Every now and then I get the urge to return here to my blog. Sometimes it's because I've been feeling especially creative and have lots to share. Sometimes it's because I'm feeling sociable and want to reach out to all the people who share similar interests to me (or who read my blog for other random reasons!). And other times it's because I feel the way I do now.
I've been struggling a bit. There has been a lot going on in my life over the last year. Things that have been difficult and stressful and at times even traumatic, though ultimately very positive. Exciting and happy times lay ahead. I may share them here soon.
But getting to that point has taken a lot from me. I feel like my natural creativity has been sucked out of me somewhat. I feel like I have lost the happiness that I used to find in the everyday things - in particular my work.
I have been teaching since my PGCE in 2004. Despite a couple of difficult years learning my craft, I came to enjoy what I did. Kids enjoyed my lessons. I know because they told me. I enjoyed coming up with different ways to teach things. I enjoyed telling the stories and little anecdotes that helped make history come alive.
When I returned to work after my maternity leave just before summer in 2013, I had completely lost my confidence in myself. The first time I stood back in front of a class, I burst into tears afterwards. The world of teaching had changed for me. I felt like I had to measure up to something and prove myself. I felt like I had to fit my lessons to a certain mould. I couldn't teach in my way any more.
I got through last year by working harder than I ever have (despite being part-time!) and desperately trying to jump through the ever-growing number of hoops that seem to be placed in front of teachers these days. Teaching in this way didn't feel natural to me. I couldn't get a sense of flow. I was terrified of being accused of talking too much - the latest big no-no in the teaching world. I stopped having the long discussions that used to form a large part of my lessons. I stopped enjoying passing on my love for and knowledge of my subject.
A few weeks ago I had an observation that seemed to confirm my feelings. It was 'good'. Not bad in itself, but hardly inspirational. The trouble is, while some valid points were made, I disagree with quite a bit of the spirit of the feedback. I feel like we are trying to create a version of what teaching has to be in order to be effective. But there are so many ways to skin a cat. Last year I achieved outstanding sixth form results. I did not teach in the way that would have (currently!) achieved me an outstanding lesson observation. And yet it worked. My students did extremely well. They learned what I wanted them to. We enjoyed our lessons. Isn't that a sign of effective teaching?
And yet I find myself with my confidence in my abilities now at rock-bottom. Why have I allowed myself to feel like this based on other's opinions when I have plenty of evidence of the good I have achieved with my pupils? Partly it is what the government has done to the profession. Performance related pay and continual scrutiny have made it feel like teachers are in a goldfish bowl at all times, waiting to be pounced upon for failure. The word 'good' in relation to your work now means 'not good enough'. The passion and individuality feels like it has been replaced by fear and conformity.
This may be an over-reaction on my part. But it doesn't deny the fact that this is the way I feel. And it is no reflection on my school, which I feel is one of the best around. It is a reflection of the current environment of the profession. It is a reflection of my own self-esteem in returning to the classroom. It is a reflection of the difficulties of balancing home and work life and being a working, part-time mum, especially with small children.
So what am I going to do about it? I don't want to leave a job that I have loved in the past. I am fairly certain that, as is the way of these things, it will change. Things will come full circle. Someone will tell us that another way of teaching is more effective. We will move on. I will learn to love what I do again. And the only way to deal with it is to keep on doing what you know works, what inspires and engages, what reaps results. Even if this doesn't tick all the boxes of current educational dogma.
So why blog about this? Well, I sat down the other night and thought about the things that make me happy. That put work in perspective and give me balance. And it ultimately comes down to two things - my family and my hobbies. Spending time with my loved ones is always a joy. I love to watch my little boy grow and change and discover the world. Lately I have been so caught up with worrying about work, I haven't done that. I have allowed my worries to stop me from sleeping and stop me from taking pleasure in the everyday activities - a trip to the park, rhyme time, choosing books from the library, coffee and cake at the cafe. I need to embrace the little things again.
And I also need to be creative. At a time when I feel my creativity is stifled at work, it is even more important that I give it an outlet at home. I haven't done anything creative now for about two months. This isn't good for my health and wellbeing. I know books need to be marked and lessons planned. But ultimately, a stressed and unhappy teacher leads to stressed and unhappy pupils who won't learn as well as they should.
To that end I've decided to try to finish a few WIPs. I'm going to share them here. It will hopefully give me the impetus to actually finish some of them!
The first is a shawl I started knitting for my mum. I whizzed through the first half in a few days, then inexplicably put it down at the halfway point and haven't picked it up since. The yarn is some gorgeous Araucania Botany Lace which will look lovely when finished and blocked. I need to get this done!
Finally we have this beautiful little jumper for J. All the knitting is done on this one. It just needs sewing up. It's been sitting there since March. Surely this is an easy win?!
Writing this blogpost has been cathartic in the build up to another busy half term at work. I need to get some perspective, I need to realise what is important, and I need to make sure I don't put myself under the kind of pressure that makes me an unhappy and unhealthy individual. I'm hoping that getting back to blogging and sharing my hobbies, a process I always used to enjoy, will help me to do that.