I’ve been in Birmingham this weekend at the NATECLA National Conference, and have come away, as ever, with a natty exam board sponsored bag full of goodies, a bunch of open tabs of sites and resources to look at, faintly weary fingertips from tapping out notes and the more than occasional tweet, some new and renewed friendships, some happy memories and, of course, a head and notebook full of ideas, reflections and thoughts.
Now, I’ve had what we can only describe as a less than stellar few months at work. I won’t go into the details, because there are questions of propriety, but it’s been a long, gruelling and challenging few months, which is at least one of the reasons I haven’t posted a blog since April is because sometimes you need to work through these things, and some laundry is too dirty to air in public. So anyway, you’d think that given the tough time, I’d perhaps be wanting to switch off from the whole business of ESOL teaching, and get my head into another place. And certainly a proportion of advice you see tends to suggest this sort of thing, and when a well meaning workplace offers you wellbeing it’s often in this sort of format: time out, relaxation, and so on. One of the other things is upping your physical activity, and looking at your physical well being. These are all, of course, absolutely right, but only, I think, up to a point. What these things fail to do is sort out the problem in the first place, so that if the tension is relatively minor, then, like a sticking plaster on a cut, that’s fine, but when things are deeper, then the problem just comes back later.
Often, of course, the things which stress you out are beyond your control: you have to develop some means of coping with them. Support networks of people, for example, both in and out of work. What has worked for me, however, is, oddly, working harder.
Now, perhaps this is a variation on the “take your mind off it” approaches, but one of the few things that actually stops me being stressed at work is focusing on the bits I really enjoy, and the bits I really enjoy for me are not the administrative side of things, but the bit where you go into a classroom and be a teacher, and, crucially, help your students learn stuff. Emails can (and should) go unanswered, demands for paperwork can go ignored, administrative duties beyond the immediate can be forgotten, and you can live, for two short hours or so, for the moment, doing something you really enjoy doing.
And this love of the teaching side will always create challenges for me at work. Last Monday, for example, I had a massive job of marking portfolios to do, and a deadline to do it by, but spent at least some of the time I should have been marking on a lengthy debate about the challenges and benefits of teaching pronunciation and why our higher level students were struggling so much with this. This was a much more appealing thing because, unlike marking a bunch of fairly tedious portfolios (which I did finish marking, in case you were wondering), it was intrinsically and professionally interesting.
And so back to NATECLA. One of the challenges I’ve had at work this last few months has involved working with ESOL students to complete not only their ESOL exams, but also The aforementioned portfolios of work for extra qualifications. And I’ve said this before I think, but it’s not enough for me just to teach ESOL students, but also to teach the subject ESOL, and teaching them other things just doesn’t quite cut it. Sorry, and all that. As a result, then the opportunities to teach and to talk ESOL have been few and far between of late. Being at NATECLA, then, whilst perhaps not being restful (that Friday night Ruth Hayman Trust pub quiz!), has been deeply reinvigorating. So thank you to NATECLA for putting it on, and the community of practice that is represented at the conference of course, but also to my employer, who, I should add, paid for me to go. Cheers!
Given that this is partly a post about stress, here are a couple of the sites I found while I was writing giving advice on workplace stress. I was ready to sneer about some of the advice, but it seems all quite sensible. I know that sounds like you me of those “if you’ve been affected by the issues in this programme…” things but you never know.