The secret to teaching? Accept that there will be chaos

Teaching is reactive and instinctive – the day is largely out of your control, writes assistant head Ian Wah
13th January 2019, 8:02pm


The secret to teaching? Accept that there will be chaos
Coronavirus: What Home-schooling Has Taught Me About Teaching

Get in, make coffee. The phone’s ringing. It’s Billy’s parents. He’s sick, could you send some work home with his brother, please? Must make sure the resources have been copied by the TA. There’s a mistake. Print them all again.

First bell goes. Go to the yard to collect the children. Phoebe’s Mum wants a chat: she’s got head lice and somehow it’s my fault. Bobby’s mum is annoyed that he’s lost another jumper. Emily can’t do PE today because she’s got a cold. Niamh hasn’t been eating, could you keep an eye on her please?

Into class. The coffee’s cold. Just like yesterday, and the day before. Register, dinner register, dinner money, after-school club register, pushing in the cloakroom. Sign the reading cards.

First lesson can finally start. Do the input: that went well. Oh here’s Luke, late again. Repeat the input. Start everyone off.

Playground duty. Maths after that. A delayed start because you’ve got to deal with the fight that just broke out on the yard. Fractions again. Eight years and you haven’t found a good way to explain it to everyone.

Lunch soon. Leftover pasta. Something to look forward to. Bell goes. Shauna is crying because she hasn’t got her packed lunch. Ella’s Mum has phoned up, she’s not happy that she was put on detention for not having school shoes on. Did she even read the guide I sent home?

Yes, I’ll look at the line of children waiting for triage. That’s an ice pack for Lee. Probably best to call Ruby’s mum for that bang on the head. Is that the bell already? I knew leftover pasta was a pipe dream when I boxed it up last night anyway. PE this afternoon, so a mix of tears and injuries in equal measure with a side of incomplete or forgotten PE kits.

A social worker has called and wants all the info on that case as it’s in court tomorrow. Justin, Harry, Joe and David have been arguing on Fortnite again. That’s my job?

It’s five minutes from the end of the day. Who is in after-school club? Who is walking home alone? Who is being picked up? You don’t know who is picking you up?

The head has been looking for me? It’ll be about mapping out the maths curriculum. Is it OK if I sort it next week? Wonder if that pasta is still good. I could have that for dinner. How is it 6pm already?

Head home, exhausted. I’ll just look at that maths stuff again. It looks good to me. And sleep. Then wake up at 3am in a cold sweat because it just occurred to me that I forgot to send that work home for Billy...

It’s time we started being more honest and better at communicating what it is to be a teacher in 2018.

If you’re good at it, you’ll get a term of the ideal life. Then the honeymoon period will wear off. It’s no longer creative displays, energetic lessons and relationship building with your class. You’ll be given extra responsibilities and roles, get blamed for things that you couldn’t possibly control, experience the gradual erosion of your social life and be plagued by a constant tiredness throughout every month except August. There’ll be constant guilt and a feeling of never working hard enough.

For the unlucky ones, it is like this from the start.

Teachers are the best people, the most selfless, most empathetic, the kindest and the most generous. I am filled with admiration for my colleagues and the sacrifices I see them make on a daily basis. I hate seeing them struggle for having the courage to go after their dream job.

I don’t know what the answer is.

I’m quite aware that I could leave this job at any time and do something else. I’m good at it, though, and I do feel a sense of purpose in my work. I know I’m making a difference to people and I’m proud of that. Leaving teaching doesn’t solve anything; it just leaves the same problems behind for different people.

There’s a part of me that is unable to foresee any meaningful change in the situation and a part that is already resigned to the fact that it will never change.

What I do know is that I need to constantly realign my expectations so that they are rooted in realism. The expectation of being in control of your day-to-day is unrealistic. Teaching is more reactive and instinctive than I had ever anticipated, and nobody ever did anything to prepare me for that. Trying to outwork and prepare for everything will burn you out. Expecting to put up with a certain level of chaos and anarchy and getting better at this will make you more accepting of when things go wrong and happier over time.

I need to get better at finding the joy in my days and allowing myself to bask in them, instead of punishing myself for the things I haven’t done. I also need to do a better job of switching my mind off during moments that should be spent in a headspace that belongs to my loved ones.

Despite all of this, I’m convinced that I’m in the greatest job in the world. Let’s just be real about what the job is.

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters