So I found out that someone had asked a mutual friend if I ‘done the right thing?’ in dropping my academic load to 0.5 and taking on a 0.5 load in a school. Something about the question bugged me and so I’ve been thinking about it this afternoon. I wanted to work out exactly what it was that was irritating me, I needed to scratch the itch that the question had caused in the back corners of my brain.
After a bit of thought I think I’ve come up with the solution – the reason I’m irritated is that the question implies that there is a guidebook somewhere that gives us the rules on what are the right and wrong moves to make career wise, and as someone who hates the feeling of being trapped in a box, I don’t like this. I’m not convinced that what I’ve done is the right thing (especially not on the days when work is falling down on me from all directions), but all I know is that I am doing the right thing for me at this moment, even if that right thing may turn out to be wrong. Is it a mistake? Who knows, but if it is, then it is my mistake to make and my mistake to learn from.
It might sound ridiculous, but sometimes doing the wrong thing can be so right in so many ways.
I know that dropping a permanent ongoing academic position to 0.5 to teach 0.5 in a school might not be the conventional academic path. I know that a 0.5 job in academia is not really a 0.5 job (my research doesn’t stop just because I’ve worked half a week already, papers from my editorial internship don’t stop needing to be reviewed and my writing doesn’t stop). Similarly, I know that a 0.5 job in a school isn’t 0.5 either. There are parents that need to be called no matter what day it is, there are classes to be planned, marking to be done, projects to be organized, and all these things creep out to fill up every waking working moment. Some days I look at my ‘to-do’ list and the very sight of it makes me want to crawl back into bed and hide under the doona.
Still if I had not decided to do this I would be sitting in my office at uni wondering if my place was there or at school. Now I have a better sense of what my place is (and I’m not telling you the final verdict yet…no spoilers). I get the chance to move between two worlds that I love and in doing so I see things anew.
Returning to school I am reminded of the relentless nature of teaching. Everything is rushed and there is never enough time to do the things that I would like to. More than ever I feel the pressure of implementing a curriculum that has been stripped and pared back to a series of parts, a sequence of identified skills that are decontextualized and which are then tested, categorized and filed away. I have ideas for projects that will enable students to link between big ideas and to represent their knowledge and understanding in creative ways, and I feel trapped by teaching schedules that confine thought and pedagogy to a pre-determined list of tasks to be ticked off and completed. I see parents of year seven students asking for an indication of where their child sits in the class ranking and I wonder when this became the key focus of educational endeavor. When did ranking become more important than the child’s ability to form relationships, develop independent thought and develop their understanding of who they are in relation to the world?
Some days I wonder if I have changed too much to fit into the world of school teaching. There are things that once I would have accepted that I now cannot. I cannot stay silent. I question, I critique, I challenge, I wonder. I cannot stop myself, and nor do I want to. These things have become a fundamental part of me and I wonder why it is that on some days I work in an education institution and I feel that it would be easier to not think. Thinking makes things more difficult, it makes it harder to fit in with colleagues, with leadership and with the system more broadly.
I wonder if the teacher who asked if I have done the right thing asked this question because as teachers we can so often be forced into taking the paths that are safe, that are traditional, that are expected. In some schools we are advised not to challenge, to quell our voices, to adopt without question. In taking this path I am doing the unexpected. I don’t see it as particularly revolutionary and yet it is not the norm. It is not the safe, expected, required path. Some university colleagues say they ‘couldn’t go back’ and the words themselves imply regression. I have begun to use the word return, as it is indeed a re-turning. While the simplest definition of returning is indeed to go back, if we explore the implications of the term more deeply we can consider it as a coming and a going, a reoccurrence, a conduit for moving something again to the starting point. In turning again to my life as a teacher in school, I have returned to the starting point of my journey.
In school I find the focus of my research is sharpened. I am returning to concepts that emerged in my doctoral work about the ways in which teachers’ working lives are mediated by micro and macro social/political/cultural forces. I am returning to my questions about the ways in which teachers navigate their working world when the space for intellectual and pedagogical freedoms seems to be shrinking. I find myself questioning how it is that teachers find a sense of agency in this world, how they align their personal and professional values in a culture that is driven by standards for accountability.
I am reminded more than ever of the importance of the relational in teaching. The work we do with students in schools is fundamentally what drives me back to school and the connections I form with students as we undertake a journey of learning together is one of the things that is sustaining my professional practice as a teacher. My year 7 French class has been one of the highlights of my return to the classroom, a room filled with 28 students who are bursting out of their skins to learn a new language, a new culture, a new way of interacting and of being in the world. In teaching French I feel more freedom to experiment, to use creative pedagogies and to play with the system. There is no NAPLAN for my French teaching and so I feel less bound by the constraints of the schedule.
Have I done the right thing? Well it depends on what we consider right to be. I am finding what I am doing hard, it is tiring, it is challenging and yet, already, it has been rewarding. I move between teaching adults to teaching adolescents and in each of these spaces I interact differently as a teacher. I speak, move, relate and think differently. I am learning more about myself as a practitioner, as a researcher, as a thinker and a writer than I had imagined I might. I’m intrigued as I watch my year unfold into and onto itself and I wonder where the re-turning will lead me.