Taking time to be my best teacher

Hawkesdale P-12 College Teacher Florence Roney looks back on the first two years of teaching, sharing her experiences and challenges as she returns to a new school year.

Having completed two years in the classroom, Florence Roney is ready to start 2019. Looking back on her time as a recent graduate and taking stock of the lessons she's learned, Florence shares how she copes when school gets overwhelming and finds fulfilment in her time as an educator at Hawkesdale P-12 College.

Teaching can be overwhelming, so take time to step away from school

'I think a big, big challenge for me over the last two years was understanding the emotional labour that comes from teaching, and not realising just how taxing it can be,' Florence explains.

'And so the first thing I wish I knew when I started was: you can't help anyone if you're cup isn't full, and if you're running on empty, you can't help anyone.

'It's so important to take the time to go home, eat well, and be someone outside of your job. You can be more than a title, you have to have your own interests, your own hobbies; so that you can then bring those experiences back to inspire you to teach.

'If you need to take a day off because you're sick, take a day off. School won't fall apart because you're not there to teach them that lesson, if those essays don't get marked tonight – go to bed mate!'

'If you're constantly processing new stuff, you don't give yourself the time to process and to come up with ideas.'

 'So, we need to give ourselves a chance for our brains to not have input from the creations of other brains. I can't tell you how many times swimming 20 laps at the pool I'll come up with three major epiphanies for the week.'

Zoom out frequently and get a fresh perspective

'It's so tempting, particularly when you start, to be consumed by the minute-to-minute, and wonder how you are going to fill a 50 minute lesson.'

'Take a minute to zoom out, to think: "what actually are they learning at the moment, what is the purpose of this unit, what are the key questions or the key skills that they're going to take away from it that are going to be important in their lives."'

'The stress will shrink with perspective, and the answers will be there.'

'The same goes for teaching practices or for resources, asking yourself: "how does this fit in to the bigger picture, what gains are we going to be able to get through using this new thing."'

'Slowing down and taking the time to be kind to yourself will give you the perspective you need to succeed.'

Your colleagues are having all the same feelings you are and sharing is a way for you to be a better teacher

'There is a tendency to isolate yourself when things are getting overwhelming.'

'Particularly, being an English teacher you get access to students' inner worlds – through their creative writing especially – and that can be absolutely wonderful; you get to understand them a bit better, you get to understand what they're interested in, their passions; but you can also come to learn things about their past, their experiences, that can be quite traumatic.'

'And so it's important to have the people – to have other teachers around you – to be able to connect with and share with them. Because without that sense of camaraderie, it can be a really lonely job.'

'Talking to people who get it, people who've had similar experiences – it sounds super obvious but but it's so tempting to fall into traps for yourself.'

'It could be recess, and you know you really need to find the perfect YouTube video for whatever class you're doing next. Don't do that, the YouTube video doesn't matter that much. Go and talk to your colleagues, go and have a cuppa in the staff room.

'Because if you're going to work every minute of the day because – number one, you'll burn out really quickly – but you won't have that sense of connection and partnership with your team which is really nourishing for when things get too much.'

'Your colleagues and mentors are there to say: "it's alright. You're not failing at this, you just need to maybe tweak this or tweak that."

Don't be critical of yourself and your practice, celebrate what you've learned

'Having a 'growth mindset' can seem like such a buzzword, because it's really easy to trot it out for the kids, the power of 'yet', saying, "you're not there, yet! But you will be soon."

'But then as teachers we don't apply that to ourselves. I certainly in the first year, was constantly terrified of not being good enough, constantly judging myself incredibly harshly, and being incredibly self-critical, and there's just no benefit to that at all.'

'There's no point comparing yourself to other people, you need to compare yourself to only yourself, and look at the growth have made, because you will have made incredible growth since yesterday, since last year, since you started teaching.'

'And don't just share the positive things that are happening, we don't casually share the negatives that frequently, and that's why that whole idea of 'finding your people' at school is important.'

'Because the colleagues you feel comfortable sharing the draining moments and the hard parts of teaching, are the ones who are going to help you learn the most about your teaching.'

School is unpredictable and nothing can help you plan for that

'One of the things that I learned pretty quickly was that you just have to roll with the punches. Because managing time and planning is always the hardest part of any job.'

'Inevitably, you're going to have a week's worth of classes planned, and then all of a sudden half of the kids aren't going to be there because they're going away to some excursion or a sporting event or whatever, and you have to completely rewrite those plans.'

'And even though you've done all this work, don't throw it out or never look at it again – maybe it'll be useful next time!'

You're not just teaching, you're giving students a model for how to be an adult

'You're teaching your kids more than your subject. You're giving them a model of how to be an adult.'

'So it's important to think about – what sort of adult are you modelling for them? And being conscious of the energy that you bring to a room. Because it will most likely be mirrored back at you'

'I was watching a video of myself teaching from the end of my first year, and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable watching it, because it was thinking: "oh god, slow down lady!"

'And I saw that same frazzled energy in the kids too throughout the lesson.'

'So you want to be mindful of how you bring yourself into that class, and the sort of adult you're being for them. And it can be hard – everyone's frazzled sometimes, and I'm definitely frazzled quite regularly – but just being conscious of where you are before you start that lesson.'

'Something I did at the end of last year was starting every class with a short meditation, and by the end the kids loved it, because it was just a chance to slow down in a very busy day.'

'Sometimes it was just thirty seconds, sometimes it was a couple of minutes, never any more than that. And, sometimes it all goes terribly and they're still all over the place. But it was in general it was a really nice way to bring the kind of tone and energy that I wanted to be emanating in the classroom and have the students learn from.'