Make resolutions you can keep for the new year

2nd September 2016 at 01:00
Setting unrealistic goals in the lazy days of summer can only end in disappointment, says Jo Brighouse

For most people, new-year resolutions happen in January; but if you’re a teacher, September is where it’s really at.

This will be the year in which every child hits their attainment targets. Your desk will not look like an unlit bonfire. You will photocopy worksheets the day before. Your class will go out on time, leaving behind an empty cloakroom floor. You will fill out forms and remember where you put them. You will track attainment daily and in triplicate. When someone asks for paperwork, you will produce it immediately. Your class will fall silent at the raising of one eyebrow. You will not collect coffee mugs by your classroom sink. You will learn to say no to cake in the staffroom.

You will, in short, finally master the art of teaching.

All these things and more seem easily achievable from your mid-August sun lounger, after the world of teaching has regained its rosy tint: the possibilities of the coming year stretch ahead on the horizon, full of hope and pedagogical promise.

But once September bites, it doesn’t take long for new-year resolutions to fall by the wayside. Here’s how to try to make manageable promises to yourself – and keep them.

Be realistic

Remember the days when teachers were allowed to set high-but-achievable goals for their students instead of insisting that every 11-year-old had the grammatical knowledge of a 1950s schoolmaster?

Well, that’s the way to go with new-year resolutions, with a huge emphasis on the realistic aspect.

Yes, it might be nice to provide individual verbal and written feedback after every lesson, to produce fortnightly 3D interactive displays and to run four after-school clubs a week, but if you do all of that the chances are you’ll have been stretchered away by half term.

Trying to be superhuman never pans out and piling pressure on yourself to deliver daily excellence across the board only exacerbates those feelings of failure when some of it inevitably comes crashing down.

Make time for behaviour

It’s not spoken about enough, especially in relation to workload and attainment expectations, but quite often teachers fail to achieve their goals simply by not paying adequate attention to their grasp of behaviour management.

In teaching, you never have total control. You may spend hours planning engaging lessons and inputting data like a demon, but if the kids don’t perform, then it’s all been for nothing.

Make behaviour new-year priority number one. Spend as long as it takes to set high behaviour standards, and enforce them with a fervour bordering on obsession. Before making any teaching resolution, ask yourself if it’s something you could still achieve on a wet Friday afternoon near the end of term.

Work-life balance

As September resolutions go, this is the daddy. Ask any teacher what they’ll do differently this year and the answer will most likely be “improve their work-life balance”. Sadly this is easier said than done (teacher workload is like painting the Forth Bridge) but don’t chase perfectionism if it means sacrificing sleep.

Guard your free time like a Rottweiler with a bone. Think of something you find relaxing – yoga, wine, tantric sex – and do it regularly. Don’t work on a Friday night, and have at least one lie-in a week (unless you have kids of your own, in which case you’re screwed).

Celebrate the small things

Teachers excel in self-criticism. Point out one thing they did well and they’ll immediately tell you five things that went wrong. When you hit mid-term exhaustion and something goes wrong, it’s all too easy to wallow in a pit of despair – but don’t. Remind yourself of your successes: good lessons, happy children, grateful parents. If that doesn’t work, watch that video of Michael Gove falling over.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands and a TES columnist

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands and a TES columnist

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