“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
– Attributed to Michael Jordan
Recently I have been writing about the struggles, the frustration and the challenges that I have encountered to this point in the school year. Yesterday, however, I wrote, very briefly, that something had changed, and that I was feeling much more positively about things. I was unable to expand on what I felt that was as I had to go to a referee fitness test in Newcastle. The good news on that front is that I hit the goal I had set for myself for the test in order to be eligible to be appointed to a particular level of match during the season.
I made the decision on Sunday, after having a stress attack, that I would go to bed, get up early and get started with a clear mind. Accordingly, I was in my classroom at 0600, and I found it to be an incredibly productive two and a half hours until the bell rang for the start of class. I began that day with a better idea of what I needed to achieve in my teaching, which meant that my teaching was clearer and more concise, with less waffle.
I made the decision to be at school nice and early, again, for Tuesday morning, and began teaching on Tuesday with a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve, how I would achieve it and what I could afford to drop if there were time constraints or unexpected interruptions.
Today, I was again in my room at 0600 preparing for the day ahead I feel like I have turned a corner. The key, rather obviously, is my planning. I have a very clear idea of what I want to get done today, what I can afford to drop if there are time issues, and what the learning goal is for each session., and it is showing, both in my teaching and in the way the students are behaving and engaging with the tasks they have been asked to complete.
Last year, as I mentioned in a previous article, I was tasked with teaching digital literacy skills; skills that I could utilise standing on my head whilst asleep. Having been thinking about it, I believe that I allowed some bad habits to creep into my planning. Whilst I had a program that I had put together, I was rarely looking at it, making decisions about next learning steps based upon what I felt made sense from where the cohort was, how they had coped with learning a particular skill or piece of knowledge, and what fitted around the multitude of interruptions that we were experiencing in the school.
This is not the way to teach. I was utilising the seven-step planning process (that is, planning what you would be doing in the seven steps before you reach the class door) more regularly then I care to admit, and I allowed those poor habits to carry over to this year, in conjunction with struggling to wrap my head around all of the extra responsibilities and tasks that go hand-in-hand with having a class.
A colleague who habitually arrives at school early each day commented to me this morning that they had noticed I had been in early the last few mornings, and when I replied with how productive I had been finding it, they gave me a knowing grin, and replied that when there is no one else here, there is no onto distract you but yourself, and that having a clear plan can create incredibly productive mornings.
The key, I believe, is that my planning has been more focused. Rather than focusing on what I want to achieve, I am also allowing myself to consider how I will achieve that, how I will check for understanding, what aspects I can afford to drop if we run out of time, or there are interruptions and also what resources I need to achieve the goal.
Today was, for the year so far, the most productive day that I believe I and my students have had, and that was with losing essentially the whole middle session to scripture. Tomorrow is my day off, however, I will be back in here at 0600 tomorrow morning as it is school photo day and if I need to be in here (I do not, of course, but I want to be here for my first school photos with a class of my own), then I may as well make it a productive day.
As always, thank you for reading, and I hope that your day has been as productive and left you with the same sense of achievement as mine has.
“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.
“You have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life.”
As you ready this, I would like you to consider how you deal and then recover from those days in your teaching, and would very much like to hear anyone’s strategies, either in the comments or over on Twitter. I am writing this on Monday afternoon….although it is closer to early-evening that afternoon, if we are being strictly honest. Today was one of those days, you know the kind I mean, and I am sure it means something slightly different for each of us. I was having a shocker and, unfortunately, it meant that my students suffered.
I had had an ordinary weekend, attending a pre-season seminar (I referee football/soccer) that left me fuming for a variety of reasons, in addition to it being hot and humid. When I finally got home, I had a vent to Mrs. C21st (who also had a vent, as she had had one of those days at work). It did not help, at all. I suspect the fact that it was thirty-three degrees celsius in the coolest room of the house may have played a role in that. So we ended up going out for dinner and some drinks to escape the weather.
I grew up in Tamworth, where, while it might have been forty degrees celsius, there was also zero humidity. I am of course not a fan of such temperatures, but the dry heat I am used to. It was what I was born into, and grew up with, I am adjusted to it and my body can deal with it. Although I have lived in the Gosford area of NSW for close to ten years, I still find that I do not handle the humidity down here. Yesterday and today were both, to my body, very humid days and I felt like I was wading through sludge in the fog.
I completely botched the introduction of a new process I want the class to follow, causing huge confusion and much frustration amongst both them and myself. I got frustrated when, as I was circulating through the room when I found that things were not being done the way that I wanted them done…I was completely off my game. On top of that, the air conditioner in the room is broken (it was flagged in October last year) and so the students are struggling in the room with only ceiling fans and whatever cross-breeze we happen to get through the windows.
This afternoon I had to leave early for an appointment and with so much that I needed to catch up on I decided I would prefer to spend more time in my room now, rather than come in super-early tomorrow, and it has helped me regather my focus and find my calm center. I received a call with an offer for casual work on Friday of this week, at a school I have not worked at previously and was told that work would be left for me, and that the middle session would be sporting rotations for Stages Two and Three, that I would need to come prepared to plan and deliver (using their equipment of course).
I have also been able to sit and focus on getting through some basic administrative tasks with some music I find relaxing playing (Pink Floyd’s The Endless River, in case you are interested), and get some preparation completed for tomorrow, so that I am already set up and ready to go in the morning, and am able to focus on helping my students rather than just getting by.
Tomorrow (Tuesday) will be better. I will have had a better night’s sleep, will be better prepared and in a much calmer place mentally, ready to get on with another day’s teaching and learning.
As always, thank you for reading, and please, if you have any particular strategies that you find useful for dealing with and/or recovering from bad days, leave a note in the comments.
EDIT: Tuesday and then today have been much better, both temperature and pedagogically.
“I believe arts education in music, theatre, dance, and the visual arts is one of the most creative ways we have to find the gold that is buried just beneath the surface. They (children) have an enthusiasm for life a spark of creativity, and vivid imaginations that need training – training that prepares them to become confident young men and women.”
– Richard W. Riley, Former US Secretary of Education
Wikipedia describes the origins of Lip Sync Battle as a spin off from a segment on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show, based off an idea hatched initially by Stephen Merchant , and which Jimmy Fallon then developed into a regular segment wherein himself and one or two celebrities, depending on the night, would lip sync two songs each, without knowing the sings that the other had chosen, with the crowd determining who ‘won’ the lip sync battle.
The segment was developed into a weekly TV show in its own right, and has been quite popular in many countries where it has aired. I have been watching it and wishing that I had a class of my own so that I could bring Lip Sync Battle into the class, as there are a number of skills within Lip Sync Battle that make it a useful alternative vehicle for teaching particular skills and concepts as well as improving students’ self-efficacy.
The competitors, as they are lip syncing, express the emotion and energy of the song through their body language, facial expressions and their energy, which are all skills taught through the creative arts strand of drama. Competitors also need strong resilience and self-efficacy to put themselves up in front of peers and lip sync, which are both key characteristics for getting through life in modern society. There are music skills involved, as the competitor needs to know the lyrics and timing of the song in order to successfully and realistically lip sync it, as well as have an understanding of the timbre of the music as that will influence their body language and facial expressions.
A conversation with one of my colleagues last week has created a situation where we will be running a Lip Sync Battle for our Stage Three students in a range of categories; Battle of the Sexes (boys v girls), Individual Championship, Age Before Wisdom (Year Five v Year Six), and the option for a Team Event if there is sufficient interest. I would also like to see a Teacher Competition but I am not sure whether that will happen or not.
We showed the below trailer to Stage Three students on Friday (July 31) to generate some interest, with the promise that more information would be forthcoming. Rather than have every battle as a live version, the first round of battles will be pre-recorded videos that have been submitted.
All performances will be recorded, and if students give their permission and have publishing permissions, then their video will be uploaded to YouTube. I will utilise the hashtag #PCPSLipSyncBattle on any videos or tweets that I make for this competition. I would love to hear from you if you are doing something similar with your class, or even across the Stage group or the school, what the reaction has been from students and teachers and the wins and difficulties you have faced.