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Bonkers Start to the Year

What a wild ride our profession is. These past few years more than any other – and no end in sight for what should have been a relatively calm year.

You aren’t alone in your feelings right now, we’re all right here with you (including those feelings of perhaps this job just isn’t for me anymore).

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Show Notes

Here you can find the article I talk about, Show Your Students Some Grace Right Now.

Transcript

Emily: Step into the staff room, my friend. Today I am flying solo to talk to you about what a weird beginning of term we have had here.

I’ve had a number of beginning teachers reach out to me to express their confusion, their concern about whether teaching is actually the career for them. Now to these teachers, I just want to say, we are absolutely all feeling this way. If this has been your first term or first semester or first year of teaching in 2021 or 2022, this is not normal. This is not the normal amount of stress that we are under. This is not the normal conditions that we work under and you are most definitely not alone.

So here in Australia, we have wrapped up term one and we are moving through term two. Now for the East Coast term one has been absolutely mind boggling. This is my ninth year of teaching, and I honestly cannot remember a more disconnected, a more confusing and a more convoluted term that I have ever taught.

Here along the East Coast, we have been dealing with flooding and this flooding has closed schools. It has closed communities. There are still some communities that are not recovered in the slightest from these floods. And this is coming on the back of lockdowns. Of course, COVID. This is coming on the back of individual isolation.

We are seeing teachers shortages for a vast number of reasons. And all of these things are adding up to an absolutely insane beginning of 2022 for us.

So for me, myself, the first two weeks of term were canceled. Our government made the decision that we were going to see a COVID peak at that time, and it will be safer to keep students at home. So out of a 10 week term, we are squished back to eight.

Then the weekend before school was to start in what should have been week three, my daughter tested positive to COVID. And then on that Monday, which should have been my first day of school, I, myself tested positive for COVID. So that put me out of action for that entire week plus the beginning of the following week.

So we are halfway through what should have been week four, and I first stepped into my classrooms for the year, that just blows my mind.

Then later in the term, we had school closures because of the floods. We had school camps that went ahead. We had our normal excursions, some rescheduled sports day. On any given day, we had at least five teachers out due to COVID. That’s on top of the normal sick leaves and professional development days and training days.

So some days we were operating with the staff capacity of about a half of what our school is supposed to have. I know some schools were impacted even more than that. Some schools were choosing to do just at home learning or towards the end of term, they were sending their seniors home and saying, just come in to submit your assessment because we don’t have enough staff to legally meet the requirements needed for duty of care.

Now, the ramifications of all of this have been massive. We have come off two years of insanely disrupted educational situations. Not just for the students, of course, but also for us teachers. We have been pivoting so many times that it feels are we’re just in a constant spiral. We have been online learning. We have been in class learning. We have been hybrid learning. We have been learning all of this new technology to teach our students with. We have been rescheduling our lessons. We’ve been reworking our unit plans, trying to squish in the curriculum, all of that on top of our normal day-to-day work and to all my teachers out there, I just want you to know that I see you and I personally feel your pain with you. This last two and a half years have been bonkers. And the beginning of 2022, which should have been the beginning of a year of calm for us. Of a relative return to normality, it just seems like everything is piling up even more.

We are literally sitting here wondering what’s going to come next.

So in terms of our content, beginner to teachers in particular. I want you to know that trying to squish 10 weeks of content into eight weeks or less, (in my case, it was about the equivalent of five weeks for some students because of camps and COVID) trying to squish that amount of content in is impossible.

I’m sure every single one of you has done what I’ve had to do in some cases, and we’ve just had to cut parts of the curriculum. We just can not physically cover it all. Different students are out at different times in isolation. Sometimes they are catching up with work at home. Sometimes they are not. So that means that within our eight week term, students themselves might be getting seven weeks or less of instruction time that we’re supposed to cover 10 weeks worth of content in. There has been no chances to catch. We’re not being given any chance to catch up because from start of term two, we are moving on and then from start of term three, we are moving on. And yet somehow in amongst all of this insanity, our assessments are still necessary.

We are still chasing that data. We are still chasing those grades. Some schools have opted for term one to not report on the grades of their students. Now, some schools are, uh, wiping it completely. Saying that this is too bonkers. The data is not reflective of the reality. Therefore, we can’t include it. Some schools are holding that data to roll into a semester report saying that, well, we won’t put it on the report card, but it’s still going to count.

And some schools are rolling full steam ahead with no changes what so ever.

I’m sure I don’t need to highlight to you the amount of pressure that that is putting on us as teachers and also on our students.

So for beginning teachers, I want to apologize to you, the support that you will have been receiving this term is nowhere near up to scratch. Is nowhere near the normal level of support that you would be receiving had it been a quote unquote normal term.

You yourself may have been out in isolation for a while. Your mentor teacher, if you have one, may have been out as well, everyone’s running around like a headless chicken. The level of support you’re getting is not normal, but I want to make it perfectly clear to you. If you have questions. Ask them. If you have concerns, raise them, do not sit there suffering in silence, because you don’t want to disturb your mentor teacher or your head of department or your deputy or your principal.

Us veteran teachers are feeling the stress too, of course, but it is our job to support you in whatever way you need. So remove that self barrier of not wanting to impose, and ask the question. We would much rather you ask for help and to feel supported than for you to sit there, suffering in silence, adding to your own stress and adding to your own workload unnecessarily.

Now I’m going to list off some emotions that you’re probably feeling through this first part of the year, and I want to highlight every single teacher, and I mean every single teacher that I have spoken to in real life and through the wonders of the internet, feeling these feelings too, it doesn’t matter if they are a beginner teacher or a veteran teacher or a teacher who has decided to move on from teaching or a teacher who has knuckled down and said, no, I’m, I’m in it for the long haul.

These are feelings that we are all feeling. We are all feeling overwhelmed. And I mean that in the truest sense. There is so much going on personally and professionally that we are all feeling completely overwhelmed. We are all feeling confusion. We don’t know what’s happening. We don’t know one day to the next, are we going to be at school? Is our class going to be there? Is there going to be another natural disaster? Are we going to be in another lockdown. All of that is creating confusion, which is of course, adding to that overwhelm. We are all feeling an insane level of stress. I would say for a beginning teacher, your normal stress levels would probably hover around a 7, 8, 9 out of 10.

That’s normal that’s to be expected. But now we are seeing veteran teachers, heads of department, teachers who have been doing this for decades, also sitting around the 7, 8, 9, even 10 level of stress. The amount of teachers that I’ve seen wanting to cut back their hours to part-time or wanting to do relief teaching, that’s going through the roof.

Teachers are looking for ways to reduce their own personal stress because we’re not finding relief within our teaching profession.

Now you might even be dealing with feelings of genuine actual panic. That is perfectly normal. You cannot go through what we have been through and not have waves of panic. The upheaval and the continual changes that we are going through, leading us to feel like we have no control. And that is leading to anxiety and stress. I know a lot of teachers are even going so far as to go to their doctor and are getting medicated for anxiety as a direct result of what we’re dealing with in our profession.

Now, all of these sort of feelings would be normal for a beginner teacher, but they are being exacerbated to the nth degree because of what we’re going through right now. Now us veteran teach as a feeling all of that too. But of course we’re able to adapt easier because we have the experience and we have the knowledge and we have all of the tools in our toolkit that parts of jobs we can do on autopilot. So we might have curriculum knowledge, for example, where we can just walk into a lesson and wing it. Now, of course, no one wants to admit that to the higher ups, but every veteran teacher that you would know will have lessons where they’re just walking in and winging it because we haven’t had the mental capacity or the time to plan lessons as effectively as we’d like to. We also have a lot more behavior management tools up our sleeve. We’re in a much better position to be able to just deal with the situation, without needing to think about it in advance or spend time in the moment trying to navigate. We can just deal because we’ve been doing it for so long. As a beginner teacher, you don’t have that experience yet. And that is normal. That’s expected. That’s fine. Lean on your veteran teachers for support. Ask for help if you’ve got particularly difficult students or particularly difficult situations that you’re just not sure how to approach.

Speaking of students, having less time in the classroom and having such a disrupted start to the year. That has huge ramifications for our students as well. Things like behavior management, in some cases, just go out the window. We’re feeling the stress. They’re feeling the stress, they’re feeling the confusion, the upheaval, and that is making our students act out in ways that we may not be expecting from them.

I wrote a blog article, which I’ll link to in the show notes, about needing to give our students some grace during this time. That doesn’t mean setting your bar low for behavior expectations, but it means approaching misbehaviors or undesirable behaviors with a bit more grace and compassion and a bit more kindness than we may have done in the past.

And that’s for the student’s benefit, but it’s also for your own benefit. You are wired enough as it is. You don’t need to be leaping into a reactionary response rather than a considered response to what would actually be considered a normal human reaction of these students to our current situation.

Having less time to bond with our students also means that we aren’t getting that time to get to know the quirks of their personalities. A lot of our teaching, as you would obviously know, it comes from learning what our students are like as people, and tailoring our approach to that. You’ll know which students react well to humor, which students need absolutely everything stepped out for them, which students work better with oral instructions versus written instructions. All of that type of knowledge takes time for you to gather about your students. And we haven’t had that so far. With all of the disruptions we aren’t getting to know our students as well as we should be, as well as we used to being able to, and that of course is going to impact on knowing how they learn and knowing how their behaviours will show themselves under different emotional circumstances. So for example, you might have a student last year that you taught that you knew that if they got a question wrong, they would have an emotional upheaval that looked like anger, and you would have learned throughout the year how best to redirect that anger and how to make that into a successful learning environment for that student. This year, you may be finding that you haven’t actually been able to have that success in your own pedagogical approach with your students. And that purely comes down to the fact that we haven’t seen them as much and of course, that’s going to impact on our teaching practice. And of course that’s going to impact on our students and the results that we’re seeing.

Something that I see a lot of parents in particular worrying about is that their student is behind. They’re missing out on all of these educational experiences. Their grades are down where the grades of being reported. Um, they missing out on content and they are behind. And parents rightly so, and the students themselves are worried about the impact that that’s going to have on their student, their child, as they progress through school. I think it’s really important to consider here the fact that every single student is behind. I saw a fantastic infographic a while ago that highlighted the fact that no student has had a normal past two, two and a half years.

Every single student has been disrupted. Every single student is quote unquote behind. If you were, for example, a student who is going into year three this year, your last quote, unquote normal year would have been prep or kindy, depending on what state you’re in. If you were heading into high school as a year seven student this year, your last quote, unquote normal year of education would have been year four. And if you’re graduating this year, you would have been halfway through high school, the last time that you had a normal year. Every single student is behind every single student has been affected.

Every single teacher is behind. Every single teacher has been affected by what we’re going through.

So I really just wanted to take some time today to say that if you are a teacher who is feeling alone because of what you’ve been going through, if you’ve been feeling disconnected, if you have been feeling heightened levels of stress and anxiety and overwhelm, you are absolutely a hundred percent not alone.

I don’t know a single teacher who does not feel the same. Some hide it better than others. Some have different coping strategies, but we are all in this together. Every single one of us is facing similar. Every single one of us is in the same storm. Reach out to your colleagues for support, if you need to.

I know for some teachers, the upheaval has been so significant that they are working with psychologists. So I would encourage you to venture down that path if you feel like it would be beneficial for you. Make sure that you have someone that you can talk this through.

That may be a mentor teacher, and it doesn’t matter how veteran of a teacher you are. You can always have a mentor. Sometimes your mentor can be younger and less experienced than you. Okay. That can be very beneficial as well. Talk to your line manager, reach out through your employee assistance program if you have one. Talk to partners and friends, parents. Just make sure you’re not bottling it all up inside alone, because that is how you will self combust.

After such a emotionally charged episode I hope you can go forth with your day feeling a little less alone. We are all here for you. Reach out. If you need to, you are not alone.

 

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Emily

Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys sharing the real and human teacher life, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine.

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