My time as an NQT was like standing in front of a speaker roughly the size and diameter of a modest semi-detached house. Some sadistic bugger flicked the switch and BOOM; information pounded out at me at roughly a gazillion decibels. There was too much, it was too loud and all I was able to do was stand there as my eyes filled up with water and my teeth rattled in their sockets. I desperately tried to discern a tune, find a rhythm, catch a lyric but I couldn’t. It was just the painful, relentless, incessant noise of timetables, marking, meetings, training, classes, travelling, homework, behaviour management, parents, SLT, trips and on and on. Eventually the inevitable happened and my head, with no other path of sensible recourse, violently exploded.
It got all over the Y7 ‘book week’ display. The cleaners still haven’t forgiven me.
Alright, my head didn’t really explode but it was a close run thing. It pulsated a bit and I went a bit white-eyed for a while but eventually I got it under control.
This wasn’t because of the sheer weight of information that I was dealing with as a teacher lessened (if anything, the opposite was true). It wasn’t that I became instantly better at my job after going on some inspirational training course (if anything, they don’t exist – anybody that tells you any different is trying to sell you something). It wasn’t that I became more dedicated to the job (most teachers are flat-out in that area, as was I). So, what miraculous and fantastic thing happened that allowed me to better handle the multitude of demands that were made of me on a daily basis?
I’m a different teacher today to the one I started out as, it would be strange if I wasn’t. It’s not that I’ve learned new skills or had innovative ideas or any of that, although it goes some way to helping. It’s really much simpler than that. Time, basically, has allowed me to be able to fashion a pair of noise cancelling headphones against that monolithic speaker and its unholy screaming output.
I have built them over the years as I have been better able to understand the strains of my job. When I started out they were just two blobs of blu-tack rammed on a piece of string. Not pretty, but enough to lower the noise level to a point where I could function better in my role. As time went on it led to experience and this gave me a chance to build up my precious filter. It’s experience that allows me to gauge whether something is of value or a dangerous time-eater. It’s experience that allows me to prioritise which pile of marking really needs to have disappeared before the end of the day. It’s experience that tells me whether I should follow up on that conversation with my line manager or whether I should just drop it and go for a cup of tea.
(This last being a completely invaluable skill that should never, ever be taken lightly.)
Over time the blu-tack and string transformed into luxury over-ear foam-sponge which came with a nifty volume auto-adjust feature that matched my own needs.
That’s another thing that comes with experience. A realisation that you actually have needs as well and the ability to put those needs, (however small they may be, I’m thinking of that cup of tea again) before all. Yes, even before those you teach in some cases. You aren’t going to do much good if you wash out after a few years because you crack due to the constant demand on your time, your skill and your soul.
That’s what I’m talking about really. Taking care of your soul. But then I didn’t do much of that myself when I first started out. I allowed the noise to get the better of me. The pounding bass drove out all rational thought and I was a mess. Not a disgusting, bloody, David Cronenberg kind of mess granted, but it wasn’t a good time.
In a way you have to keep refining those ear-protectors every single day. But eventually you’ll get them perfectly set up and those damn house-size speakers will play your song. And it will be glorious.
I’m not saying be neglectful of your work. They’ll be times where you’ll have to rip off those mufflers throw your arms open wide and scream ‘COME AT ME BRO’!’ because it’ll be necessary to get the job done. But that doesn’t have to be what it’s like all the time. It shouldn’t be like that all the time. And, with time and the experience it brings, it won’t be.
When I was starting out I didn’t even have the blu-tack and if you’re just starting out you might not either. Try to steel yourself against the concussive sound-waves. Hold fast against the noise if you can.
Hold fast…and keep your brains off the wall.