After years of being an academic, this year I have become a teacher in a secondary school. Academics don’t need any teaching qualifications (long story for another blog), so I am working on a Dip Ed while I teach.
With years of tertiary teaching experience and a PhD in Computer Science Education, I thought I knew how to teach. And it’s true that being in front of a class holds no fears for me. I know a fair bit about pedagogy and the principles of learning and teaching. But teaching in a school has come as a huge shock. Not because of behaviour management – I am exceptionally lucky in my school and my students, so there haven’t been any drastic issues, and I don’t expect there will be. Not because I am standing up in front of a group of adolescents and expecting them to pay attention – by and large they do. Just because of the sheer, mind-blowing intensity of the job.
I am part time, and working far more than my allotted hours, and still not getting everything done. From the moment I arrive at school to the moment I leave (invariably late), I am running, sometimes physically, but always mentally. Then there is the catch up work at home, for all the urgent things I didn’t get done during the day. And this is without considering the study I am supposed to be doing to gain my qualification.
I have to force myself to stop for lunch, to actually talk to my colleagues and make a sanity break during the day, and what both fascinates and horrifies me is that I am not alone in this kind of obsessive, workaholic behaviour. Far from it. It seems to be characteristic of the teachers in my school. Perhaps my school is atypical (in many ways it is actually unique), but I suspect it is a characteristic of teachers who care about their work, and about their students.
A colleague recently blogged about how she struggles with the conversation that ensues after she meets someone and says that she is a teacher. The classic response is “oh, you’re so lucky, you get so many holidays!” For the first time I have come to realise how deserved those holidays are – together with the fact that they will inevitably be filled with work. I am looking forward to first term holidays already, because they will give me a chance to catch up on the work that I am not finding time for now.
My 7 year old, who was initially proud of me being a teacher, turned around last weekend and said “I don’t want you to be a teacher any more, Mummy! You work too much!” When I told my mentor at school about this, he laughed. “Don’t worry, Linda, tell her there’s always school holidays!”
I retorted, “Look me in the eye and tell me I won’t be working during the holidays,” and he grinned and deliberately turned his back. I know as well as he does that he works a lot during the holidays. And I know I will too. At least I can be home with my kids while I do it, but I am not sure that they will be hugely comforted by that.
Teaching is amazingly intense. I dare say there are jobs like medical and emergency response that are more intense, and more draining, but not many. And I am happier, and more proud of what I do than I have ever been before. Yet I got more respect when I said I was a lecturer in Computer Science (standard response: “You must be SO smart!”) than when I say I am a teacher (those holidays again).
I am so smart. Smart enough to realise that this is one of the most important, draining, and rewarding jobs I could ever do. Now, if you will excuse me, it’s Saturday night, and I have work to do.