2020/2021: The year of growth

The end has come. The year that felt like it was never going to end has arrived. Now, it is time to rest, recuperate and relax ahead of next year where I start my new position as Subject Lead in History. But, before that, it is time to take stock, reflect and recount on what has been a year to remember (or forget very quickly).

Growth journey

2020/21 has had its highest of highs and it lowest of lows for me. I’ve cried, I’ve shouted, I’ve all but given up but then I have cheered when the light bulb moment happens, when I saw growth in my teaching or I overcome obstacles that no longer blocked my way. It was perseverance which has kept me going.

In a thank you to wrap up the end of the year, my Assistant Principal, who I have worked closely with within the year 8 pastoral team said to me “This is your growth year”. And that pretty much sums up my year in a nutshell.

It all started badly

At the beginning of the year, I suffered for a term with mental health issues (stress and anxiety). The start of term was chaotic, difficult to transition back into and I also witnessed on the first day back, on my way home a knife attack where I came within inches of the knife myself. It was a rocky start and set me up for a tumultuous term.

Over the course of the term, I all but lost my faith in myself as a new teacher and couldn’t handle the added pressures of being a teacher in a COVID-secure setting. I felt everything was getting to me, the smallest of things would set me off and I would get angry. Nothing made sense in my head. Sadly, it did get to a point where I was willing to quit responsibilities and CPD courses I was being offered for the sheer anxiety of the workload I had (I was also teaching three subjects within my school – the only classroom teacher to be doing so).

When I came within in days of breaking point, I sought out talking therapy in an informal setting to help guide me. I had to really tackle some inner demons that I had let fester for years that had come to the forefront due to a decline in my mental health during Lockdown 1.0. I began to realise I had to be more in tune with myself and who I was as a person.

Lockdown 2.0 – forward or reverse?

Then, January lockdown happened and the school closed again to all students, bar key worker and vulnerable students. Whilst Lockdown 1.0 was beyond difficult, Lockdown 2.0 was the opposite. I had a choice to make – a fork in the road per se: I either let it get to me or I move forward. I don’t let the situation get to me. I took the latter road.

And, what happened was I felt like I was hitting my stride. I had overcome the demons and the battles of the Autumn Term and was thriving being in every day with key worker students and working from school, rather than from home.

During this time, I was able to take unofficial ownership of key worker students in KS3, greeting them every day, settling them in to their online lessons, whilst I also taught my online lessons and kept in regular contact with my tutees working from home. There was a gear change. I felt a growing was happening.

It’s just one thing after another these days

Then we came back to school, and not only was it a transition into school life as it was in the Autumn – which I worried would set me back. I continued to grow – with the odd hiccup and blip here and there. I was given extra responsibilities, including a DP duty (roaming duty for some) and was focusing more on History than I felt I had been before – mainly around broadening our curriculum. The DP duty has been illuminating, seeing it from both sides of the system has been fascinating but also it has allowed me to develop relationships with students I may not have had the chance to, especially some of the more difficult students. There were one or two at the beginning of me doing the duty that would have ignored me out right but now call my name in the corridor, come up to me to chat and will do as I say. It has also allowed me the chance to re-think how I deal with students in the classroom more effectively, before getting to the position of calling for someone to remove them from the classroom.

These additional responsibilities, though challenging, allowed me to hone skills and develop further as a practitioner. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing – our school, and wider Federation, was victim to a cyber attack, which resulted in us going back to old school teaching with whiteboards and pen. Though it was a head-wrecker situation, it was a chance to develop and refresh my skills as a teacher especially the planning of my lessons. I really learned that PowerPoint is 100% over-rated – though, I wouldn’t get rid of it completely.

Once Easter was over and done with, we were back at it was all TAGs, TAGs, TAGs. And, boooy, was that a challenging time for everyone. Keeping up with my normal teaching workload, my new responsibilities and the old in my role as More Able Coordinator, and ultimately, getting my Year 11 class the GCSE grades they deserved. It was a period I don’t wish to ever go through, but again, despite the frustration and the stress, it was a learning curve where we were able to really learn more and develop more as a team when it came to GCSE marking. Don’t get me wrong, I hated it but I enjoyed it, too.

Upward ticking

Amongst all of this, I was offered the position of Subject Lead for History, which set the ball rolling of what my responsibilities would look like in September. An exciting opportunity, but one that I dreaded (dread still) as it will be a step up in terms of my development as not only a classroom teacher but a leader within the school also. The chance to talk and think more about History with my Head of Department has been exciting and the flurry of ideas that flit around in my head are becoming more of reality and I can’t wait to relish the chance to see them come to fruition.

Pause and recalibrate

And then the big C-19 hit me hard weeks out from the end of the academic year. And it made me stop and think, to recalibrate, about what I have done this year and the toll it has taken on me.

It made me realise, that though I love my job and I adore being in the teaching profession, I have to put me first. Completely and utterly. Though my responsibilities and workload are going to dramatically increase next year, it is essential to keep one eye on me, my wellbeing and my health. Whilst these are things I have already started to do – moving to a majority plant-based diet and signing up with a PT to kick myself back into gear – I do want to take it to the next level and really focus on my fitness and health.

Though the two weeks of battling Covid were tough, and sometimes quite scary, I was happy to get back to work. On reflection, may be it was a bit too soon but from all the learning I had done about myself, I was able to understand that mentally it was the right thing to do and instead of being my typical stubborn self, I asked for help.

I reached out, I recognised I couldn’t do everything as I had done before and had to take time for me and make sure I had the adaptions in place for that. Luckily, my school were incredible about it – too much, as even after I had mended and recovered more, I was and have been checked up on and asked “should you really be doing that?” when carting over trolley loads of stuff to my new classroom.

But the highlight of it all, was on my return, I was awarded my Jack Petchy Outstanding Leader Award after being nominated by staff and students at my school. I had known about it for a while, but had honestly forgotten about it and coming back on my first day after COVID and being given the framed certificate and medallion was a reminder that despite all the stress, the challenges, the suffering, it wasn’t all bad. Sometimes it was good and it was important to keep an eye on the good, rather than fixate on the negative.

Where’s this leave me now?

For someone coming up to my 30th birthday later in the year, you’d think I’d have the work/life balance down. But, that’s not the case. Previous careers have hardly had that work-life balance and I’ve taken that with me into the teaching profession. I have spouted about the importance of wellbeing, of work-life balance, of teacher welfare in the past, but I think I am finally starting to get it. If I leave work earlier than 5pm – it’s not a bad thing. If I don’t respond to an email straight away – it’s not a bad thing. If I stop thinking about work – it’s not a bad thing. And, you know what, its an empowering thing also.

The rollercoaster of 2020/21 has been a challenge – one I never thought would challenge me as much as it has done (and I’ve had some challenging experiences in my working life so far). But, ultimately, it has led to a growth in myself – not just one in terms of my teaching but also in terms of personal life. I’m my #1 priority. If I am not, I can’t give my all to the students I turn up each morning to teach. I’m useless to them, otherwise.

Next year will be a year where I, hopefully, keep putting me first, making sure I don’t let things get to me (big or small) and stop seeing challenges as an end of the road but a hurdle that needs to be neatly popped over. It reminds me that, yes, there are stresses in our lives but most of the stress comes from the way we react to those moments. This is key for me and how I need to work smarter for myself.

Hear’s to 2021/22 being a year of a lot less stress, and a lot more growth!

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