I was well up for 2019. I was feeling ever so up m’self because I’d finally struck a really good balance. I’d taken on enough teaching work to feel like I was using my skills to make a contribution (and get a load of satisfaction and a weeny bung of cash in return), but not so much that my Open University study would suffer or I’d leave myself with no time for enjoying life with family and friends. About a 50- to 60-hour week of teaching, writing, studying and doing UKFEchat stuff – about half of all my work is done from home, so it’s nowhere near as hectic as it sounds.
I was so full of energy and enthusiasm that I wouldn't have been out of place as a grinning extra on an advert for deodorant or yoghurt. I’d planned a load of "new year, new start"-type sessions as an opportunity to shunt the students who’d had a rubbish 2018 back to factory settings and give them all a motivational boot up the jacksy. I’d rejoined the Society for Education and Training, accepted invitations to speak at events and bought some new pedagogy books – the first for ages. My teaching mojo had made a grand entrance.
Then the Sunday before returning to work after Christmas, I got a weird pain in my back. I went to the GP the next day, assuming that he’d tell me to stop showing off. But he sent me straight to hospital and within hours I was having emergency surgery. It was nothing frightening, but I would need substantial recovery time. A month off work! Bloody ‘ell. What about my mojo? It’d only just pitched up and now I was being sent into enforced hibernation.
Getting my teaching mojo back
Now, after a surprise month of sleep, I'm having another go at 2019. Thankfully, my teaching mojo has travelled with me and I’m totally up for it again. However, my body is lagging behind.
One of my most rabid rant triggers is teachers who build a martyr narrative around being tired. Or even worse, the ones who discuss their tiredness as if it’s a competitive sport. Honestly, I want to slap ‘em with a pan. Those misguided sorts seem to suggest that teacher-tired is different to the type of knackered anyone else experiences; people who have a stressy job or work ridiculously long hours or do physical work or have young kids or a thousand other reasons for feeling pushed to the brink. Teacher-tired is not different, so shurrup about it.
With that in mind, I'm at enormous risk of receiving a brutal self-panning by telling you this: I am absolutely buggered. After my first full day of teaching, I was so knackered that I had to have a pre-sleep nap when I got home. I've been back a week now and even on my half days I come home feeling like I've done an 18-hour shift in a particularly barbaric Dickensian mill. It’s very frustrating, especially since my groups are lovely – easy work compared with some of the grizzly teen-mobs I’ve taught in the past.
Why is teaching so tiring?
I am willing to admit that teaching can be absolutely knackering. But why?
Is it the physical act of standing for most of the day? Hmmmm, I’ve done load of jobs where I'm on my trotters for hours on end – it wasn't like this. I remember a particularly entertaining stint at The Body Shop when me and my mate purposely mispronounced ingredients when doing the hard sell. Sometimes we’d try an accent. What? It passed the time.
Is it the performance aspect? I love that bit. I'm at home on a stage, reading the room, judging how to work the crowd. What I find challenging is censoring myself. Translating the words that are rattling through my brain into teacher language. It’s not necessarily my "sailor’s mouth", it’s more to do with suppressing my natural response when a student is being rude or lazy or a bit of a knob.
Is it the actual teaching bit? Making sure that you're helping people learn stuff, that progress is being made, that something has changed between them entering the room and leaving it, and checking that learning is happening in a host of different ways? Could be… Posting a load of knowledge into their brains and seeing what sticks is a whacking great responsibility.
What if the day when we’re feeling a bit too knackered to give it full-throttle-teaching is the day when a student has reached a pivotal point in their lives, when they’re most receptive, when they need us most? That day, that moment could make the difference. What if we miss it? The power and the potential impact teachers have on students is a dizzying duty of care. I’d best not dwell.
My all new plan is to actively pursue health and hope that stamina follows. I've joined my local gym, gone back to fat club and bought a meditation app that plays tinkly rain falling. It’s supposed to clear my mind of chatter but I mainly find myself needing a wee. I digress… I'm a bit tired.
Happy new year. Again.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons