The first few months of the year are a great time to be a teacher, I reckon. Obviously, the year begins for NZ teachers with a lovely, long, summer holiday. Often, the period that begins just before Christmas and runs through to mid January is the only time of the year when I actually stop doing schoolwork, stop thinking about school, and relax. Those school ‘holidays’ that occur throughout the year in between terms don’t really suffice – for me, and many other teachers, they usually involve catching up on lost sleep, marking and planning. So, I try to spend my summer holiday enjoying the good weather, reading, watching stuff, playing games, catching up with friends and family, and organising stuff that I never managed to organise during the school year. I always spend way too much money in the summer holidays but I’m OK with that because I am generally quite stingy throughout the year anyway (alarmingly, it’s much easier to be frugal when you are working a 50 hour week, despite the cost of transport and general living).
By February we are back at school and getting stuck into term one, which is by far my favourite term. It’s my favourite for so many reasons. Firstly, I’m fresh and well-rested from the holiday, so I have energy and enthusiasm like I just don’t have any other time of the year (I must admit, sometimes I get to term four and I’m so completely and utterly exhausted I actually wonder if I’ll make it to the end…I’ve always made it, but sometimes it’s incredibly painful). Secondly, I have usually spent mid to late January planning, and that planning is usually pretty good quality planning because I’m alert and fresh and full of ideas. I’m organised, and I’m also super-eager to get back into the classroom. For me personally, the greatest, most enjoyable thing about teaching is being in the classroom with the students; for some/many teachers, it is the planning that brings them the most joy in the job (I’m yet to meet anyone who says it’s the marking/admin…). So, being an extroverted, fairly well-organised people-person, I am usually itching to get back into the classroom by the time school starts. I love that first week where you meet your students; there is lot of pressure to set clear expectations regarding work habits and behaviour, as well as learning over 100 new names, but I really enjoy sussing my students out, and I enjoy watching them suss me out too. This is where, as a teacher, you develop those teacher-student relationships that are so fundamental in the classroom, and this is where you set the tone for the year. Although it can be very challenging, and at times a bit stressful, setting up your classes, it is usually very rewarding. Amusingly, this part of the year is where those clichés that teachers seem to like to repeat are trotted out, for example, ‘start as you mean to go on’ (I quite like this one actually – consistency makes sense to me) and ‘don’t smile before Easter’ (bollocks to that – I’m a smiley person and I couldn’t actually not smile for 4 months - that would be insane. Also, students appreciate warm, smiley teachers. Who wants to sit in front of a surly, agro grump for a whole year?! There are definitely times when you have to be a grumpy teacher, but fortunately it’s not most of the time).
One of the great things about term one is that the students are alert, energetic and engaged in the classroom. Often I hear students return to school and talk about how they were bored during the holidays. Almost all of them are eager and willing to learn when term one begins. They see the new year as a fresh start - usually with a new teacher in each of their subjects - and often they have their own personal goals that they hope to achieve throughout the year in your subject. And I enjoy trying to mould my students into having good work habits in English, especially the Year 9s and Year 11s who are entering a new, rather intimidating system and are usually very keen to take direction. In my experience, this is also the time of year when you are less likely to see depressing stuff like truancy and disengagement amongst specific groups that underachieve in our education system. It is the honeymoon period for the students and the teachers, and it’s just so, so lovely.
This is the point in the year when I feel most hopeful and most inspired. I want 2012 to be a good year for me and my students. I especially want it to be a good year for everyone involved in education in Canterbury. The ground is still shaking, obviously, but I do hope that we can have an uninterrupted year of teaching and learning, 'cos we need and deserve it.
So I guess I better start doing some planning soon...