Two words that can fill us with hope and joy as we celebrate growth in our students and ourselves; congratulate ourselves and each other on a job well done (rightly so) and let our hair down at the staff Christmas function (now there’s another blog for another day!) At the same time, the mention of those words can fill us with absolute dread as we face the mountain of work ahead…we assess, we evaluate, we plot and compare data, we report on the growth, we assess some more... Throw into the mix the anticipation of the impending new year. Where are they going to put me? Ugh, if I have to teach that little shit again…What if I have to teach Foundation, I’ve never taught that before; they’d better not expect me to wipe snotty noses and clean up wet pants. What if I have to work with you know who, I’ve never got along with them, oh and there’s that parent that totally bullied me two years ago; if they put her kid in my grade I’ll just die.
How do we stay positive once we have jumped into the spiralling cyclone of negativity?
Well, as hard as it is and in spite of the trying circumstances, we must consciously make the decision to BE HAPPY. Repeat after me: “I acknowledge that I am actually human and that consequently there is a good chance that I might fuck things up, however I promise to try my hardest to: a) be the best teacher I know how to be and b) try my best to stay positive, avoid the negativity that others may be trying to draw me in to and focus on my mental health as a priority.”
On a serious note, there is something fairly delicate that we must be mindful of during this term. In most schools, there are likely going to be colleagues who are stressing about upcoming job interviews for renewed contracts or, worse still, upset by not having their position renewed. This happened to me as a much younger teacher, over six years of contract teaching; six contracts at three schools. It might have been years ago, however the sting of hearing other teachers complaining about which year level they’d been put into when quite honestly, I would have been happy teaching a class full of Little Johnny Shitheads in the stinking boys’ toilets, still fills me with a frustration and sadness that is hard to describe. It was bloody awful, for so many reasons.
I actually went for a job in another school last week; not because I necessarily wanted to leave my school, but for the convenience of working with my husband and being able to have just one car (his car recently blew up – fun times!) Not the right reason for moving schools, I admit, but I’m being honest here. It wasn’t a promotion, it was a one year contract as classroom teacher. I was successful in obtaining an interview but unsuccessful in my application to teach there. Now I am in the fortunate position to be able to brush it off as something not to worry about. Honestly, I still have a job that I genuinely love, in a pretty bloody awesome school that I have been a part of for eighteen years, working with some beautiful people who I am lucky enough to call friends. But I still spent maybe an hour mulling over the sort of self-doubt that comes after being unsuccessful at anything... I wasn’t good enough, obviously. Why wasn’t I good enough? What did I say, or do, or wear that they didn’t like? Did it go against me that my husband works there?
Ugh, I went on and on until my husband rightfully reminded me that we don’t actually know what it was that the school was specifically looking for. Perhaps they have enough experienced teachers and the prospect of spending a lot of extra money for me to do the same job that a less experienced and less expensive teacher could do, just wasn’t viable? Point taken. Where are my big girl knickers so I can pull them up and get over myself? Done. It was a reminder to be thankful for the good in my life, at a time where I could easily have fallen into the guilty pleasure that feeling sorry for oneself brings.
Many times I have been on the ‘school side’ of the contract situation, as a panel member. I have been on selection panels where I agreed that yes, we have to let this person go as they clearly aren’t the best candidate for the position. It’s hard, trust me, but when a panel of four people all agree, it’s something that regretfully has to happen.
I have also been on panels where I have fought hard to keep colleagues, knowing that for them the job meant everything; they have young kids at home and if they aren’t reemployed they’ll really struggle to make ends meet. Yes they had a bad year but they’d tried really hard to fix their mistakes. Ultimately to be reminded that Merit and Equity dictates that the best candidate must receive the position, and that they weren’t the best applicant, end of story. I have reluctantly agreed, with objections noted and deemed irrelevant. I have also had to go home and try to sleep that night, knowing that I contributed to a decision that meant the hardest of times for someone I respected or was even friends with. I have had to endure the endless questions from colleagues who couldn’t possibly understand why our teammate wouldn’t be back next year, and I have been unable to tell them that the reality is that they weren’t good enough; there were people better qualified. And by the way their interview was crap no matter how much we tried to encourage them or how much I worked with them on their interviewing skills prior to the big day…but I couldn’t say any of that. That’s even harder, trust me.
You know even now, should I see my former colleagues from a distance in the shopping centre or at a mutual friend’s gathering, the frostiness is palpable; and who can blame them? I remember the heartache of not feeling good enough when it meant the world to me to get a position. I know the feeling of betrayal by colleagues who sat on a panel, smiling at me, letting me think that I was on track, then the boss calling me into his office to tell me that actually, I won’t be in that position next year. It may have been a long time ago but I remember it well because it was so hard to live through at the time. I felt like a piece of shit on a shoe…it was the hardest thing to get through career wise, but I had to move on, knowing that eventually I would be ok, supported by my friends and family.
Oh term four, like it or not, staff rooms are unfortunately going to be frequented by those Negative Nev or Nancy kind of colleagues, who even though they’ve been asked not to, will continue to speak and behave in a harmful way, blind to the hurtful impact of their words. It’s our responsibility to call them on it. Say quite simply: “Please be mindful of your attitude and what you have to say around colleagues who would give anything to be in your position.”
And if you are in the position of waiting to hear about your job, or knowing that you need to apply elsewhere, stay strong and please ask for help if you need it. Many of us will be there for you and want you to do well.
Teachers, we need to stay positive, lest our students get pulled in to the negativity that if we’re not careful, abounds at this time of year. We must knowingly choose to spend quality time with the kids we will soon say farewell to; our 2018 classes are shortly to be disbanded. I’m hearing the odd shouts of “Hooray!” here, am I right? Well, if you are someone who has done it tough this year (we all have those years where your class or classes have been a particular trial and you’re dragging your red raw busted arse to that final bell) you have been tested and challenged beyond anything you signed up for and it’s coming to an end. Now if that’s not a reason to be smiling, what is?
And if you’re tired of the grumblers, well, maybe it’s time they were reminded that there are actually worse jobs out there (show them this photograph!) And, whether they want to hear it or not, the reality is that if the job is really so awful, so unbearable that they can’t find any positivity or passion for it anymore, well, they can always leave!
As for being the best teacher you can be, that is the real challenge for every one of us. Yes, you’re especially tired at this time of year. Yes, you’re swamped with work. But dig deep into your professional integrity and make it happen.
Roll on Bali, January 13 – 19. Here’s a preview photo of me getting my Zen on. Who’s coming?