Jess Has been teaching secondary science since 2015. She was trained in Australia and is currently working in the UK, where she is teaching science and animal care.
At the time of writing this post, she said to me “Don’t judge – its long, is mopey, and I did my best! I feel like if I had filled this in in August, it would look very different to now… Maybe I should fill it in again this time next year to see how things have changed!”
Contrary to her feelings about her responses, I feel like they are a very real, honest reflection of her current state of mind in this difficult profession – have a read and let me know what you think in the comments below!
Why did you become a teacher?
I love guiding kids through difficult points in life via personal development and seeing them triumph over challenges set before them. I worked with younger students all throughout high school in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme and as a tutor, and these experiences really showed me that I actually had the potential to make an impact on the lives of others. I feel really passionately about social justice issues (I even ran the social justice groups in high school and at uni), and in teaching you face a whole range of these challenges each day that really force you to analyse your perspective and that of your students.
I also really like doing creative things and making new resources that are nice to look at AND useful!
Do you see yourself staying as a teacher long-term?
I really like working with students, especially when they want to work with me. All the same reasons that I wanted to start teaching make me want to keep going.
I want to go back home to a teaching job because I don’t feel like I can quit after only the first (and supposedly the hardest) year, in one school, in a different country. It wouldn’t feel right to give up that soon. Also, I spent 4.5 years at uni getting my teaching degree, I definitely don’t want that time to go to waste.
However I can’t see myself as a teacher for the rest of my life (or even a very long period of my life). Several factors come to mind when I try to explain to myself why I’m looking around at other careers. Stress, marking, pay all seem like genuine issues right now, but I can’t say they are the deciding factors for me.
I am the sort of person who finds it incredibly difficult to ask for help when I need it, yet when others take the initiative to jump in and help me, in all honesty, I feel like a failure and humiliated. I would be the first to say that classroom management is my biggest weakness, but it feels like I never get better, even if I try strategies from observing others. I thought I would get better with time, but I feel like, as I’ve burned out and run out patience, my skills have regressed.
The final reason why I can’t stay in this profession is because of health. Before I started teaching I had managed to get myself into quite good shape. 7 months in and my mental and physical health have deteriorated dramatically. I feel like crying some days just at the thought of having to go into work, and on the other days I don’t really care about anything at all. I’m too tired to cook lots of healthy, well-balanced meals at the end of the day. I ache too much to exercise and all I want to do is curl up on the couch with tea and watch TV as soon as I get home, if I’m not marking/planning. I’ve been grinding my teeth in my sleep, which is disrupted constantly. I can’t say this is all because of teaching and not living away from home, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was the main cause.
What is the best lesson you’ve ever taught? What made it so?
I can think of lots of lessons where the students have gotten lots out of the lesson or been hyper engaged, but I think my favourite/best was one where I was teaching year 11 biology on my teaching practical. It was my last lesson with them before heading back to uni and we were looking at pathogens. This is what I trained in and where my passion lies, so we had fantastic discussions and analysed the SARS outbreak and applied all of the things we’d learned about so far in that unit (ecosystems and adaptations) to what we saw.
I was so confident in my content knowledge, and the students could see that I was happy to answer their questions, even if we went a bit off topic, so they wouldn’t be shut down for stretching their thinking. After the lesson I had one girl come and ask me more about the microbiology program I had gone through as our discussion had piqued her interest so much she wanted to do some more research – I was so chuffed and felt like I had really found my calling.
Even now, I feel like the lessons I’m most confident about class discussions (and not reading from a powerpoint or similar) is in the subjects I trained in, and that makes a huge deal of difference in the outcome of the lessons, in terms of student engagement, progress and challenge.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Burn out 🙁 A complete and utter mental and physical exhaustion leads t a lack of patience, humour and creativity makes it really hard to cope with little things (not just in the classroom). And when you’re burned out, the behaviour issues seem to escalate, and your too tired to deal with them adequately or fairly and everything just seems to get bigger and worse until it explodes into a mess that you end up spending more time and energy cleaning up.
Is there something you would like to try out with your classes?
Interactive notebooks. 1 page for teacher input, then 1 page for student input – it doesn’t sound like it would be that hard to implement, but I don’t have the time or energy to plan out a full unit like this in advance.
What advice do you have for beginning (or experienced) teachers?
Join a teaching community and share your experiences – it is insanely gratifying to see someone post on their blog about struggling with classroom management or feeling overwhelmed (even if it’s just a funny tumblr reaction post). Teaching can be a very isolating career considering we spend hours upon hours with other (little) people – it’s nice to now I’m not the first one to have a difficult time or feel overjoyed about the little things (Did someone say there was cake in the staffroom?!).