In recent months, I began to feel – so acutely – the distance between me and what Further Education is really all about, widening. I could no longer put my finger on what we were doing – what was it really all about? What was I here for? What impact was I having? These spreadsheets, this celebration and sharing of learning, this modelling of technologies, these conversations with practitioners and everyone would say, ‘I wish I had your job’. ‘What a wonderful opportunity you have to be solely focussed on Teaching & Learning.’ I’d nod and smile along.
I’d convinced myself that this widening gap didn’t matter. I was too busy. There was far too much to do and I was struggling to cope as it was. It’d be fine. I could always go back if I needed to… and then May soon turned into July and before long, September was upon me with all of its fresh beginnings, joyful starts, hectic activity and above all, purpose. New students, filled with hope, were ready to begin their journeys and many more were set to continue with theirs. Where was I in all of this? A crevice appeared at my feet and continued to grow over the coming days; the black hole of ‘management’ I was sinking into all too quickly without any means of getting back out. And then the phonecall came.
‘Hannah, are you still wanting to teach a class?’
Fear and doubt rippled through me- Was I? Could I?
‘What are you doing tomorrow afternoon?’
‘Tomorrow? Crikey! Well, I have a couple of meetings but let me see what I can do…’
I walked (half running) with my heart beating out of my chest to my manager’s office and I couldn’t get the words out fast enough.
‘I’ve been offered a class tomorrow. There’s a couple of meetings though… Do you think I should…?’
With a broad grin across my face and sheer glee in my eyes, we both knew the answer and it wouldn’t matter whether he thought I should or not. I raced back to my desk.
‘Yes, go on then- I’ll do it! What’s next?’
The seconds and minutes of the day passed like hours and in between the day job I messaged my friends, jotted down notes, and scribbled on pieces of paper. The end of the day finally arrived and I could get into creating mode: designing, planning, cutting and sticking before the late, late train home.
My students are polite, witty and respectful. They are full of life. They are complex, curious and excitable. They are keen to learn and pass their English (even if they are more than happy to share their complete hatred for the subject). They lack confidence and dislike writing; some of them far more intensely than others. We will all be aiming for the magic C grade; my students have each (mostly) resigned themselves to the fact they need it- and who doesn’t want a classroom filled with resignation?
I feel I’ve come full circle in my teaching: a classroom filled with young males; eager to learn but without yet possessing all of the tools and skills required to make them successful learners: this is one of our greatest challenges in the year ahead- aside from helping them cope with their 3 hour learning marathon as I squeeze a great deal of my missed teaching time into small spaces and weary brains. This is a group of young men who make me laugh, who surprise me endlessly with their intellect and creativity. It is the unexpected parts of teaching that both lift and crush you. As a manager, I am crushed daily but rarely am I lifted and it is this that is the source of my drive.
After our first lesson, I received a piece of feedback on our weekly review that said:
‘A pretty decent teacher’
This quote spurs me on each week to maintain this level of decency and you never know, I may even be able to report that ‘pretty decent’ was surpassed! What’s next on that scale I wonder? ‘Proper decent’ perhaps? Now that’s something to aspire to!
My purpose is back and I will no longer be endlessly searching the corridors for meaning; hoping to reach out and touch just a slither of the joy, despair, frustration and elation that is teaching.
This week has been filled with wobbles, tears, doubt and frustration but then Thursday afternoon eventually arrives. I step in that door, that world, and the hours that follow that time are filled with such comparable calm. My anxiety about my workload eases and whilst my lack of self-confidence is pretty much unshakeable of late, something has returned that restores me noticeably: ME- creative, bubbly, loud and silly. I call friends, I hold a real conversation with my partner and I even begin to look forward, ever so slightly, to other parts of my work.
I received a letter from a dear friend this week and she ended it with a quote from a book she was reading (one of the many reasons I love her so much):
‘Things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance even after physical contact has been severed.’
The niggling part of my journey in my new role was that I had known what it was to teach and I’m certain that knowledge will never leave me.