'Students matter - but don't forget about yourself'

Positively affecting the lives of our students is vital, but teachers must do the same for themselves, says Sarah Simons

Sarah Simons

2020's resolution for FE teachers: make a difference for yourself

Oooh, this sitting about gets you. And at this time of year, y’know, reflecting on what’s happened in the past 12 months and thinking about the next 12, it’s easy to fall down a Big Thoughts rabbit hole. My mind has drifted from our annual screening of Singin’ In The Rain and I’m spiralling. In a good way.

My thoughts have turned to the job. Why do I do it? Why do I do this bloody job? It’s long hours, I’m paid naff-all, there’s increasingly less job security, there’s a hefty dose of stress, and sometimes I’ve got to deal with people I don’t like.

Hmmm. I have the same answer to that question as many many people I’ve chatted with over the years, on this subject: to make a difference.


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To make a difference is the common purpose of student teachers just starting out, principals at the height of their careers and every role in between. Being the instigator, the promotor, the supporter of positive change that affects students, and can ripple out to their families and their friends is a powerful mission. It doesn’t happen with everyone who passes through my classroom doors, no matter how hard I try. But when it does happen, it makes the job worth its weight in gold.

I know what this sparkly glow of making a difference feels like, but what is it made of? What might making a difference actually mean if that golden purpose is popped under a magnifying glass? I think it’s some of the following:

  1. Altering assumed career (and potential financial) trajectories through acquisition of skills and knowledge. Teaching and learning.
  2. Broadening perspectives through expanding the range experiences on offer. Trying new stuff. 
  3. Creating a platform to access a range of ideas from diverse social, economic, political and cultural views. Looking outside.
  4. Supporting self-empowerment and building of self-esteem through the exploration of emotional response to experiences. Looking inside.
  5. Enhancing a sense of wonder, kindness, health, community, happiness. All the other things that make us whole. Feeling the spark and feeding the spark.

Keep a check on yourself

These are mountains of more deliberate purposes within these five headlines and probably a load more headlines too. This is simply what making a difference means to me.  

This list of core purposes looks pretty good. We are doing good work, pals. In fact, I’d quite like this list done to me, rather than just being a professional facilitator of it. Hang on… What if I did it to myself?

I realise this sounds a bit spacey, and rest assured, I know its the hols but I’ve not fallen off the wagon and necked a pint of gin. Bear with me.

Imagine how powerful it could be if we applied that same sense of purpose to ourselves we are ambitious to give our students. Stopping every now and then to ask, am I as dedicated in my mission to make a meaningful difference to myself, as I am to my students?

Right. That’s my new year's resolution sorted: to keep a check on my own purpose, my own commitment to myself. And I’ll do it weekly, if not daily.

In fact, I can’t wait for the new year to start. I’m starting now.

Sometimes we all let the job overtake our own sense of self, our commitment to staying healthy, happy and curious. Keep a check on yourself. Make a difference, pals.

Happy new year. 

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Sarah Simons

Sarah Simons

Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat

Find me on Twitter @MrsSarahSimons

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