End-of-Term Teacher Tired.

An image of a woman with her head on her computer keyboard  as though she has fallen asleep there.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

In response to requests from several quarters to explore the ways in which the added stresses of online and remote learning, social restrictions, working from home and everything else that has come with COVID-19 have affected teachers this year, I conducted a survey.

Open to all teachers worldwide, I distributed the survey both on social media and via professional networks.

I asked teachers to respond honestly to nine questions, which I formulated based on comments and social media posts by teachers. To remove any possible disincentive for honesty, participation in this survey was completely voluntary and anonymous.

Thus far, there is only a relatively small number of respondents , and my little survey is by no means scientific research. Still, the results thus far bear out my own experience and observations, and what I have heard others saying: as resilient and committed as we might be, it has been a really rough year that has left teachers exhausted and, at times, quite discouraged.

The survey is still open for any teachers wishing to respond.

Thus far:

  • 79% of respondents say they have been much more stressed and tired than previously
  • 21% reported no change in their levels of stress and tiredness.
  • There does not appear to be any correlation between how tired and stressed people are and the number of years of experience they have as a teacher.
  • 50% of respondents said their stress was created by their own expectations of themselves
  • 36% said that other people’s expectations of them as a teacher created their stress
  • 14% reported that their stress came from the media’s continual reporting of COVID-19 related news and issues.
  • 64% of people said that the tiredness experienced was longer term than usual, while 36% that it was about the same.
  • 29% said they had consumed more alcohol in 2020 than in previous years
  • 71% said their alcohol consumption was about the same as in previous years.
  • 36% of people also said they had increased their caffeine intake
  • 36% said that their caffeine intake had not changed.
  • It did seem that there was a correlation between people who had increased alcohol consumption and increased caffeine consumption with
  • The respondents’ responses regarding nutrition, though, was interesting.
  • Only 28% said their eating patterns had not changed
  • 7% said they had paid more attention to good nutrition
  • 65% said they had paid less attention to good nutrition.
  • 79% said they wanted to continue their career as a teacher.
  • 14% said they would only keep on teaching because they felt they had no choice.
  • Sadly, 7% said that the stress of the year had brought an end to their teaching career.
  • 14% of respondents said they had sought medical advice for issues related to the stress of teaching this year.
  • None had sought counselling.

This final statistic is, to me, evidence of our collective resilience and commitment: we’re stressed and we’re tired, but we keep on going.

I do wonder, though, if we as a profession need to be more proactive in seeking help and support when we are experiencing increased levels of stress and tiredness, and possibly not taking such great care of ourselves at the same time.

The key to my own determination to keep going this year has been that I wasn’t actually doing it for me– I was doing it for the kids. I suspect that most of us feel the same way. It’s not just me, and not just my colleagues, having a hard year. It’s everyone. Every family, every community, every workplace, every career, every school, every student… you get the idea.

If I can model resilience, positive attitude and commitment to making the best of a tough situation, that’s exactly what I’m going to do my best to achieve.

I hope my students are encouraged by my commitment to them. I hope they learn from my example. And boy oh boy, do I hope their parents are watching, because I want them to love this school and to understand how much we value them and their children.

I have been enormously encouraged by a my colleagues, and some have said that I have been an encouragement to them. The members of my faculty office have been a lifeline for me as we laughed, cried, and collaborated together throughout the experience of teaching remotely for two terms of this most challenging year. The entire staff of my school committed from the outset to making the whole deal of working from home and teaching online something that was achievable, coordinated and professionally delivered. “That will do” was never going to be acceptable.

At the end of every school term, I comment that the break is well-deserved. That has never been more true than at this end of 2020.

As the final term of 2020 winds down to a close and teachers (and students!) everywhere look forward to the Christmas break, I truly hope we are all able to stop working long enough to get some much needed rest and downtime.

Merry Christmas, Teachers. You’ve earned it.

Signing The Uluru Statement Of The Heart
#UluruStatement #UluruStatementOfTheHeart #blogpost

End-of-Term Teacher Tired.
#TeacherLife #TeacherTwitter #survey

Back in the Classroom: Putting My Teacher Mask On

Thoughts on the first day of face to face teaching after months of lockdown and teaching online.

Image by HaticeEROL on Pixabay

After nine weeks of only seeing my students in little squares on my computer screen, a two week term break, and a final week of online classes, we resumed face to face lessons today. Things were a little bit different than they used to be, though. 

The desks were distanced from one another as practically as they could be. The bottle of sanitiser at the front of the room had been joined by another and, this time around, the students didn’t need reminding to use it. Most obviously, though, we were all wearing masks. 

We used to talk about “putting our teacher hat on” when we walked into the classroom, and taking it off again at the end of the day. I guess now it’s our teacher masks we have to consciously think about wearing, as this seems to be the new normal— in Victorian schools, at least— for the foreseeable future. 

The wearing of masks is something disliked by many students and staff alike. Personally, I don’t mind wearing one, and I am happy to not be breathing in whatever germs are floating around the room. Most of my students seemed to manage without any difficulty, but getting some of them to wear their masks properly and not keep touching them proved to be yet another new classroom challenge.

Still, there were some good things going on. 

The tone and humour in my classrooms was generally positive. One kid who doesn’t even like me much told me it was good to see me. I laughed and told him to give it time, and everyone laughed at that because we all knew it wouldn’t last.

Marking the class roll was significantly easier and quicker than online: once again, I could see at a glance who wasn’t there. Marking the roll in online classes was something I always found arduous. Today it took two seconds. 

I could see right away who wasn’t doing what they should be, and I could move around behind them and see their screens. There is no more effective way to make someone work than to be able to see their screen. 

At the same time, I could instantly encourage those who were working hard amd staying on task. It’s so much easier to be positive when you can be both natural and proactive about it. The added bonus is that when you praise and encourage one student for doing a good job or making a great effort, it tends to make those listening more inclined to want to do better and get some praise, too. 

Those few kids who have avoided doing much at all since we returned to online schooling finally had to do some work. Those who did not engage in online lessons found themselves no longer able to just sign in and zone out or leave the room. And because I was wearing a mask, they couldn’t see my wry grin as I watched them working. 

I was able to move around the room and look over the shoulders of my students. Delivering instant feedback and reminders about spelling, punctuation and paragraphs is significantly easier than trying to give that kind of advice online.

All things considered, while the day was not without a few issues and challenges, it’s fair to say that the positives outweighed the negatives. It’s hard not to be satisfied with that. 

The Latest, Perhaps Greatest, Swear Word

Last week I asked my students to do something creative. 

 Today, Student A  wasn’t very impressed with the outcome of their efforts. “I tried, but it’s turned out a bit 2020.” 

“It’s a bit what?” I asked. 

“2020.” 

Obviously, I was expected to understand. 

“Mine’s pretty 2020 too, to be honest,”  Student B admitted. 

I looked at their faces on my screen. They were being serious. 

“So…” I asked, “Are we using that as a swear word now?” 

They’re right. It actually works.

“More meaningful than swearing, Miss,” said Student B.

The rest of the class concurred. 

“And we can’t even get in trouble for saying it.” Student A grinned, clearly rather pleased with that reality. 

I smiled, told them their work was way better than 2020, and moved the lesson on. 

I don’t know if they just started doing that by themselves or picked it up from somewhere else, but at least they’re finding some practical use for 2020. I may just follow suit. 

Is English A Salad?

Today’s English class was the most fun I have had in a long time. I wanted to exercise the kids’ minds and get them thinking laterally. I also wanted them to enjoy it. A lesson with a difference seemed to me a great way to start our final week of term and inject some interest into our online classroom.

I began by presenting my students with the contention that a box of chocolates is a salad.

This was not a popular suggestion. 

“No it’s not!” one student said… quite defensively, I might add. “Salad is salad. Chocolate is chocolate. You can’t ruin chocolate like that!”

But, I asked, what is a salad if it’s not simply a mixture of vegetables? Chocolate comes from beans… and if you add nuts, or fruit, or herbs like peppermint, then it’s definitely a salad.

We spent quite some time redefining food, presenting the most persuasive arguments we could think of, and debating the nature of reality. 

Every time it sounded like the students might be in danger of reaching a consensus, I made another suggestion. 

Ice cream, on its own, may just be ice cream – but the minute you put it in a cone, or add fruit or chocolate, it’s a salad. 
Coffee, like chocolate, is made from beans. It’s a salad.

“No!” was the response. “Coffee is hot – it can’t be a salad.”

So then I really twisted it up.

Is coffee soup?
Is cereal soup? Or is it a salad with too much dressing?
According to one student, and I quote, “Soup is not what soup is.”

Is the English language a metaphorical salad? Because it’s a mixture of a whole bunch of languages, right? The flavours are all mixed, but the parts are still recognisable if you know what you’re looking at.

Is the English language a sticky weed? Or velcro? Because you know, it takes something from every other language it swipes past. Maybe it’s double sided tape… 

I am not ashamed to say that I really had fun. Despite their groans and protestations, I think they did, too. 

Perhaps the most satisfying moments, though, were two comments made by different students: 

“You’ve just entirely ruined the English language.”

and

“These have been the most problematic fifteen minutes of my life.”

What started out as a brain tease turned into a really interesting discussion about how we use language and define things in our own ways, and often assume that everyone else understands what we’re talking about, and that everyone else agrees with us.

It’s safe to say most of them enjoyed it… but it’s also safe to say that I enjoyed it more. 

Having Dropped — And Temporarily Lost — The Ball

I’ve been absent.

It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing.
I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.

The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.

I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.

I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.

Project One: reinventing my career
Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring.
Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives.
Verdict: Aced it.

Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care.
Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments.
Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing.
Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.

It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.

So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.

I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.

I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.

Stay tuned, folks. I’m not dead yet.

Observations From Teaching From Home — In Front Of a Camera

Teaching in front of a camera has given me— and, I’m sure, every other teacher out there — a unique insight into what our students see when we talk and interact with them. 

I have made some honest observations about myself during this time.

I really do have RBF. Sorry, kids. I’m not annoyed or angry, that’s just how my face looks. 

When my eyes are tired, I tend to open them really wide after blinking. It tends to makes me look somewhat perpetually surprised. Prior to lockdown learning, I had no idea I did this.

At first, I touched my face a lot without thinking about it. Now? Not so much. 

My coffee cups look even more enormous on camera than they actually are. 

The little smiles I give to try to connect with my students, and to encourage and motivate them, can sometimes look a bit deranged. 

My eyebrows are perhaps my most expressive feature. 

My hair does, in fact, look really cool most of the time. 

Despite all those things, my students keep on showing up to class, working hard, getting things done and putting a smile on my face. They regularly brighten every day I spend with them. They’re a pretty awesome bunch.

There are a few other things I have observed.

Bad hair days and/or desperate need for a cut and colour are easily fixed with a nice beanie/touque/knitted hat.
The best way to find beanies/touques/knitted hats nice enough to wear for work is to have friends who knit or crochet. 
Also, a faux fur pom pom on a hat is far more satisfying than I ever realised. 

Working from home has its benefits, but it is definitely not less work. 

Looking at a screen for sustained periods of time is mentally and visually exhausting. I’ve started asking my students what sorts of trees are in their gardens, what they can see from their windows, and what’s happening outside their houses, just to make them look away from the screens every now and then. 
I’m also spending a lot less time on screen outside of class. There is nothing like losing yourself in a book, but when your eyes are tired, listening to great audiobooks and podcasts while staring into the distance is an enormously underrated and enjoyable sanity saver. 

Overall, things have worked fairly well for me.

On the Sunday evening before my final week of 100% remote teaching from home, I can honestly say that I can look forward to my classes this week with confidence.

I am also looking forward to seeing some of my classes and colleagues when we begging to return to school on June 1st. It will be great to get into a physical classroom again… although I wonder if that might feel a little weird now, too?

Observations from #TeachingFromHome In Front Of A Camera #TeacherLife #TeacherConfessions #TeachingOnline #blogpost

When Marking Exams Is Enjoyable.

These students prove that exams can be positive learning experiences.

Am I supposed to enjoy marking exams quite so much?

These kids are awesome!

Preparation: Who Needs It?

There’s always at least one in every group who doesn’t follow instructions.

Last Friday, I gave my History class an essay question half a week in advance of their assessment task.

They were to prepare a plan and notes to use while writing the essay in class this week. I advised them that they could use their handwritten notes and their textbook while writing, but they were not allowed the use of any devices. All the information about the task was given to them in writing as well as my explaining everything in class.

I expected that today, when the students came to class, they would be ready to start. Happily for me, most were.

And then, because nothing ever goes smoothly, this happened:

Student A: “Can we type this?”

Me: No. No devices.

Student B: “My notes are at home. Can I use my iPad?”

Me: “No. No devices.”

Student C: “Can you write the question on the board please?”

Me: “I gave you the question on Friday.”

Student C: Yeah but I didn’t write it down.

Me: That makes me happy.
Bemused, I wrote the question on the board.

Student B: “What page is it in the textbook?”

Me: “Do you mean the pages you were supposed to read and study last week?”

Student B: “Yeah.”

Me: Speechless, I allow The Eyebrow to speak for me.

All the kids except two commenced writing. Students B and D, though? They’re still reading the textbook.

Two-sday Surprises.

Sometimes, a small surprise can mean a whole lot more than its face value might suggest.

This morning didn’t seem any different than most when I left the house to head to work, but it proved to hold two lovely surprises.

The first surprise came in the form of a shop assistant who remembered me as her teacher from a number of years ago, and happily recalled the things she had studied and learned with me. An adult now, and with a different hair colour, I had not recognised her, but she knew me straight away.

It was nice to hear that she thought the books we read and the lessons we drew from them were valuable, and that history classes were interesting. It was wonderful to see that she had grown up into a confident, friendly and polite young woman with a lovely personality.

Of all the fond memories she recalled, though, one in particular had a profound effect on me: “You were the one teacher I ever had who showed me that it was okay to just be me, because that’s who I was meant to be. It’s something I have never forgotten.”

Wow! What a privilege to hear a former student say those words. I have struggled for many years with self acceptance, and as a teen I knew full well the agony of not fitting in with a particular crowd. Even then, I had the strength of will to resist peer pressure and not buy into many of the pitfalls that offered themselves to me at bargain prices and opportune moments. But that didn’t mean I was free of the wish to be someone or somewhere else – a desire that has recurred several times since.

Yet, somehow along the way, I managed to communicate something valuable about self acceptance to at least one teen in a similar situation.

I wonder if that knowledge would appease or satisfy those who think I push too many boundaries. Being part of a fairly conservative school, church and family, I take both pleasure and pride in not exactly looking conservative. I don’t intentionally break the rules, but I don’t mind testing their limits. My opinions often differ, and my willingness to assert them can make others uncomfortable. I don’t see that as a problem, though. There is merit in challenging people to see different perspectives and to accept differences. I’d like to think that people might become so used to my differences that I will need to think of something new to do to keep them on their toes.

My second surprise was a note on my desk from ex-students who had a reunion on Saturday night. I attended the reunion: it was a lovely evening of catching up and reminiscing. I didn’t realise, though, that they had left me a love letter on their tour of the school. How gorgeous that they still know how to make their English teacher happy and proud.

The Perils of Being a Teacher #23

Today I’ve been given a Year 8 Maths class to cover for a teacher who is away. 

Maths. Seriously? 

I struggled with Year 8 Maths when I was in Year 8. I have no hope of appearing to master it now, no matter how good an actress or improviser I may be. 

So I advised the class: “I expect you to work quietly and stay focused on your work. If you need help, I strongly advise asking one of your classmates, because I am not going to be of any help to you.”

One boy raised his hand and asked incredulously, “Are you saying you can’t do Year 8 Maths?”

“What I’m saying,” I replied, “Is that my career as a teacher should be an encouragement to anyone who struggles in one area or another. You can be successful, even if something like Maths defies you.”

The strugglers in the class smiled, and everyone settled down to their work. They seem to know what they’re doing. 

Phew. Dodged a bullet there.