Trade-offs

Bloom’s taxonomy states that the highest-level skills are evaluation and synthesis, something that I’ve not always agreed with, but something that I’m increasingly finding to be true when it comes to teaching itself. Life seems to be one long series of trade-offs, a consistent evaluation and re-evaluation of what is truly important and what you have to compromise on. They are certainly the skills that require the most energy and thought at the moment, as I find myself asking questions like:

Do I use the scheme of work written by our 2i/c, even though their lesson objectives generally read along the lines of “to be able to write a newspaper article”, and free up more time for marking, or do I dedicate the time to planning, thus reaping a better outcome – but also one I may not have the time to mark? Do I invest in behaviour management and spend hours in pastoral and parental meetings, mentoring students on their self-esteem, and plan less thoroughly in the hope that my lessons will become easier to teach? What if a member of SLT walks in on an unscheduled learning walk?

And then the more personal. Is it more of a crime to leave my Year 10s essays unmarked, perhaps compromising their GCSE grades, than it is to sacrifice time with my wife?  Should I invest more heavily in my planning so that when I come home I am less exhausted, more able to be fully present, or should I leave teaching at the door at 7pm, and try and reclaim what time belongs to me? Should I take up hobbies for my own sanity and well-being, or should I conserve my energy for school? Is it worth going to the pub for an hour and a half after work on Fridays to build relationships with colleagues, even though I know that will mean I spend my entire Sunday marking and planning if I do?

I am currently finishing off teaching a comparative scheme of work for Macbeth and fifteen unseen poems. It is a monster unit of work, and we have taught it in seven weeks, which is simply not long enough with the students we have. Every lesson is a compromise. If I teach this, I can’t teach that. What do they most need to know? What will most help them with this task? There is no real way to win, only a way to manage the losses, and every lesson I and my colleagues write take a long time for us to plan.

It seems that way with teaching generally. It is no wonder that increasing numbers of teachers are suffering from anxiety and depression – as I have, in fact, myself, although not whilst teaching – because the level of thought required to ‘manage those losses’ is exhausting. I became anxious a few years ago because of a job where I had too little structured responsibility, and so I started trying to solve all the problems I could to justify my paycheck, answering emails at all times, never resting, never giving myself a day off (admittedly, it didn’t help that I owned a Blackberry, and had forgotten the password to disable my email, either). When was I allowed to take time off? When was I allowed to take space for me? What was there left of me that was not my job? It didn’t help that my manager shrugged his shoulders when I asked him those questions.

I recognise those same issues with teaching in a different form – the managers who shrug their shoulders, the endless demands and requirements to compromise, and the all-consuming workload. It is endemic in the profession now, and it suggests that ours is a profession structured and built upon a foundation of anxiety and instability. It is impossible to do this job properly, and so in the least negative way possible, all is compromise. I would tentatively suggest that it might be good, perhaps, if any future education secretaries were to narrow the list of requirements rather than asking teachers to do it all for themselves?

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Trade-offs

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