When I return to school after the New Year, I will be starting my eleventh year as a qualified teacher.
The history of my role in the classroom, however, goes back further than that. In fact, from the age of five when I set my tiny feet inside my local Catholic kindergarten back in Taiwan, I have never left the school environment. Even during my national service, I was based at a cadet school only twenty-minute bike ride from home. I had given English tuitions to high school students as an undergraduate in Taiwan; I had done the same to high school students from Taiwan whilst visiting my parents in Los Angeles in the summer after my Master’s; I taught Chinese in the Language for All programme and to a few linguistics undergraduates when I was studying for my doctorate. But as a regular classroom teacher, I didn’t really start until I took up some English lessons as an unqualified teacher whilst working also as a Teaching Assistant at a 11-16 comprehensive in Essex in the early 2000s. Within this context, my career as a qualified teacher of English of some ten-year standing is particularly significant to me.
I had an ambitious career plan when I took up my first post as a Newly Qualified Teacher. I was thinking of becoming an Assistant Head in charge of Teaching and Learning in three years. Ten years on, I am still a classroom teacher. What’s happened to my high expectations for myself? What’s happened to my ambition?
The reason is more straightforward than some might think. I quickly realised that I wasn’t a career builder – not in the job that I found myself at least. I realised that I found reward, meaningful reward, from doing my job well and seeing my students achieve. It was the only sustaining, nourishing and reinvigorating source of my professional pride; it continues to be so. I value my time with my students: being there with them when they cry, when they laugh, when they get angry, when they feel sad, when they want to talk to me or when they prefer to be left alone. I am there. Becoming a manager will take considerable amount of my time away from my students, hundreds of them, I have reasoned. Or, at the back of my mind, I have always known that I am not really a “leader” material, not in the job that I am doing anyway.
So. Into my eleventh year, I continue to relish my role as a Form Tutor and a classroom teacher.
Or do I?
I have felt tired, burned out and doubted that I have the energy to offer the best of my teaching to my students. It is a crippling feeling. Some say, when you are feeling like this you need to go. But I don’t believe that’s the right reason to leave a job, any job.
Instead, I see this hiccup as a timely reminder that new opportunities are waiting to be created. It’s time to reevaluate my priorities, adjust my focus and embark on new challenges. Whatever happens, I can be certain, I will still remain in education. Or will I? I hope I will. Education is my natural habitat.