Every year my family spends some time at one of the best beaches in Australia. As I sat there last holiday, I couldn’t help but think - teaching really is like the beach!
You can plan as much as you like at the beach, but you never quite know what that wave might do or whether those stingers will drift towards you. Often you’ve got to stop, look around, assess the conditions again and then decide what to do next.
Teaching is very much like that. All the carefully written plans can easily be derailed - by an incident in the playground or an unexpected admin visit; by a happy side discovery or by the understanding that the perfect lesson on paper just isn’t translating into the real classroom.
That’s when we need to stop and assess - do we push on or do we take a new path? Do we accept the new lessons we learn and return to the other lessons at another time? Or regroup and look for a new path to where we want to go.
I’m not a big ocean swimmer, but I love sitting near the water just watching the waves roll in and in and in again. It’s never ending, which is great on the sand - but not so much fun if you’re caught in a rough patch of surf.
Teaching is non-stop as well. Even before students come into our classrooms, we’re on the go - preparing for the day to come. When they’re there, we’re constantly ‘on’ - teaching and assisting and learning more about our students and assessing. Wave after wave of something else to do.
Sometimes we need to see if we can step out of it and take a break, especially if the sea is a bit rough. See if you can combine your class with another and take a moment to share the load with a colleague. Ask if you can observe another teacher while they teach, take the moment to learn from someone else. Or take a few moments at the end of the day to reflect on where you’ve done really well. Let the ocean of teaching go on away from you for a moment before you splash back in.
3. It’s Occasionally Downright Scary
Although I’ve been knocked down pretty bad by waves, I’ve never found myself in true danger. But I’m well aware that the danger is there in the ocean. Rips, rocks and sharks are just a few of the dangers when you visit the beach - things to be aware of and prepared to deal with if they turn up.
There are times when teaching can also be scary. Our students may be carrying sad and disturbing histories. We may be dealing with violent situations. Our students may get hurt or try to hurt us. Or a stressful teaching situation might get too much for us.
Know where to turn for help, whether it’s for you or for your students. Know the procedures you need to follow when a student needs your help - needs you as the stable adult in their life. Know where you can go to find help for yourself and accept help when it is offered if you need it. Find your trusted people in the school - the teachers and other staff who’ll let you cry, pick you up, offer the good advice or keep the good candy jar for when you need it.
4. It’s a Great Place to Spend the Day (When You’re Prepared)
Whenever my family wants to go for a swim at the beach it takes us FOREVER to get ready. There’s sunscreen to apply on everyone, hats and sunglasses to find, shoes for the walk back on the path, swim nappies for the little one, a bag for collected treasures, water bottles to fill . . .
But once we’re at the swimming spot, we tend to forget all that planning and just enjoy the sand and the water. The planning makes the experience enjoyable.
While you can’t plan for everything (see the first heading here!), the same does apply to teaching. When we don’t plan at all, there’s a chance we’ll have a great lesson, but there’s also a pretty big chance that it will all fall apart. Planning lets us consider all the things we need to have better lessons.
Planning doesn’t have to be 10 pages of perfectly written work, though. It just requires thinking - reflecting on what works best with our students or what has worked in the past - and then working out which path to take. Those teachers (often more experienced) who don’t seem to plan? They’ve often got years of planning and teaching and reflecting under their belt and years of planning right there in their brains.
A few years ago, we took our holiday while I was heavily pregnant with my second child. I spent a LOT of time sitting on the sand, listening to the birds and the wind and the waves and admiring the beauty of the beach and the ocean. It brought such a sense of happiness to me.
Teaching can bring the same beauty and happiness as well. That moment when a child gets it. The lesson where everything goes just right. The drawing and letter written just for you because you’ve created a place where your students are happy. The beautiful moment when a former student - now an adult - thanks you for what you did.
Prepare for the ‘dangers’ of teaching - the unpredictability and the scary moments - take care of yourself. But don’t forget the beauty - it’s what makes it all worthwhile.