I came into teaching thinking I would make a difference and I think I have at times. However, I know that the impact I’ve had could have been far greater, but there are a number of factors that limit how successful we are as teachers. Some I have control over and some I don’t. One of the first things I learnt was there’s no point moaning about something I can’t change. I’m talking about educational reforms really as no matter what we say or do I’m afraid the people that make the big decisions don’t always have their ears to the ground and know what things are like in schools and education in general.
So, I try to focus on what I can control rather than what I can’t. I’m not the biggest The Great British Bake Off fan but like most of the UK I am very much aware of how it works and some of the tasks they are set. Like the Bake Off, teaching has so many different areas and categories. Some thrive in many areas and some specialise in just one or two.
The ‘technical challenge’: this challenge requires enough technical knowledge and experience to produce a certain finished product when given only limited – or even minimal instructions. Sound familiar? I think we’ve all had times where we’ve had to be creative and show initiative. I know some staff prefer to be given the instructions and follow them to the letter but I think there’s something very satisfying about creating something and seeing it in action. Being successful and having the impact you want it to is the cherry on top of the cake (sorry could help using that cake based metaphor).
One of the other areas is the ‘signature dish’. The idea is that you can showcase your area of strength and it is the chance to show the best of what you can do. I think we can all think of an area in our teaching we can say “Yeah I’m really good at that”. If you can’t, I suggest you stop reading this to think about it. If you really can’t think of anything then I’m a little worried you may be in the wrong profession. We all contribute and must never forget that. Some more than others but that will always be the case I’m afraid. Despite this, a culture of ‘all for one and one for all’ does help promote the idea that everyone pitches in and helps each other. Whilst we all have strengths, we also all have things we could do better. I’ve seen teachers who get in at 8:25am and leave at 3:15pm each day. Now, I have no problem with that if you’re working at home or have childcare commitments etc. The great thing about teaching is you can have some freedom about where and when you plan, mark or work. However, I know of staff that outside of the school day do very little; This showed in their practice and performance. On the flip side, I worked with a colleague who would get in at about 6am and leave at 6pm, then still go home and work. I could never beat him into school. I’m an early riser and like to get in early but he was a machine.
This is where the trade off comes. There are two main trade offs in teaching for me. Workload Vs healthy work/life balance and eagerness Vs effectiveness. I do not have the maximum impact I’d like to have because of time. I am not work shy but I am passionate about the fact I am a person before I am a teacher. I have friends, family and personal interests which I make sure I try not to neglect as a result of my profession. We all have to make sacrifices and we’ve all made plenty in teaching. It’s so important to remember we all need to escape for a bit. Especially within pastoral elements of the job, I found it very hard and still do at times to not think about students who need support and have overcome things that they should never have to. Unfortunately, there will never be enough time to do it all and that can be a hard thing to be at peace with, but we all have limits, whether mental, physical or emotional. We must never neglect ourselves as long term it is not sustainable.
The other ‘trade off’ is eagerness Vs effectiveness. It is something I have not always got right. In my career I’ve always been keen to impress and progress and that is one of my strengths but it has times also been a weakness. I’ve not always reflected on the impact what I did actually had. As I’ve become more experienced, I’ve come up with a rule I try to stick to: my ‘three and ten rule’. It’s something I recommend highly. It’s not like I came up with this idea but I did try and give it a name. The idea is that it is better to do three things ten out of ten than ten things to three out of ten. Sometimes, trying to do too much dilutes the quality of what you’re doing. Luckily, this has been reinforced by some of the reading I have done. I’ve mentioned Paul Dix, Mary Myatt and Andy Buck in past blogs but they all say the same. Three is the magic number!
The last of the three big challenges (see the number three again) in the Bake Off is the ‘showstopper challenge’. This challenge is for the bakers to show off their skills and talent. Teach-meets are a great way to see what amazing things other teachers are doing. The teach-meet movement is growing and I think they are great. Listening and seeing others share their successes is great. Whether you want to share or just pick up new ideas, they are worth going to. Networking and sharing ideas is a great way to keep that balance as sharing ideas means you’re always getting something back.
The one thing that dictates the need for any trade off is time. Time is one thing schools can’t buy in, create or get back. Sometimes, I wish there were more hours in the day but there aren’t and never will be. We just have to make sure we effectively use the time we have and do what we can but not at any costs. Make sacrifices in teaching yes, but don’t surrender yourself to it. A trade off means things going both ways. Always think about what you need back. There is essentially a recruitment crisis in teaching, hence in some subjects paying ITT students a bursary, which is more than an NQT’s starting salary. This is because too many bakers are leaving this bake off. I think this is because they are not getting the trade off right.