So school started last week and with it my hybrid life for the year. As the school week draws to a close today (for me at least), I thought I’d take a moment to stop and reflect on what has happened so far – and what lies ahead. Already I see how well organised I need to be to keep up with the demands of my academic work and writing, and organised to fill in the gaps at school with things that happen on the days I don’t work there. There are lots of lessons to be learnt already, but let’s start with the return to the classroom as I share some thoughts from my first day back working with students.
Day three and I was awake early as not only were students starting today but we were heading to New Zealand after school for my nephew’s wedding. So it was up before dawn to take the dog for a walk. The air was beautifully crisp and across the pre- dawn sky clouds feathered out in the moonlight. Rohan and I talked about plans for the day and always lurking is the first day tension that creeps up on us at the beginning of each school year. This is the first year I haven’t dreamt about school the night before going back. Usually I would have dreams of out of control classes, of students who won’t respond when I ask them to modify their behaviour. It was always these dreams, dreams where I would be challenged and be found wanting. Maybe over the last couple of years this subconscious fear has eased? Or maybe I’ve just forgotten what I used to worry about in the quiet moments. I remember a colleague telling me once that she lived with a low level anxiety under the surface for all of the school terms – I don’t have that again yet, I wonder when or if it will return?
At school when I arrive for the day everything is quiet, the proverbial calm before the storm. Colleagues I haven’t yet seen are warm in their welcomes back to me, and I am reminded again of how staff form some kind of big, unwieldy family. Some you don’t see often, some drive you crazy and some make you at ease just in their presence. Team leaders of subjects I am teaching are helpful, reminding me of things that may have changed since I last did this. They are kind and too flattering, telling me they know I probably won’t need help as I will be amazing. I am overly cautious, reminding them I haven’t done this for a while, worried that maybe I will have forgotten the rhythm of classroom life. I realise that there is an implicit expectation that I will be amazing as I teach at uni in teacher education. I hope I can live up to this. I also wonder if this is actually what they think or if it is just my perception.
Maybe it will be like riding a bike and although my wheels might creak at first soon I will be spinning freely back on the road.
I walk back into the room and students start to file in. They are year 7s, nervous, excited, full of conflicting emotions, just like their teacher today. Today I am teaching them French, I begin by giving the students a bookmark to introduce themselves to me and I want them to take this home and use it to tell their parents what they learnt. It is today’s take home message. They are excited and eager to learn the sentence, practising the line and then volunteering to teach some boys who were late as they couldn’t find the room. I move on to completing a mind map about France as a probe for discovering what the students know. It is great to see students bursting out of their seats to give me answers and sharing what they already know of the language. The lesson goes quickly and they head off to house meetings. My return to the classroom has begun.
Outside the house meetings colleagues quiz me about uni life and not surprisingly about the recent news headlines about drops to the atar required for entrance to teaching. They understand that it is a matter of demand but they are most concerned about the quality of teachers this may produce. Many of the people who mention this were high performing students themselves and are worried about students of lesser ability being able to handle the demands of teaching. They argue that teaching entrance should require an undergraduate degree concerned that students who complete a BEd don’t have the required content knowledge to handle secondary discipline teaching. I think primary teachers would argue the opposite and I’m intrigued about this difference. I wonder what this means for us as teacher educators and what the balance of teaching pedagogy, discipline knowledge and relational elements might be.
Double English follows and again the time flies as we do some initial work so that I can get a sense of their skills, interests and hobbies. I worry later that I didn’t do a good enough job of dealing with a student who was struggling with her first day of year seven. I tell myself that I will be conscious of doing this better next week- maybe this is what I will need to remember to engage more – that the ethic of care I employ needs to be greater when working with young people rather than adults. I also know that I can be prone to second guessing myself, for being overly critical, for wishing I had done this or said that.
Soon the school day is ending and I am rushing to the airport to catch a plane and life takes over any of the worries I had about my work today. I am conscious of the performance – and in this new role I am performing for a number of audiences. There are my students, their parents, my school colleagues, school leadership. Then there are my university colleagues, my student teachers and a wider educational audience. Suddenly I am conscious of what I have undertaken and I realise that until today I had been seeing this as my experiment. I realise I have been naive and there is much more to it than that. Still I am not daunted, I don’t yet feel an enormous weight of pressure. I’m interested in what will unfold.
Monday beckons and with it a 6 on day. I fly back from nz on Sunday morning and know that Sunday afternoon will be spent planning my classes and thinking about the week ahead. There are classes to teach, kids names to learn and year 7 orientation camp to attend. School life has started to sweep me up in its wave.
When I set out to begin this journey, some people said that I might find myself pushed one way or the other, that the circumstances I found myself in might highlight to me the job that I wanted to be based full-time in, or that this might function as the best of both worlds, or that I might find other ways of bringing the two together. I think “they” may be right – already I find myself leaning towards a way of doing things that is different to what I did last year and possibly different to what I’m doing this year. It is only week 2 though – so I’m not going to proclaim I’ve found the answer – just that I’m thinking, puzzling and exploring over ways of being.