“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a horse master. He told me to go slow to go fast. I think that applies to everything in life. We live as though there aren’t enough hours in the day but if we do each thing calmly and carefully we will get it done quicker and with much less stress.”
– Attributed to Viggo Mortensen
Welcome back to Term Four, the downhill run of the school year and what I am discovering on Stage Three is an incredibly busy time. I have not written an article for some time for a huge variety of reasons. The primary reason, of course, being my amazing now eight-week-old daughter. She arrived on August 25, at the end of week six of term three. The timing could not have been better. I took four weeks off which lead into the two weeks of school holidays and thus was able to spend the first six weeks of my daughter’s life being there. I became incredibly used to spending time on the couch at four in the morning with her sleeping soundly on my chest after an hour of crying, or having had a feed but not wanting to go back to sleep.
I will be honest. I did not want to return to school for term four.
It has not, as any parent can attest to, been easy. It has been very tough at various points and Mrs C21 and I have battled through the lack of sleep, the incessant worrying, the fear that we had done something when she was diagnosed with developmental hip displaysia, the frustration and resentment and anger when we could not settle her down after two hours of hysterical crying and the worry about returning to work and not being able to support Mrs C21 and Youngling as I return to work full-time (my job share partner has gone off on maternity leave herself!). There have, truth be told, been times where I have wanted to put my daughter down and walk away. You can only take hysterical crying at two in the morning for so long before it gets under your skin and you are crying yourself with a mixture of each of the neutral and negative emotions. But as a team, Mrs C21 and I got through it. She is a rock, though she does not see it, and is far stronger than she gives herself credit for.
It has been a stressful return to school and there are so many interruptions to the week it is amazing anything is achieved and I am finding that to be incredibly stressful. I took some maths diagnostic tests home to mark on the weekend, something I could do while Audrey slept in the ring sling on my chest so that Mrs C21 could go out and have some time out from being a mother. I got my marking completed, but it took the whole day. Mrs C21’s mobile phone stopped working last week, so a new one was in order. She asked if I wanted to go out with her (I had literally not left the house since arriving home on Friday at this point) and I responded with I need to get x and y done, sorry.
It was a powerful moment for me.
My wife wanted to go out and spend some time with me, something we are finding difficult to do now that school has returned, on a Sunday afternoon and I said no. There was a moment of disappointment and hurt and I realised that I was falling into the trap of burying myself in work, in I need to get x done. I felt horrible for being the cause of that and realised that I was falling into the trap of just burying myself in work. As a teenager, I had a friend with a father who did that and it destroyed the marriage and his relationship with the children. I do not want to be that kind of father.
I was two minds while I was on paternity leave. One part of me was excited by the prospect of the time off and the thought of how much I would be able to achieve vis-a-vis planning, programming and developing of resources. Another part of me wanted to completely disconnect with work and just focus on my daughter and my wife. In the end, I got nothing done for school until the second week of the school holidays. Part of me resents teaching for taking away even that small part of the precious time with Youngling. Part of me wants to resent Youngling for taking away from what could have been such a productive time.
As teachers, we often put our students before everything else. I know that my personality is the type that will do that without even realising. However, family comes first. Specifically, my family comes first; before my students and before anything else to do with school.
I do not know how often I will be posting now, certainly not every day as I was doing. I do have some other, positive news to share and a range of other things I wish to write about. However, my priorities have shifted slightly and I need to rebalance myself accordingly.
"I love every minute of fatherhood, staying up all night, changing nappies, kids crying, I find it really funny and inspiring. It connects you to the world in a new way."
-Attributed to Elton John
Dads….what has been your favourite moment so far of being a dad?
As my regular readers would be aware by now, recently, Mrs. C21 gave birth to our first child, a healthy and amazing baby girl we named Audrey. Last night was our first night at home on our own which was rather scary and nerve-wracking, but we managed. This article is only semi-organised, written on what feels like very little sleep. As I sit here on the couch, with Mrs. C21 dozing in her feeding chair and Audrey asleep in the bassinet next to her, I have time to reflect on these first few days of fatherhood.
It is, without a doubt, the most amazing experience to hear the first cry of your child as it is born and I am not ashamed to admit that I wept tears of complete and utter overwhelming joy and relief when I heard her cry that first time. The prospect of having a child, until then a fairly abstract concept, very suddenly became real. I had been a little blase about a lot of things during the pregnancy, by virtue of having a seven year age gap between myself and the first of my three younger siblings, but I suddenly realised, or rather, understood, just how much I had to learn still.
I am incredibly thankful for the parental leave provisions available which mean that I am able to be at home learning how to adult, bonding with Audrey, helping Mrs. C21 recover from giving birth and being able to be here to help Mrs. C21 cope with learning how to be a mother. I could not imagine having to back to work and teach on Monday, leaving a tired and stressed wife and new mother alone. Whilst the midwives in our hospital were, overall, fantastic, it is my job (I believe) to be there to shoulder my share of the burden of raising this new child.
It has changed my relationship with my students as well. This term has been a tough one with a lot going on in the Stage and I had felt like I was trying to swim against the tide for the last few weeks. When I got the call to go to the hospital, my class went bonkers. I cannot think of any other way of putting it.
I headed to school this morning for a meeting and was spotted by some of my students who, again, went bonkers. The teacher who is taking my class while I am on leave is actually someone I completed my initial teacher education with. This afternoon, having seen both her and some of my students while at school this meeting, she sent me a photo of some of the work my students had completed this afternoon; some acrostic poems with either Audrey, New Life, Awesome Dad or Congrats as the spine which both Mrs. C21 and I found incredibly touching.
It would be very easy to completely spam my social media accounts with photos of Audrey as Mrs. C21 and I have taken a crazy amount of photos, and we did post a few photos over the first few days. Mrs. C21 and I had a number of conversations about that topic during the pregnancy, however, and how many photos and what type of photos we were going to post in the public domain and came to a decision to limit what we would post. There are a few reasons for this, but the primary reason is out of respect for Audrey’s privacy. We are taking a bucketload of photos but are only posting a select few and are storing the rest to allow Audrey to make a decision when she is old enough to understand, whether she wants the photos of her naked for her first bath, or the birth itself and any number of other photos that we have taken and will take over the years to capture various moments.
That is all I have time for at the moment, as Audrey is asking for cuddles from Daddy. I understand more, now, why my dad was so anxious, and worried about every noise and movement my younger brother made…or did not make for that matter. Thank you for reading this marginally coherent and organised article.
Children are the bridge to heaven.
– Persian saying
For some time now, Mrs C21 and I have been on tenterhooks waiting for our firstborn to decide to arrive. I got the call on Wednesday afternoon just after lunch time that I should go, much to the delight of my students who went a little bit crazy. Audrey May was born at 1245 on Thursday 25th August, screaming her lungs out (they work just fine!), weighing 3.48kg (7lb 10oz) and measuring 49cm long. She has been a gorgeous little thing and seems relatively well-settled so far as well.
I will be taking the remainder of the term off to learn how to be a real adult and spend some time getting to know my new daughter.
“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.”
– Attributed to Jamais Cascio
What strategies do you employ to weather the storm that is the beginning of the school year and the mental chaos and stress that it generates? What advice would you give to pre-service teachers or new graduates to set them up to get through the chaos of term one mentally intact?
I have been finding this term mentally and physically stressful, draining and tiring, despite my contract being for three days as opposed to the four days of last year.That said, last year, I was tasked solely with teaching digital literacy skills in an RFF capacity, a role that I think, as I was reflecting last night whilst talking to Mrs. C21st, I took too lightly, as the skills I was teaching are skills that I think I could perform in my sleep whilst standing on my head, and so allowed some bad habits to creep in, in regards to planning for specific lessons.
This year, I am finding that there is so much more to do than what I was aware of from my ITE and even from last year. There are whole facets of teaching that do not get touched upon in, well, not the ITE program which I completed. The actually planning and programming from a scope and sequence that has been prescribed by the school, the administration required on a daily basis including everything from marking, checking books, interacting with parents, staff meetings, committee meetings, extra-curricular activities such as sports teams and debating, reassuring the student who’s struggling to feel comfortable socially that they do have friends, giving your banana to the kid who has no lunch, buying a water filter because the water in the taps tastes bad and on top of everything else, changing numeracy scope and sequences halfway through the term (though when the one that was being used made no sense, I actually do not mind that one, as frustrating as it is), having to prepare Individual Education Plans for any student who requires an adjustment for their learning.
In addition, this is also the start of the football (soccer) preseason, which brings its own time requirements, especially given that I am refereeing with a branch that is an hour away. Pre-season seminars, courses to upgrade my Referee Assessor (coach) qualifications, pre-season trial games, an FFA Cup match, training, fitness tests and other meetings have seen me spend about four or five hours just travelling each week, on top of the actual time at the event.
Then there is the chaos that comes about from Mrs C21st now being pregnant, which though things have been relatively smooth so far, with more nausea than actually being sick, it has brought its own challenges, especially in regards to food and working out what smells set her nausea off. Thus far, it has not been as bad as it could be, with the smell of red meat cooking, chia seeds, and some yoghurts being the main things that set her off, and our (her) consumption of white peaches necessitating the purchase of a fresh bag of six peaches every two to three days.
At the end of my first day of my first practicum back in 2012, in a Year Six class, I was hooked, I had the buzz, the rush of adrenalin that comes when a student has an a-ha! moment and gets it, and I thought to myself that, yes, I was in the right profession. I would be lying if I denied having wondered about the truth of that thought in the last week. Recently, I asked for feedback about pursuing a permanent posting, and Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) commented that I should continue to pursue a permanent posting, as being granted that would also see me gain access to significant additional funding for mentoring and guidance in planning and programming and early professional development opportunities.
I think it is fantastic that new, permanently-employed teachers have access to that resource to help gain their footing, and I do remember hearing one my friends from university who was permanently appointed straight out of university, talk about that and how she would be struggling even more than she was, without the time that it gave her to get her head around all of the tasks that were never mentioned during our ITE.
As far as I am aware (and if I am wrong, please correct me!), as a temporary or casual teacher, I do not have access to this assistance. Whilst I understand, from a practicality and management point of view why casual teachers do not have access to it (which school manages it etc), I think it is as important that temporary and casual teacher’s gain access to it in some format, even if only on a pro-rata basis. I am contracted, for the year, at .6. Why should I not be able to access .6 of the full amount in order to gain some guidance, mentoring and assistance in wrapping my head around everything? Why could a casual teacher with a good working relationship, whether with a particular school or a particular teacher, not nominate that teacher/school to be their mentor, and some sort of agreement is negotiated to provide the assistance to the new teacher?
There has to be a way for this to be better, and more equitably managed. There seems to be a regular discourse about the shortage of teachers and the rates of new teachers that are leaving the profession within their first five years being abominably high. Why can we not seem to come up with a way to put in place, for those new graduates who want it, access to assistance that is currently restricted to one small portion of the workforce?
I have not had one of those days since my last article on that topic, however, I have not particularly enjoyed my teaching lately as I am too busy stressing about getting through everything I have ben told I need to get through. I suspect that my desire to complete my referee qualification upgrade this season will fall by the wayside as it will be the first casualty of the year due to the amount of time that refereeing sucks up.
On the plus side, other than a few nights, (including tonight, but Mrs. C21st is out at a training night), I have done well in not doing work at home when Mrs. C21st has been at home as well. That said, I have been getting to school at around 0630, and have often only left earlier than 1800 due to appointments.
I had a bit of a stress-out last night. I had lost Saturday as I was refereeing an FFA Cup (the assessor was happy, I got a result in regular time, ran just under fifteen kilometres according to my GPS unit, and took just under sixteen thousand steps) and then spent the remainder of the day completing paperwork and reports and going through my post-match recovery program. Sunday we spent in Sydney seeing some family and friends we had not seen in a few months, and it was dinner time when we arrived home. I ended up getting a little bit of planning done for what I need to do, and was in bed at 2030, and then here this morning at 0615, with a fresher, cooler head.
Today did actually go well. I get through everything I wanted to, except for three activities, and only half of my reading groups.But I think that, despite what I wrote earlier about taking work home, that I will take the night for myself to relax, go for a light run (I have a fitness test tomorrow afternoon) and then an early night.
I do have faith that I will make it through this term, we are, after all, halfway through. I do remember feeling like this when I first started working in one of my previous occupations, and asking my manager at the time what I was doing wrong that I was not getting through my workload each day, and stressing out about it. I do not know what changed, but it did and suddenly one day, I was the one helping others get through their workload. I believe I will get there, and that at the moment I am somewhere in transitory phase between consciously incompetent and consciously competent.
That said, I would love to hear strategies, whether mental or physical, that you use to get through this chaotic time of year. As always, thank you for reading.