeys. Teaching is a profession that I already adore, just as many others do like Tom Bennett, and it consistently gives me the greatest reason to wake up in the morning; however, because of the high intensity of emotions flying around, it can be incredibly challenging, especially when the scenario at the beginning of this blog post becomes reality. If you were to open the classroom door and start that lesson in the same way that the last lesson ended, then there would be an endless cycle of bad behaviour, lack of effort and very little engagement… and that’s just from the teacbaby-dont-worryher! By starting again, you can rebuild relationships and make the change that Toby referred to more easily. After all this is why teachers teach! Make it easy on yourself and help be a part of that great sense of change. Every single lesson.

Secondly, starting again is crucial for your students. I work in an inner city school with a low socio-economic background, half of the students qualify for Pupil Premium grants, and it was only when I became a form tutor that I really understood the deprivation and troubled lives that my students face. Oftentimes, my students might come to school hungry, they might be unsure where their parents might be when they get home and, with the rollercoaster of puberty, they likely have little understanding of their own emotions. Tumultuous to say the least. By starting again, the teacher is providing the students with the stability that they may not otherwise experience. Teachers don’t hold grudges, they don’t feed into a child’s reputation, and they have accepted and moved on from what happened last lesson. They are monotonous in their stability and when you start again, you give the student a reason and opportunity to correct themselves and thrive.

It is also, somewhat coincidentally, the beginning of a new year and just how I like to start each lesson with a fresh mind-set, I like to do the same with a new series of 365 days. And like most people, I like to set myself a list of resolutions or aims for the year ahead. For various reasons that I will cover in a later blog, it is important to me to be transparent about my aims, both to my colleagues in teaching and my students in the classroom. And in the spirit of reflection, my resolutions for 2017 are things that I need build upon that perhaps weren’t the most successful in 2016.

  1. Publish more, or more specifically, publish two articles. During my time as an Undergraduate historian, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity of publishing a few things. Now that I have dipped my toe in the sea of education, I would like to continue to challenge myself by teaching stimulating and publishable material.
  2. Become a qualified teacher with outstanding grade. A blog post is coming as to why this is important to me.
  3. Teach more historically rigorous enquiries to all my students. Since I started teaching, I have made all of my own lessons and resources and I have aimed to teach all of my lessons in sequences of provocative historical enquiries. I would to build on this whist also evaluating and re-writing those enquiries that I have already taught.

2016 was apparently disastrous for more people than just me. And you may have really struggled with a particular child, class or unit of work. But it doesn’t matter. My biggest lesson from last term was to learn how to reflect, take a breath and simply start again.