The long stretch of holiday luxury that stretched out before us as the end of the 2013 school year drew to a close seemed like a relief, a reward for a challenging year (every year seems to be challenging) and almost infinite in length and possibility. Now, as we dutifully rearrange our desks and scan class lists, the 2014 school year is well and truly upon us in all its glory.
It would be easy to lament the high aspirations and goals we set as we embarked upon the festive season — so many school-based tasks were going to be accomplished. I also had grand ideas about the amount of work that would be achieved on our seemingly never-ending house renovations. Both sets of expectations fell far short of reality. I still live in renovation chaos, power tools engulfing my study, and have ignored any preparation that could have helped me out in the first weeks of the school year. Why read the novel for Year 10 English? I’m sure I can catch up on that before the class reaches the end of the third chapter. Plus, there are always study notes available online if I need a quick refresher (nobody heard me say that, right?). The elaborate welcome pack that I envisaged developing for my junior students remains in bits and pieces in my folder and might well be wedged in behind a roll of carpet that needs to be dropped off at the tip.
There is nothing that can truly be done to prepare effectively for the start of a new school year. No matter how organised you think you are, there will always be a curve ball thrown at the last minute — thought you were teaching Year 8 Drama? Actually, you now have Year 10 English. Happy with your new sandal purchases to wear to school? Actually, the school now has a closed-toe shoe policy. So now my philosophy is that the best preparation is to show up with an open mind and positive attitude. I’m hoping these can both be maintained, even after the first staff meeting where your principal contradicts himself on at least five separate occasions and you have a clear memory of discussing the same key issues at the first staff meeting of the year for the past four years. In fact, the principal was wearing the same tie for all of them — maybe it is his “welcome back to school” tie? It doesn’t look welcoming. Now you are just distracted and verging on negativity; even the best-laid intentions can be short-lived.
Once you are back with your classes, struggling in the blazing heat that goes hand-in-hand with the return to school, there will be moments of remembering why you started teaching in the first place. That sea of expectant faces at the start of the year is a blank canvas (hopefully not too blank) on which you can work your magic. All the best for a wonderful 2014!
Christina Adams is a member of the Australian Education Union (Victoria) and a stand-up comedian.