Sunday, 4 December 2016

Reflections near the end of the first term, 2016/17

This year I’ll blog more.
It’s coming up to that annual point in time where people make promises to themselves that they don’t always keep. For teachers, though, New Year’s Day falls somewhere between the end of August and the beginning of September. It’s when we think about things we’re going to do differently, things we’re going to try, and how we’re going to be better than last year… and then the same level of work, busyness and tiredness kicks in as before and we settle for something less than our initial heady ideas. At least, that’s my experience. I decided on two things this year – that I would make more resources of my own, for it’s become a new favourite hobby of mine (make of me what you will from that) and that I would tend to both the History Help site and the blog a bit more. Like, say, once a week. I’ve largely kept to the former idea. As for the latter, you need only a quick scroll down to see how that turned out.

Teaching can be a very busy, very time consuming job. And that’s on a good day. Not that I’m complaining, the work that goes in to teaching pays off when you realise that people are actually learning from you. But of course, it can mean that some things get pushed to the side for a duration of at least a week to half a year. Like maintaining a blog. I’ll freely admit that History Help arose in the first place partly from an unwillingness to disassociate free time from an opportunity to produce something for teaching. In the few years that have passed, with a bit more experience, I’ve gladly learned my lesson to take free time to be free time.

Having said all that, I find the writing process quite helpful when it comes to untangling thoughts, so here we are and here I’ll be as regularly as I can writing about the things I think about being a teacher.

Does it ever get boring?
This is something that some people think about being a teacher. Lately a few students have asked me questions along this line, particularly on days where I’ve taught the same topic to several different groups in one day. Of course, it can be a bit boring at times. There are days when, like any other human, I would much rather be at home doing very little. Those days, though, are few and far between. Whether a day ends up dull or stressful, just teaching a lesson always cheers me up. I love my subjects, and I love explaining the various topics contained therein. I love answering questions, no matter how left-field they might be sometimes. I love talking about the world and why it is the way it is – though recently I’ve had to follow my own advice to students and remain focused…

Teaching Trump
I remember sitting in my First Year Science class one day, as our teacher sat down and solemnly explained the then burgeoning foot and mouth disease outbreak to us, and how it could mean the end of the Celtic Tiger economy (he was just a few years off).  A year later, we spent entire CSPE classes going over the 9/11 attacks, collectively trying to understand what it was all going to mean. There are moments when history unfurls before our eyes, and all of a sudden it doesn’t seem as important to know about the reasons why Ferdinand and Isabella sponsored Columbus’ voyage and it does to understand why a world-changing moment is taking place right in front of us.

My previous post on how Donald Trump’s inflammatory behaviour offered teachers an opportunity to educate carried many of the same faults shared by an awful lot of what was written about him in the weeks and months before the election. It carried a sense of disdain and a firm belief that no, of course this man could never actually win… and then he did. While I believe that it’s best to maintain a position of neutrality when discussing controversial or current topics with students, I couldn’t abide by such a position this time around. Trump’s comments on various groups of people required more from those who work with young people than simple neutrality. I believed that then and I still believe it now, and I won’t pretend I was anything other than horrified at the result on 9 November.

But here we are. This is the world we’re in and while 2016 might not be many people’s favourite year for a jarring array of reasons we can’t simply resign ourselves to living in some kind of nightmare. Whatever we think of Trump’s victory, or Brexit, or our own government’s woeful inaction when it comes to solving inequalities in our society, or any of the other million and one things that cause problems, discord and confusion in our world, we still have to go on and we have to do so with hope that no matter what happens, there will always be things to look forward to. I can’t stress enough the importance of a good political and civic education. In the days after the election I answered every and any question students had about Trump with a discussion about how he was elected, what it means, and whether or not he might actually do some good at all. I had to stop after a while because students had picked up on the fact that merely mentioning his name was enough to divert me from the lesson at hand. Still, history is history.

Five Years
Reflecting brings one thing into focus. It’s been five years since I began teaching, and it really doesn’t feel like it at all (though the message has been brought home quite well more than once as I end up encountering students I taught in First and Second Year in 2011 who now go to college and tower over me in height). I’ve learned a lot in those five years. I think back at some particularly green moments I had in my PDE year with a little embarrassment, but also relief that I’ve learned from it and can handle situations better as a result. At the same time, I feel like I still have so much to learn.

I’m a different teacher than I was when I was 25. I hope to be a different teacher again at 32. It’s the kind of job that can never really stay the same, no matter how many times you teach the same topic. It just keeps evolving, as we have to respond to new changes and pressures from the outside and our own reflections on the inside. It’s the kind of job where we have to keep going and help our students to make sense of the world they’re about to enter into as adults, and the kind of job where we have to remember to stop every now and then for ourselves. It’s the kind of job that might have dull days here and there but never ceases being interesting. It’s the kind of job I always wanted, and even though the last few weeks have been hectic to say the least, it’s the kind of job I love, standing in front of a group and explaining something. And it’s so much more than just that, too.

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