This week I’ve been relief teaching with a class of five year olds (my daughter’s class in fact). And let’s just say it’s been a bit of a shock to the system.
In recent years my work life has consisted of teaching contracts in preschool and special education. I’ve also been working for myself, writing, speaking and consulting. And in truth, it’s in each of these areas that my comfort zone now lies.
Before this week, I hadn’t taught in a mainstream classroom since the year that I was pregnant with my third child (and she’s now five, did I mention?). Parts of classroom life, I remembered like yesterday. But others had been diluted with the passing of time.
In reflecting upon the past couple of days, three things really stand out to me. Three reminders of classroom life that I very much needed. That I now want to share with you.
#1 – Teachers need to be valued more
If you don’t believe me, be a teacher for a day and you’ll soon be nodding your head vigorously.
A teacher’s brain never stops ticking with new ideas, solutions or thoughts about ‘that’ child who we’re really worried about. It’s a job that drains every ounce of who you are and what you have to give. There’s never going to be enough school holidays to make up for that.
#2 – Connection is king
Relief teaching is a different beast entirely from regular classroom teaching. The big difference is that you walk into the room with no shared connection with the children inside it.
If a child doesn’t know you, feel safe with you, and isn’t invested in you, what drives them to do what you’re asking? For some, nothing.
What highlighted this perfectly to me was the different response I received on my first and second day in the same classroom. Early connections had begun to form, enough for some students to feel a little more safe, a little more cared for and a little more nurtured. These new relationships weren’t comparable to what they share with their regular (awesome) teacher but it was enough to create more flow and positivity in our day.
Sadly though, it’s not only in the instance of having a different teacher where children lack this connection. Sometimes they get a dud in the teacher lottery. Sometimes expectations are higher than what’s realistic. At other times there’s just no ‘click’. The child doesn’t feel safe, understood or valued. And that’s when we get into the territory of disconnection and detention.
Connection is our number one priority. Or if it’s not, it needs to be.
#3 – Supported teachers are the happiest
The only people who truly understand the life of a teacher are…other teachers. Sure, partners hear their fair share of who’s who in the classroom and what drives us bonkers about education policy. But it doesn’t match the comradery that we have with other educators.
This afternoon another teacher poked her head around the door to ask how my day had gone. A simple question but one that brought nods of understanding and words of reassurance. Teaching is a lonely job, especially within the four walls of a classroom. There’s no team, other than the one we create ourselves. And in my opinion, without each other to learn from, mentor and lean on, we’re nothing.
So dear teachers, let’s support each other, prioritise our connection with children and… perhaps ask for a pay rise!
And parents, know that there’s a rhythm to the chaos, that we’re tired but doing our best and that we need to hear your words of encouragement from time to time.