Why I Am Not a Great Teacher: My Journey to Acceptance and Not Perfection to Become a Good Teacher
Many years ago when I started teaching, I had no idea what kind of teacher I was or was going to be. I did not know why I had studied teaching, but just like in secondary school, I got on with it, because I was still in that mindset. I never questioned my "why" and without my why, I tried to become everything that I thought was a great teacher.
I decided a great teacher, had an amazing looking classroom; so each year I decorated, moved, changed and organised my classroom to within an inch of its life. During my dip, the inspector said my classroom was like an oasis and this seemed to reinforce, that yes, I was on the right track here with being a great teacher. However, with each passing year and the slow advent of Pinterest, American blogging teachers with pictures of their classrooms - my idea of a decorated classroom began to expand beyond what I saw in the school I was in, and into something completely out of my reach and abilities. Originally, I was very good a putting up the children' work, and choosing work in the first place that would add colour to my room. I never worried too much about aesthetics as opposed to brightening up and displaying children's work. However, what had become something quite small that I copied when I began teaching, became a monster. I was spending hours planning work that would become an amazing display. I would make and remake displays in my room when they didn't look perfect. I would print, laminate and cut to make sayings and visual reminders, and before I knew it, my classroom no longer looked like the room that my class worked in, but a museum of ideas or posters from various blogs. Very little work from children was displayed, and my room was quite a confusing array of stuff filling every wall. It seems like such a small thing but it became such a massive thing, and I was stressed out. Constantly thinking about what to put on what wall, spending time I should have been teaching the children, on straightening posters, moving posters and changing displays. I spent hours when I should have been at home. Instead, I was in school, designing, moving, shaping and reshaping. Was this me? Was this what I was bringing to teaching? And if so, then the thing I brought to teaching was really consuming and stressing me out. So teaching was stressing me out, and then finally as I fell down the rabbit hole, was teaching for me?
This heightened level of stress that gathered pace from teaching year 1-7 had a real impact. It began then to infiltrate other aspects of my teaching. I began addressing every issue to within an inch of its life. Which is absolutely great for your inner guilt - that guilt that you are never doing enough, however, not great for the amount of time and energy I had left for my life. I was always planning. Looking online for interventions, resources and ideas to support children who had various issues identified. I would hound support teachers, and the children themselves to follow these strategies I had developed. This might to some been seen as proactive and effective. However, for who? Me, the children? Or the boxes I was trying to tick?
Other areas where this heightened level of stress began to infiltrate was my after school life. I began to believe the narrative that because teachers work shorter days we do not work as hard. I generalised and internalised this guilt and then even felt shame for enjoying leaving school early on a nice day or to meet friends. I started to stay late, EVERYDAY. I thought if I stayed late I could make up for these feelings and that the harder I worked, the less this guilt and shame would exist. I began to create this view of teaching based on nothing more than stress, negativity and the media.
All these things were hurtling me towards a brick wall, one which I did not see coming, because everything I did felt good, bright displays, getting my work done, getting pats on the back for extra work outside school in other forums. I did not see that there was a personal cost because me the person did not exist.
There were other things that I lost when I behaved like this. Things that did not make me a great teacher, but a good teacher. The teacher that I was when I had helped my Mum in her school, or when I did work experience in school or when I had the craic with the kids in school when I let my guard down. I was a teacher who could have a good relationship with kids. I was funny, spontaneous and fun in class. I gave no homework when it was sunny so kids could get outside after school. I was the teacher who brought myself into the classroom with funny stories about things that happened to me. I was the teacher who wanted children to enjoy my lessons, not finish the worksheet afterwards. I read jokes, interesting stories, and the children enjoyed that version of me as a teacher.
I lost evenings, because I would go home wrecked and have to sleep. I lost weekends with worry and anxiety about what I had not done for the next week. I lost the last two weeks of summer, trying to go to school and sort everything out. But mostly I lost myself. I lost myself trying to be a great teacher rather than a good teacher, because I had no idea why I was a teacher, or what type of teacher I wanted to be.
So what changed? A health scare. Usually these come for people late in life and they realise the importance of certain things. Mine was not too big but not too small either but I had to STOP. However, within this journey I began to ask and think - "Why am I a Teacher" because when I was slowing down and getting better, I could not work as hard.
The very things that I had attached to being a teacher, I physically couldn't do. That is when I had to accept, to just try to be a good teacher, not the great one I thought I was before.
But it was in that, I found myself again. Chatting and joking with children, singing rules and reminders randomly, smiling and trying to understand what they needed to learn rather toiling through some really good lesson / resource I had made but did not suit the class or children. I began to see the children got on just as well with me, when my classroom was bare, and my resources were basic. I found they enjoyed the talk, the discussion and the personality I brought to teaching.
So, after two years - I realised my "Why" - It was to make children feel good about themselves. Feel that whatever happened they were valued and that they had a valuable place in my class, the school and the world.
I realised that I had to accept that If I wanted to have a balanced and healthy life, I couldn't keep pretending to be my version of a great teacher. I had to settle for being my version of a good teacher, the most authentic version of myself.
And now I realise, through my blog - that is what I want for other teachers too. I want them to be their version of a good (or great if they so are) teacher. But also a teacher who makes sure that there is enough time and energy left for themselves, their family and life.
So in this context, even though to some it sounds counterintuitive, I will never want to be a great teacher again, I want to keep being a good teacher.