Zoom chats where we are all lined up like the Brady bunch: are they looking at me, themselves or at the other person? Did they hear what I just said? Can they tell I’m feeling like crap? That I’m not coping? Am I faking it well enough? My backdrop looks good but if I moved the camera around they’d see my kitchen is a disaster zone.
In front of the class: is my armour good enough? Am I performing it well? Are they smiling beneath their masks? Can they tell I’m freaking out? That I’m exhausted? That I’m scared for them, their families and my own?
I’m great at performing (thank you, Calder High Drama Teachers circa 96-2003) but then again, so are the majority of teachers. We do it all the time.I mean, no one really needs to see my shit tip of a kitchen, and students don’t need to know about my anxieties to access a good lesson. So, I, like many others amongst us, armour up and fake it until I make it.
Having said that, this becomes both exhausting and unmanageable if we forget to stop and step out of role every now and again. Remember: we don’t have to go method on this. We need to exit stage left every once in a while, or else it becomes all-consuming and unhealthy.
[Confession: I went so method in 2012 that I wasn’t really sure who I was external to the teacher role anymore. I was the Meryl Streep of teaching. Full method, all of the time. No life. No Oscar. Robbed. Story for another time.]
The parts in a day where we can express and lighten the load of teacher role often come from informal connections. The informal connections outside of school, yes, but also those in school, the golden threads that run through our work – the things that keep the runaway train on its tracks.
In our profession we connect. Prior to 2020 it was connection – not virtually, scheduled, from a covid safe distance – but up front, spontaneously, often genuinely and for a lot of our time in the building. Despite all the different personalities, emotions and agendas you have in one educational setting, informal connections are the magical glue that prevent us from simply being knowledge factories.
Imagine life without the: corridor catch ups,banteraway from the students, staff room chats, eye contact or eye rolls in briefing or CPD, face to face meetings, brews being made when you’re close to the edge,being unprofessionally daft behind closed doors, laughing so hard in a colleague’s face that you feel like the 16 year olds that you just taught,and more important than ever right now: pulling each other to one side and really checking in … and the rest.
It is one of the many privileges of working in a school.
And it keeps us sane.
But the good, behind the scenes, stuff is more difficult right now than ever before – my students talk of being bubbled away from their friends, teachers tell of staffrooms being shut, spaces to break out being shut down and how we are slowly replacing the face to face with the virtual and that’s before we even start on the periods of isolation that many of us are starting to experience more frequently.
You are not alone if you are feeling like a coiled spring about to unravel from a reduction in the informality that normally keeps your workplace, and you, ticking over.
So, (half term homework alert!) this half term I’d urge you to reach out, talk to each other and share the mess, the stress, the other angle on the zoom camera: the good bad and the ugly.
Check in with yourself, your friends, your colleagues and family where you simply haven’t had the time, energy, head space or covid safe parameters to do so. Remember you are not going for an Oscar nomination, shed the performance and professional armour this week.
Use your network and the amazing teaching communities there are out there to slowly unwind, share and decompress, rather than unravel. Get behind the sanitised safe areas and into the mess with each other. It’s where the good stuff happens. #connect