End of Year Reflections

“Years end is neither an end nor a beginning, but a going on with all the wisdom that experience can instill in in us.”
Attributed to Hal Borland

I am mentally drained and physically exhausted. It has been a monumental year, both personally and professionally, with wins and losses on both counts. Last year was my first full year as a teacher and I wrote at the end of the year that I did not feel that I had had a first year such as I was expecting due to being employed in an RFF or non-contact position teaching fundamental digital technology and research skills. I perhaps spoke (wrote?) too soon and received my comeuppance this year in what was perhaps the most challenging year, both personally and professionally, that I have ever faced. To celebrate surviving my first year teaching a class of my own here is a list of lists reflecting on the year that was.

Teachers at start and end of year meme
Retrieved from tinyurl.com/jk7rbzy on 24 June 2015

The Professional Wins

  1. I had some students this year who endured some quite difficult challenges. See them rise up and meet those challenges head on and also achieve above (class) average growth (as measured from start of year versus end of year diagnostic testing in literacy and numeracy) was exciting and made me proud to be a teacher. To sit down with their parents and share in detail their growth and to have the parents be excited with me and to thank me is exciting and humbling and as an early-career teacher= helps fight off imposter syndrome.
  2. I enjoy the writing process and the idea that others not only read my writing but find value from it still boggles my mind a bit. To have been asked to attend and review Education Nation earlier this year on the back of my previous conference reviews was exciting and validated the time I spend on these articles. To then be accepted to do the same for EduTech 2017 and potentially for FutureSchools 2017 is hugely exciting.
  3. At FutureSchools in March this year (review articles here), I spent some time chatting with Paul Hamilton (@PaulHamilton8) who asked if I was presenting. I scoffed at the suggestion, remarking that I am only in my second year of teaching and cannot compare to those I was listening to. Paul commented to me that “it’s not how long you’ve been teaching, it’s what you’re doing that matters.” I took that to heart and dipped my toe in the water by presenting at a Teachmeet, to which I received positive feedback. I was also then asked to present at FlipLearnCon with Jeremy LeCornu and Heather Davis which went well and have had my proposal to speak at FlipCon Sydney in October of next year accepted.
  4. Some of my Year Six boys have very strong personalities and as is expected in the second half of the year they begin to really push boundaries as they try to find themselves and come to grips with everything that is going on. One of my students in particular and I have butted heads a number of times and so for him to come to me privately and thank me for teaching him this year was really appreciated.
  5. Yesterday I sat down with my students and we went around the circle sharing something from the year. I asked them to share either something they learned, something that challenged them, something that surprised them or to thank someone in the room who had helped them with something. It was a nice way to tie off the year positively and there were some thoughtful reflections from the class. I then handed out some small presents I had purchased, each student randomly selected to choose a gift, blindly, from the gift bag. They did not get to keep that gift, however, as I read them The Night Before Christmas gift exchange story, an activity they thought was hilarious.

The Professional Challenges

  1. Our school is having a physical rebuild this year to enable the removal of the dozen demountable buildings and the reclamation of the playground taken by those buildings. This has meant that a significant portion of our school site, which is small anyway, has been taken up by the construction site and lost to student use. The total playspace for our approximately five hundred students is equivalent to approximately three basketball courts and accordingly we have separate breaks for our Kindergarten to year Two students and our Year Three to year Six students.
  2. Developing my teaching practice has been a challenge this year. With everything going on at the school, including a new Principal, multiple retirements, missing out on a number of permanent positions I applied for, as well as managing having a new baby at home and the uncertainty of next year in a new context after having been in a job-share arrangement this year, it has been a challenge to focus on developing my craft and ensuring that my pedagogies, classroom management, and parent relationship skills develop and improve.
  3. Managing my workload is an ongoing struggle that I am grappling with. It has been amplified since the birth of Youngling as I want to be at home when I can in order to spend time with her in these early stages. I do also miss seeing my wife. After four and a half years, we are still in the honeymoon phase, or so it feels. I am in my room between 6:00 and 6:15 each morning and though I try to leave by 4:00, this term it has been a struggle with the pressure of reports, finalising assessment data, preparing for transition to 2017 vis-a-vis packing and culling as well as the incredible amount of work that goes into Stage Three at this end of the year.
  4. There have been some significant challenges that some of my students have faced this year, really difficult emotional and mental challenges that have left me feeling like I am floundering. I am grateful for my classroom neighbour who has been a huge help this year in giving me advice for working through some of those challenges to support my students.

Looking Forward

  1. Next year I am working in a different context, in an open learning space, in a team teach context and in a job-share situation. I am nervous about that as I have not worked in a team teaching situation before, however, I am hopeful that my skills as a teacher will continue to develop as I will be in the same space as a new Assistant Principal, who I am told I will connect with very well. I have note yet met him and so planning and programming for next year has not begun, which is stressing me more than a little as I am going to be teaching an age group I have not taught on a long term basis before.
  2. It is going to be a busy year personally as I will be attending a number of conferences which will involve a lot of work pre- and post- event. I am excited and a little nervous about it all, but it will develop a different area of my career which I am excited about.
  3. Classroom management is a big area that I need to work on as I do not feel that I have many strategies in place to deal with problem behaviour. Continuing to work on my own pedagogy and the clarity of my explanations will assist, but that is not everything.

Personal Realisations

  1. I still am not sure of who I am as a teacher, nor do I have the vision of the kind of teacher I want to be locked down. I have some ideas about the type of teacher I want to be like, but not a single coherent goal. I was shoutier this term than
  2. When things get stressful I resort to bad old habits…junk food, and grain-based beverages and when there is a lot of work to do and things get busy, the physical health goes by the wayside and I stop training, my sleep patterns are destroyed and this all has some fairly obvious impacts. I need to work on strategies to mitigate the stress and make sure that I continue to train and continue to eat healthily and continue to get enough sleep.
  3. I can actually teach. I do feel sometimes like I have no idea what I am doing and that I am failing my students, however, looking at data and having conversations with students, as well as the hand-written notes that I am receiving from some students this week show me that I am a fairly decent teacher.
  4. I need a solid mentor. I have two people in the school whom I go to to get advice and feedback, to ask questions, to vent to and bounce ideas off, and those two people are hugely important to me. Those two, along with my wife, got me through this year.

I have a lot to learn and I am realising just how much I have to learn and wondering how much I do not know that I need to learn. It is a rather scary and terrifying thing, to feel like you are fumbling in the dark all year, realise you survived and actually did a decent job and then recognise just how much there still is to discover and develop in your teaching.

Thank you to my readers for supporting me this year. I look at the hit numbers and it is nice to know that people are reading, and being told by a few people that they have found my writing useful and valuable is a humbling (and mind-boggling) thing. I began writing for my own reflection and published only as a way of being held accountable in my own mind for continuing to reflect and to share my experiences. I will continue to publish FTPL videos over the break, but I do not expect that I will publish anything else.

I hope that the summer break is relaxing, enjoyable and safe for you and yours and I will see you again in the new year.

Merry Christmas.

Brendan.

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