I’ve just returned to the classroom after a year out on career break, and at the end of the first week of teaching, I have a new-found respect for my profession.
I took the break because I felt I had lost my enthusiasm for the job, but I came back sooner than I had intended because I missed it. I find it difficult to define what exactly I missed, but certainly passing on my love of my subject, English, was part of it. It also took a break away to remind me what a meaningful job teaching really is – essentially, as educators, we are guiding the hearts and minds of the next generation. It’s easy to forget what teaching is all about when you’re engaged in a confrontation with an angry fourteen-year-old, or when you’re marking a particularly disappointing pile of homework!
The first few days back were gentle, a variety of staff meetings and subject planning, and it was lovely to meet all my old friends again. I’ve worked with some of these people since I started teaching way back in 1999, and it felt like coming home.
And then the teaching started… I was a bit apprehensive at first in case I had lost my touch, but no, it was as if I had never been away. However, I had completely forgotten the sheer exhaustion that generally accompanies the start of the school year! Teaching is draining, both physically and mentally, in a way that is impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.
Despite the fact that I was working longer hours and travelling much further to work for the past year, I was never as tired as I was after my first few days back at the chalkface. When the final bell went on Friday afternoon, I was almost ready to lapse into a coma… But there was a pile of 6th Year work on my desk that needed to be marked first!
That’s another aspect of the job that I’d forgotten about – the planning, preparation and assessment that are an essential element of effective teaching. As I spent my Sunday morning preparing for the week ahead, I was reminded of a comment made by a colleague of mine around the time of the Haddington Road agreement. There was some talk of teachers working a forty-hour week, and my colleague remarked “I’d love it if we only had to work forty hours!”
Despite all this, however, I am happy to be back teaching. I’m enjoying the interaction with students, the collegiality of my school’s English department and the constant challenges of the job.
W.B Yeats said that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” and I’m looking forward to continuing to light that fire.