I have a persisting nagging feeling that I’m misusing my twenties. I mean, I’m hardly pissing the years away, since teaching kids is a largely thankless and utterly philanthropic endeavour. But you need a strong stomach and even stronger convictions about why you’re doing it. I suspect that my twenties should be more indulgent, more selfish, and I predict instead that philanthropy will probably make my post 30 era more meaningful. Give me ten years out of the job, and then let’s see where I’m at.
I don’t want to be a great big downer, though. Let me be clear that the kids themselves are not always what makes the job nauseating sometimes. Individually I can cope with almost any kid, and I’ve come across some tough nuts. I used to spend the hours in my old office job watching the clock, counting the minutes and feeling guilty every time I turned aside to a colleague for a giggle. Now there’s barely enough hours in the day, and I gleefully delight in joking around in the staff room when time allows.
But feeling helpless as an authority figure, outnumbered 30 to 1 against a mob that couldn’t care less who you are and being assessed/evaluated all the while – that makes me want to hurl. Not to mention the time consuming nature of admin and opening exercise books to the depressing sight of a date, a title and not much else. Self-criticism is a teacher’s Achilles heel. It is debilitating and doesn’t seem to be spoken about as much as the much-publicised exodus of qualified teachers due to, say, funding cuts, academisation and growing datafication. Maybe it’s something that is unique to the trainee experience. Either way I want to be vocal about it, because the nature of teacher training is one of great trial and error, struggle and self-doubt – more so than any other situation I’ve found myself in thus far. Fellow trainees echo it but more experienced colleagues take this self-doubt for granted as part and parcel of the process. Still, that doesn’t mean its difficulty should go unacknowledged; it is only due to a handful of incredibly kind and supportive colleagues-turned-good-friends that I am still in this job, on this course and still plugging away. Without them, I would have quit months ago.
Trials, agonies and professional growth aside for a minute, the fact that I am 22 very occasionally rises up and smacks me in the face. I am sometimes told ‘God, I wasn’t nearly that responsible/mature/[insert teaching quality here] when I was your age’, and you know what – I’m not!!!
I am scraping by. I feel like an imposter. I can’t bear to disappoint anyone, which is how I ended up here. Most of all, I feel slightly irresponsible and yet what I crave is to feel even MORE irresponsible. 22-year-olds should have irresponsibility in spades, and I feel just a tiny bit deprived of the freedom to be so decadent.
It often feels like it is my very youth that is also depriving me of any authority in the classroom. Before I began teaching and experienced its reality, I held the woefully mistaken assumption that relatability trumps all; in fact, if you try to buddy up the kids, the result is a double whammy of being labelled a soft touch by superiors, AND the kids taking advantage of the opportunity to get less work done/not listen with any real seriousness. I’ve been there and done that, early on. Now the time has come to crack the whip, and whilst I attempt to shut down acts of defiance and silence the disruption more consistently, I both see and hear the literal laughter of children who, my brain evilly whispers inwardly, can see that I myself am barely eight years older than them, and severely lacking in the weighty experience of other teaching professionals they’re used to.
Speaking of assumptions, however – aren’t I just leaping to them again when I feel the FOMO of being in my early twenties and not going out five times a week? I can also acknowledge that it’s a really common stereotype for twenty-somethings to be decadent layabouts, caring not a fig for their potential futures that are languishing in the far distance. Why do I want to chase that stereotype? Is it even desirable?
I guess I just miss the student life. This October I will apply to the MA course I’ve had my eye on, and hopefully in September 2020, it can resume again. Knowing my luck, it will be just when the kids finally see me as a real adult.