Why teachers wish their lives away

“Nearly the weekend”

“Almost Friday”

“Holidays coming soon”

In schools, you can’t go five minutes without hearing people saying these words, or something similar. In that sense, I suppose it is no different from the average workplace. What does make it different to other workplaces though, is that kids might hear us. What is the main lesson they will learn from hearing those words?

That people wish their lives away.

It’s such an astounding contradiction. Nobody wants to get old quickly, yet everyone consistently wishes the weekend and the holidays would come sooner. Weird.

One of the main causes of this problem in schools is the cycle of “busyness”. We make our days, weeks, months, terms, semesters, years so frantic, so chock-full of frenetic activity that we are constantly in desperate need of a break. We exhaust ourselves…

Who is to blame? Well…

  • school leadership has to take some of the blame. As soon as we step out of the classroom we unavoidably and instantly forget what it is like to be a classroom teacher, so we pile things on with little empathy or understanding.
  • the “mould” of schools also has to take the blame – they are expected to be these busy and rather frantic places!
  • teachers are also partly to blame, we are not exactly Masters in the Art of Saying No – either to ourselves, to our students or to our colleagues. As a result, we take on more, and more, and more, and more, and more, and more… and then we struggle to put our finger on the exact reason why we are so busy (except, that is, for those who are able to simply point their finger at school leadership and say “its their fault we’re so busy”!)

The funny things is… you know who isn’t to blame?

The kids.

If they could, they would hang out, relax, play, be creative, come up with ideas, start their own little projects, socialize and probably do a massive amount of learning!

Some things to ponder:

  1. Make clearing out your school calendar a regular and rather therapeutic process. If nobody really knows why things are done, chuck ’em. If events don’t go right back to your school’s vision, chuck ’em. If there doesn’t seem to be learning involved, chuck ’em!
  2. Find ways to break the mould, to seek more time rather than seek more activity. Instead of filling time with things, take things away. Instead of valuing “busyness”, value being purposeful. Instead of trying to do too much and ending up not doing it well, do a few things and do them well. Instead of segmenting your days into little portions, spread things out to create bigger portions. Instead of creating huge, ever-evolving to-do lists with your students, sit back and see what they come up and then decide how and what to teach. Just try, and keep on trying. It is the only way to break these stubborn and damaging moulds and traps we consistently find ourselves in.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Keep things simple, don’t try and do everything that comes into your head. Empower your students by letting them know anything is possible, but keep your own agenda for teaching short and simple. If there are things you have to do, do them – it is amazing how much time can be wasted sitting around moaning about the things you have to do instead of just doing them!!! If you believe you shouldn’t have to do them, be part of driving for change – suggest alternatives, do the research, stake a case.

So… there you go. Believe me, I am equally prone to all of these things and equally guilty of falling into all the same traps. I am writing this as much for me as for anyone else.

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9 comments

  1. annadelconte

    This is so true. As well, we have been enabled by technology to do so much more so much better and to communicate with each other any time any day. We expect so much more of ourselves and others as well.

  2. learningtowearthebigshoes

    ” school leadership has to take some of the blame. As soon as we step out of the classroom we unavoidably and instantly forget what it is like to be a classroom teacher, so we pile things on with little empathy or understanding.” Think that’s a bit harsh there Sam, some of us work really hard to protect our classroom teachers, their time and their stress levels. My first priority is our students with a very close second being our teachers. Happy Teachers , Happy school.
    Admittedly there are some admin issues that are unavoidable, but general rule is that Teaching and Learning come first.

    • sherrattsam

      Harsh, but generally true. I know I am guilty of it myself having been out of a full-time classroom role for nearly a year. Those leaders who fight against that trend are to be congratulated, and their methods for protecting classroom teachers, their time and their stress levels need to become a much wider conversation than they are currently, don’t you think?

  3. Marina Gijzen

    If you love what you do (I love teaching and learning with kids and colleagues) time goes by too fast. I don’t wish it away. Sometimes even doing what we love requires a commitment to tedious tasks (e.g. paper work, report cards, budget lines, etc.) that allow us to continue with the exciting bits. Embrace the boring work, for it opens the gates to doing what you love.
    Thanks for the insightful post, Sam.

  4. Desiree Finestone

    Sam, I am sure that as each teacher read your post they were nodding and agreeing! My head is about to drop off my neck from all my nodding! You are. 100% correct- do less and do it well! That is the mantra at our school even though we often just try and do it all. Kids feel our tension to get things done. I have heard myself telling them “we have heaps to get through”. Great provocation for learning!!!!
    Yes, ‘quality is better than quantity’ and let’s try and let go and give the kids the opportunity to create that ‘quality learning’. Well written Sam!

  5. Pingback: Weekly Reflection: Making time for things that really matter | Teaching the Teacher

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