Monday, November 21, 2016

Trial separation.

Notice how I haven't been blogging much about school lately? It's because I'm caught in a loop. Same shit, different day. So after 37 years, I've decided I need a trial separation. 

I've been agonising over this for months. In fact, it's the hardest decision I've ever made in my life. Getting evicted from 'our place' at school probably gave me the shove I needed.  So too did turning sixty. When you get there, dear reader, remember this: you still feel the same inside but everything around you makes you conscious of your age and time running out. Especially having a couple of dads die – mine and my husband's -  and a couple of eighty-something demented mums in aged care.  

Ah, normal vicissitudes notwithstanding I've had everything I've wanted in my teaching career. But it's really hard to give up something for which you intuitively prepared throughout your childhood. I liked the whole idea of teaching from the minute I became a student. Not a student teacher, a kid at school. School felt comfortable. I must have had some good teachers. Some weren't, but that's another story. 

A week ago, after much deliberation and an emotional pain in the core of my being - drama queen? - I called my principal and asked whether I could see him the next day regarding taking twelve months leave. After I made that call, I stood outside the green grocers in the local shopping centre hyperventilating. Because until I suddenly made the decision to make that call I had no idea I was going to leave.  

Despite having largely relished my teaching career, I'm generally under-stimulated by teaching year 8 and 9 students. Careful what you wish for. Back in 2011, I wanted an easier life – less responsibility and less marking. Thus I went part-time, relinquished English coordination – a role I was enjoying 'at the governor's pleasure' - and gave up teaching my regular allotment of two year 12 VCE classes. It was a great relief to reduce my full-time load to three days.  

Back to those year 8 and 9 students. I'm assuming you're all teachers reading this so you know how challenging class management can be at this level. Yes, I really like most of the students I teach but I teach about ten students over my three classes who are very difficult to manage. Of course they all have their own back story and we work with that as we try to educate. But really. Sheesh.  

Many middle school kids, even those without difficult home lives, are hard work. They are wrestling with hormones and drives they've never experienced before. They're emotionally charged, histrionic and will argue that black is white. (If they read that last line I'd be accused of being racist. I kid you not.) They argue and bicker amongst themselves and their allegiances are constantly shifting. Suddenly, almost overnight, they are sure they know everything, much more than any adult, particularly one of my gender and age. It is incredibly difficult  to educate these kids. But we do it, year after year. And when it's working – as it has been every day with one of my year 8 groups this year, it's magic. 

Then there are those adversarial -'oppositional defiant' - students. Usually it's girls in my classes. They're always there waiting to pounce on any perceived transgression. They can be downright rude, and when they gang up, holy mama, it takes all my wiles to ameliorate the situation. (I'm not bad at this. I can make them feel like I'm issuing a detention because I love them so much! You know the line: I care about you too much to let you think that your behaviour is in any way acceptable, and words to that effect.) One rude, bold student who's 'not afraid to express her opinion because she's going to be a lawyer and earn lots of money', can instantly destroy the learning of an entire class – sometimes for the rest of the year if it's not skilfully managed. (Ah, memories.) If one loses patience with this type of student, one is fucked. They can, and will do or say anything but one must keep calm and follow one's management plan, but by god they push the buttons. Some of them will grow out of this behaviour but some of these students will just grow into older ignoramuses, constantly convinced of their entitlement to their own opinion, loudly voiced, no matter how self-absorbed and ill-informed they are. You know the type. 

There's a lot of anxiety in a teacher's life, isn't there? You're constantly on stage and expected to perform. You're judged to within an inch of your existence. Anyone else have anxiety dreams at the start of a new term? You know the one. You're totally unprepared and you get caught out. Or is that just me? One of my recurring dreams involved variations on a scenario where Mr Incredible and I have been evicted from our classrooms and office. I've dreamt that our area has been trashed, bulldozed and reconfigured in some unsuitable way. Meanwhile I'm floundering around the campus facing the impossible goblin's riddle of trying to find my way home to my class, but my home is gone. 

Well, in real life on the last day of last term, my nightmare having eventuated, I'd packed my car with my swivel chair and boxes of stuff I thought I couldn't manage without. It was pouring rain and I was alone unpacking my car at 5pm, trying to make my new office – no heating or cooling but more space – look less bleak. There was something premonitory about it.  

First day of the new term, I didn't know where my period 1 class would meet. My nightmare again. Turns out my new classroom for six periods a week would be a windowless converted former locker bay. My challenging year 8s, in a classroom situated in what we call Siberia, went ape-shit in their new room with its different seating arrangement. One day I puzzled over the unusual absenteeism, marked the roll, wrote my goal – don't get me started – on the board, got twenty minutes into the lesson before about ten kids emerged bright eyed with hilarity from a back office where they'd secreted themselves.  (Everyone's a winner: I enjoyed the twenty minutes without them.)

But we all got used to it and life went on. On the up side, I probably walk an extra k a day getting around the campus. On top of my cycling commute to and from school that's a good work out. 

Now when I'm up at briefing in the main staffroom, I look out through the windows at my fenced off, former haven standing forlornly amidst the rubble incurred during a major school renovation. My nightmare realised. Having coped with that change I'm hoping I'll cope even more easily with a trial separation from teaching. 

I'm interested to find out who I will be if I'm not a teacher.  

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