As someone who plans their days down to the minute at least a week in advance, let me just preface by stating that I am not a terribly ‘go with the flow’ type person. However, training to teach during a pandemic has meant that I have had to adapt to become someone who does enjoy the flow – both literally and metaphorically (if you include the lateral flow testing).
I left my main school placement at Christmas knowing that I would be spending 6 weeks away from the colleagues and students that I had become so attached to. However, what I had not planned for, was the inability to teach anyone face to face for 10 weeks. Thank you, lockdown, 3.0. So, if I have learnt anything from my training year it is that nothing goes exactly the way you envision it. In fact, my mam once said to me that when you make a plan, God laughs. Well, if that is true, then I bet God is looking down at my carefully scheduled trainee teacher diary in hysterics right now.
I can’t say that everything went against my plans between December and my return to my main placement in March; I was lucky enough to apply for and be successful in securing my first teaching job! With such a positive experience during the interview process I was hoping to be returning to my main school placement with more confidence that I was on the right track. Yet with so much time to think about what it will be like to be back in the classroom, I had both romanticised and antagonised over the return to ‘normality’.
I missed the face-to-face moments I had loved so much. There is nothing quite like the buzz in a classroom when a student’s curiosity is peaked, and they feel that they can achieve something more than when they entered the classroom. Also, I can’t lie, my impatient self was definitely ready to do away with the 30 second delay between questions and responses. Despite this desire to be back, after working remotely for so long, I worried that I would somehow have forgotten how to teach and that all of the progress I had made would be gone as soon as I entered the school walls again. Some may find comfort in the phrase: teaching is like driving a car, once you’ve learnt the skill you never forget it. However, based upon my current driving abilities, I hope that my teaching is better.
When I initially arrived back, I tried tirelessly to plan for every possibility upon the student’s return. I had this vision that the students would return back as the model pupils and that I should be their model teacher. However, almost instantly within this half term I was reminded that it is those unplanned and imperfect moments that mean the most. In my first week back, I was teaching about the relevance of the story of Abraham. It was coming close to the end of the lesson and, whilst internally I was desperate to move on to the plenary that I had spent 30 minutes planning, a Y7 student (too eagerly to reject) raised their hand. Half expecting him to ask to go to the toilet (context: we were 5 minutes from the end of the school day) I reluctantly nodded for him to continue and was both taken aback and inspired by what he said. He said that the story of Abraham teaches us to not let fear get in the way of what you love. It was a response I had not planned for, but which spoke so profoundly to my own worries over this half term. The best part was that it didn’t come as a result of me scaffolding a question perfectly or modelling to him exactly what I expected, but as a result of a genuine spark of curiosity and insight. In that moment, I learnt more from this pupil than I could possibly have taught them in 60 minutes. It reminded me that I shouldn’t be scared of messing up or making mistakes because then I am just letting my fear of not being perfect get in the way of doing what I love; inspiring students to make real and meaningful connections both inside and outside of the classroom. And in case anyone needed reminding after this year, the world is definitely not perfect and so it’s okay if we aren’t either.
In this moment, I realised that teaching requires the letting go of this concept of the ‘perfect student’ or the ‘perfect teacher’. There are good days and there are most definitely bad days and there are so many in between. We are working with and as people, not robots. So, if there is one thing that I have learnt so far this term, it is to give yourself time to enjoy the journey. Throw away the ideas of perfection or the need to endlessly over plan because, otherwise, we lose the magic of the small moments. We lose the words of encouragement from a colleague, the smiles from a student (although the masks don’t help) and we lose the beauty that is found amongst imperfection.
Miss Amber Ainsley- RE Trainee Teacher