Why I’m heading back to the classroom- muscle memory

Now that I’m heading back to the classroom and combining my work as a teacher educator with working in a high school classroom, some people are asking me why I want to combine the two. This is a piece of writing I scribbled out last May when I started thinking about becoming a hybrid teacher/ teacher educator. I think it explains my reasons pretty well.

Muscle memory

People say that when you lose a limb you can continue to feel it- the phantom limb that can ache and feel ever present. Since leaving classroom teaching in a school to become a teacher educator I have felt like I’ve lost a limb, that a key part of me has been chopped off and I’m still grieving for it.

The act of teaching and my identity as a teacher are imprinted on my muscle memory. I know how I move, feel, think, act, breathe as a teacher. It is a part of my being and all I can say is I miss it. The push and pull of classroom life calls to me, and the call resonates throughout every aspect of my being.

There are things I’d grown tired of when I was teaching and I can remember them all too well for they lived in the body. There was the bone aching tiredness that descended at the end of term after 10 weeks of investing all I had in my classes and my students. I recall the rivers of frustration that would curse through my veins when things went awry, when colleagues worked at cross purposes or when those in positions of leadership made sweeping changes without recognising the human impact and when government implemented reforms that lessened our autonomy. I remember the tension that would build in my forehead and inch across my scalp when I had disagreeable encounters with students or on the days when I was keenly aware of not having done a good enough job. All this, and more, I remember.

Why miss this then? Why miss the physical markers of pain and frustration? The tension, the stress, the sometimes overwhelming sense of responsibility that you are a key player in the development of a young person?

Why? For one reason – because to teach really is to touch the future. Yes, the responsibility is great, but the rewards can be greater and these too resonate in the body. The spread of joy that comes when students experience ‘the light bulb coming on’ as they grasp a concept; the smile that engulfs me when a shy, autistic child grows to say hello in passing; the sense of pride that fills my chest when seeing students met in year 7 graduate as young adults full of promise in year 12.

This is why I teach. The chance to go on a journey with others and to see them develop, explore, question, challenge, experiment, grow.  They are verbs every single one, and this reflects the fact that teaching is an act of doing, an emotional, physical, intellectual and social endeavour. It is both a challenge and a privilege. Once I was ashamed to say I was a teacher, worn down by an endless media critique that characterised teachers as lazy, unprofessional and poorly skilled. In the face of this I thought my voice was too quiet to argue against the cacophony of critique. No longer. Now I reclaim the name. I am proud to stand and say that I am a teacher. Now that I work as a teacher educator I feel the pull of the classroom even more strongly. I stand before pre-service teachers ready to begin their own journey and I try to instil this same passion and commitment for teaching. I am jealous that I will not be taking this journey with them – the phantom limb itches and niggles and I wonder how long I can ignore it?




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