Wednesday 24 December 2014

Annus Horribilis, Annus Mirabilis

Although December is less than halfway through the academic year, our cultural reference points draw us still to reminisce at the end of the calendar year and to make resolutions for the next one. Before teaching, my husband and I used to send out annual newsletters talking about all the wonderful things we had done that year. As it is, the wonderful things are increasingly the awesome achievements of my students, which fill my heart with joy but which don't lend themselves very easily to being read about by relatives at the breakfast table. So that tradition has rather died, but I have a need to do some kind of stock-taking.

2014 was split down the middle. Up to August I remained at the college I had worked at for five years. The academic year 2013-2014 was the worst of my life, with no exceptions. We had an Ofsted inspection in the spring term, the outcome of which, and the decisions then made in our department, broke my heart. Worst of all, it finally impacted on my teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I had been able to avoid stress, bureaucracy and bullying affecting the quality of my teaching, but some of my students could tell I wasn't on top of my game. I still performed very well - my graded observation (oh yes, FE still has them...) was good, I successfully got the department through the BTEC external verification and HND external examination for the second year running, and my students got the best pass rate in AS and A2. But I was losing the spark, and I was dangerously close to burnout. My husband and I sometimes wondered if we were just being over-sensitive, but everyone we spoke to in the education field responded with a variation on "Damn, that's terrible."

So it was time to move on. I probably should have moved on a year earlier, but the 2012-2013 year was so awesome that I was lulled into a false sense of security. I interviewed for a job in July and was offered it the same day (which is actually pretty unusual for FE, though not schools). It is pure A Level teaching and a tutor group. I work in a department where people are genuinely friends, where it is always possible to find someone willing to help, and where my managers encourage us to minimise our workloads and leave the office promptly. There is a lot less paperwork, and a lot more time for teaching. I have survived my first term at the new college, and have thrived. I have amazing students, brilliant colleagues and nurturing managers. Some of the edited highlights:
  • My manager offered to buy me a skeleton for my classroom (duly bought and named Silent Bob), and agreed to buy me a microscope with USB camera, which is used nearly daily.
  • My classroom is so welcoming that, even though it's the coldest room in the department, my students still like hanging out there between classes.
  • Every time my manager walks past my classroom I seem to be talking about something utterly random and possibly inappropriate to the lesson (e.g. David Nutt and "Nuttsack", colorectal cancer, how a rolled Ammophila leaf resembles a roach), and because she teaches biology too, she laughs - she gets it.
  • During a game of biology-themed Pictionary, one group of students got the word "turgid" in under two seconds because their artist drew a penis.
  • My efforts to educate my students on intersectionality are starting to pay off, even if they're not quite there - on a hexagons revision table I saw the Bundle of His renamed to the "Bundle of Sexism".
I have no regrets about changing jobs. I earn more for having less responsibility, and I am able to devote the bulk of my time to my students and their learning. This time last year I was broken, and wondering what on Earth I could do if I didn't teach. But there is life after teaching in an awful, awful college. It just took me a while to feel alive again.

Season's greetings to all, and a happy new year.
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