Why events like #TLT14 are so important.

Last Saturday I happily spent the day with a gaggle of teachers (not sure what our collective noun is? Perhaps a marking of teachers? đŸ˜€) at the University of Southampton discussing education and how we can deliver a better quality of it for our students.

Since leaving #TLT14 many blogged about their day and the different sessions they participated in; I started to do this, but was struggling to find something original to say. Instead I started thinking about the event itself.

Why did so many of us give up our Saturday?
Why did so many people put themselves out with car, train and plane travel to spend a Saturday with a load of teachers?

It’s easy to say that we did it because we love teaching or because we want to be better teachers. But I don’t think that’s the real, deep down truth. I think if we’re honest with ourselves we went on Saturday, and to similar events, for selfish reasons.
We went because we’re exhausted.
We went because we’re fed up.
We went because we needed it.

Let me explain…

We’re nearly at the end of a long half term and most teachers I know are dead on our feet. With dark nights drawing in and temperatures dropping it can be hard to find the spark we need to get through the day. That’s where #TLT14 came in: they offered the flint needed to get the fire burning again. I noticed the same thing at Ed Fest in the summer: we were crawling towards the end of the summer term & after one day at an education event people were buoyant and ready to go again.

In addition to this, we’re fed up. So many teachers are questioning the profession and their place in it, I have to admit I’ve wondered if I was in the right profession at points this year. This has a knock on your confidence as a teacher and that can spiral. There is no where to hide when standing in front of 30 teenagers and teachers can be incredibly hard on themselves. When your confidence runs away from you in teaching you feel vulnerable, naked, exposed. You’re definite someone will come to expose you as a failure and the single reason why all your classes will fail in their lives’ ambitions. And surely the naming as a witch and burning on a pyre is only moments away from this accusation? The only life line I’ve found at moments like this is the reassurance and guidance from fellow teachers.

Teaching is like a TV show: if it’s been well scripted and all props have been prepared it appears effortless. And much like the unappreciated script writers and props teams in TV world the work we do behind the scenes is just that: hidden; unseen; unnoticed. We’re used to this being unnoticed by students & parents but, for many, it’s beginning to feel like this is also being unnoticed by senior teams as well as by politicians and the general public. Recently it’s felt like more and more hoops are being lined up for us to jump through and they always seem to be getting higher. And worse still, if you do manage to jump through them you’re sometimes told you jumped through it incorrectly or not in the accepted way so it didn’t count. It’s completely understandable why so many are feeling fed up at the moment. For many years I’ve come to accept that I will never reach the end of my To Do list, but in the past year it’s felt like I’m failing more than I’m succeeding. It’s this feeling that makes education events such as #TLT14 so vital to all of us, attendees or otherwise. There’s strength in solidarity: I felt so much better to hear other people voice the same concerns. I felt relieved by being comforted by more senior and experienced teachers who were experiencing the same struggle. But more importantly I found the strength to keep going and to keep looking for ways to improve.

This positivity is infectious. We all took it back to our departments and our schools on Monday. We fired up our colleagues which will help them get through this last week. Some may even come with us next time.

Teaching takes over your life: it eats into your free time; it dominates your conversations; it invades your dreams! All this is draining yet so few people can fully grasp this. I’ve had numerous arguments with my husband, he has a physical job, about exhaustion. It took months to get him to understand that it’s a different type of exhaustion. Mental exhaustion is just as incapacitating as a physical one, although there’s less muscle aches. When your brain isn’t functioning properly the simplest of tasks get harder and harder until eventually you’re passed out on the sofa at 7:30 and sleep for the whole 12 hours. This plays a massive part in why teachers flit in and out of the social scene, sometimes we mean to go out but we sit down before heading out and soon we’re snoring (and if we’re really exhausted there may even be that little bit of drool… You know the one I mean!)

Education events force us to stir from our beds or drag ourselves from the unending marking pile because we’ve paid for a ticket or we’ve offered someone else a lift. But once we’re out we wake up to the world. It’s common to find local pubs & restaurants invaded by educators desperate to embrace a hibernating social life.

TeachMeets, Ed Fest, #TLT14 and all the others offer amazing and inspiring workshops and talks which teach us, inspire us and motivate us to be better. And I love every one I’ve been to, but their true beauty lies in a much simpler premise. They offer us comfort and reassurance that we’re not alone:
We’re not the only teachers who love our job this much.
We’re not the only ones feeling the pressure.

We are not alone.

I love teaching. But I love the ed events more because without them I wouldn’t survive in teaching.

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