Not Teaching

Habits are a hard thing to change, Not impossible, mind you, but hard. Thus it is I find myself three weeks into a new job that, and this is crucial, involves no teaching. None at all. And you know what, I miss it, I really really miss it. I don’t miss the attendant admin crap, and I don’t miss teaching the 16-18s I was teaching up to half term; even if I had sort of got used to them, I still never quite got to the point of genuinely liking the experience of teaching them. But I miss teaching generally.

I miss the structure. I’ve had a timetable for pretty much every week of my working life for the last 17 years, and suddenly that’s gone. Sure I get to make my own “timetable”, working to the patterns the job requires, and I get a lot of flexibility that a timetable simply doesn’t allow for, but it doesn’t quite fill the gaps, mentally speaking. In part, perhaps, this is habit formation, very mild anxiety even, and having that structure can create a lot of security to your daily routine. Like creating routines in class so your students know what’s going on and what is expected of them, a timetable creates a routine which allows you much the same thing. It’s not a major thing, mind, indeed, having these things shaken up a bit can be quite a creative challenge.

I miss the students. Don’t get me wrong, I love working with teachers, and just people generally, but I really miss working with students. I know, consciously, that supporting teachers is supporting students (the careerist manager’s justification for ditching teaching at the first management job they see), but that’s not what I mean. It’s those interactions I miss, the push and pull of the classroom and the dawning lightbulb moments, trying to make someone understand something and it doesn’t seem to go in until, finally, it slots into place. Most of the students I meet are a fairly open, enquiring bunch, there to learn something, and with a lot to gain from coming to the class. Even the nicest, most open and engaging teachers I meet are only a management form away from resenting training and learning, worried about attendance, achievement, enrolments, filling in those forms, catching up with marking and being generally stressed. They are students, in a sense, but they are also colleagues and friends, which creates a very different dynamic in a learning setting,

I miss the creativity. Let’s be honest, once you’re out of significant teaching, the opportunities for creativity become somewhat limited. Oh, I have to run sessions for teachers, but this is the only real outlet for this side of things. I don’t think teachers are prone to call themselves creative, but even the most restrained tutor following a standard coursebook, scheme of work and lesson plan still uses an amazing amount of creativity while planning and teaching. Even if it’s out of boredom, you want to do each lesson differently to the last one, change things around, mix them up. You get creative. You are not just being creative before the lesson either, but also during a lesson: thinking on your feet and trying a different angle because you realise they’ve missed something. It’s lovely, and fun, and engaging and interesting: it’s this side of things that I probably, in my secret heart of hearts, enjoy the most about teaching. I feel morally obliged to say, of course, that I do it for the students, but I also (mostly) do it because those processes of getting people to learn stuff excites and engages me. And in the nicest possible way, I don’t get that from meetings and spreadsheets. Sorry, and that, but I don’t.

Every time an internal management job comes up I get asked if I’m going to apply for it, and I always get tempted, I always toy with the idea. I’m certainly mentally capable of such a role. However, I’m not temperamentally capable. And that’s the thing, isn’t it? I couldn’t turn my back on that direct contact with students, not permanently. If this new job becomes permanent (its complicated, don’t ask) then I would have to get some teaching, because without it I will almost certainly go slightly mad.

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