Everyone knows that being a teacher is a tough job. The long hours marking, disruptive pupils, sitting up at night planning lessons and trying to keep your eyes open in long boring meetings; it is an exhausting business. However, there is a secret that I think we experienced teachers are keeping from our more recent colleagues, something that often goes unsaid but may be of comfort in the long and tiring run-up to the holidays. Here it is – after a while, teaching gets pretty easy.
I’m not saying that we experienced teachers don’t work hard, but that the nature of the work changes. It stops being as stressful and becomes far more productive. I remember that feeling of dread on a Sunday night, worrying about certain classes and particular students whose behaviour seemed unmanageable. That hasn’t been the case for a number of years and now I sleep like a baby.
It isn’t just me; it is borne out by a number of surveys. A recent poll found that 52 per cent of teachers in their first year were dreading some of their upcoming lessons; this was only true of 19 per cent of teachers who had been in the job for over 20 years. This could be because more experienced teachers have less of a problem with disruptive behaviour. The same poll found that 48 per cent of NQTs felt that their last lesson on a Friday was disrupted by poor behaviour, compared with only 12 per cent of very experienced teachers.
Teachers learn to go with the flow
As well as behaviour management becoming easier, the actual teaching of the lessons does as well. I have now taught most aspects of geography dozens of times. I could turn up to a classroom with nothing but a board pen and a smile and teach a lesson comparing different types of plate boundaries without the need to prepare. During lessons I will be making hundreds of tiny decisions automatically without needing to pause and consider because I have faced the same situation so many times before. David Berliner, in his research on expert teachers, likens this to a “flow state”. It is a very relaxing way to teach that creates a calm and productive environment for everyone.
Other aspects of teaching also become quicker. You learn simple tricks for things like handing out books (have pupils hand them to you in the order in which they are sitting so they are ready to hand straight back out again), sorting out equipment (in pots on the desk) or setting homework (revision tasks on previously learned material, quick quiz next lesson) that maximise the amount that is learned and minimise disruption and workload. You learn how to give feedback efficiently and effectively and spend less time ploughing through books with a red pen.
As time goes on, you also put yourself under less pressure. You realise that the job is too fast paced to do everything perfectly and that done now is usually better than done right. You realise that the world doesn’t end if you don’t tick every box in an observation or jump through the hoops of the latest assistant head with a gleam in their eye and that eye on the prize. You see them come and go and know what you can safely ignore.
Teacher workload is a serious issue, and in some schools the pressure is constantly increased and it feels like there is no let-up. However, I worry that if this is the only story that is ever told we risk putting off those people new to teaching who start to believe there is no light at the end of the tunnel. As long as you can find a school where you are trusted to work as a professional, you will find that the teaching becomes easier, you will notice a decrease in workload and you will find that you can relax and go with the flow.
There is hope. Stick with it.
Mark Enser is head of geography and research lead at Heathfield Community College. His first book, Making Every Geography Lesson Count, is out soon with Crown