Dukkhaboy

Have felt worse

Pressure – What pressure?

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I don’t want to be but I am worried about tomorrow. My stomach feels full and empty at the same time. But I have a strategy to deal with it.

My pupils’ exam results are published. It’s a big day for them. Two years work reduced to a few grades on a slip of paper in a small brown envelope. It’s hard for them. At 16 it is their first pointer as to how they might do as an adult in the outside world, where they might fit in. Of course at 16 they don’t know properly know the outside adult world of jobs, careers, finances and although they have a vague idea of the big picture, most 16 year olds wouldn’t see the results in that way. It’s much simpler for them. “What grade did I get? What grades did I want? What did my best friend get? Let’s hug.”

But I know the outside world significance of their grades for me. I’ve been through this before. As a teacher you are only as good as your last set of grades. Five years ago my pupils’ grades nosedived. Like an inexperienced man on the top board at the local swimming pool they made an ugly loud splash that made everyone cringe. For 15 years before I had been seen as a good teacher and then overnight I was a bad one.

Interviewed and reinterviewed by SLT, analysed, poked and questioned like a guilty criminal. “Support” was put in a place. Clipboards and nosey faces appeared in my classroom. Scrutinies happened. It was like having the KGB in my lessons. They wanted to know WHAT I WAS DOING WRONG. The latest educational ideas were given as strategies I should employ for every class; conversational feedback, differentiated starter activities, more mini plenaries, learning objectives visible everywhere and at all times. I ran faster and faster around my classroom, my evenings were a swirling gust of marking and planning. My pupils did more and more assessments so I could show to anyone who looked (and lots of people did) how they were progressing and how all those shiny new ideas were working to make me better at my job and results improve. Work became a slog, meetings a frightening strain. Every one of my judgements in the classroom was under the microscope. There was always more I could have done.

I WAS MADE TO FEEL SHIT.

Since then my pupils results have had 3-4 years of being what they were before – pretty good, thank you. On reflection it turns out I didn’t suddenly become a bad teacher. Equally, since then I haven’t been reinvented as great teacher either. I had one bad year. And all those time consuming ideas were at best an inefficient use of my time and maybe just plain pointless. There are an immeasurable amount of  immeasurables that go into making a pupil’s results. A teacher’s ability is just one of these (one of the larger ones for sure) that is all.

So, if like me you are fearful of tomorrow, take a deep breath and clearly think about how hard you worked in the last two years for your pupils. You have more than played your part. Despite how you may have been made to feel results day is for the pupils, not for you nor for the school.  But whether David or Sarah or whoever got their grade or didn’t isn’t the whole definition of whether you can teach or not and certainly isn’t the description of who you are as a person. If you allow yourself to think like that you shrink the beauty of what you do as a teacher and suck all the joy out of your classroom.

Once you have checked the results tomorrow morning; be happy or sad, miffed of delighted and then move on to all the other things that make life so worth living. There’s still more than a week left of the summer holidays for a start.

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2 thoughts on “Pressure – What pressure?

  1. This is a brilliant piece of writing: I have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Actually, had the t-shirt forced upon me; you know, the one that has FAIL written in big red letters across the front and back…

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