Teaching is like a stage production

Voices - 3 October 2017

Finn Webber (Cohort 2017) shares a reflection of how he's embraced his first year as a Physic's teacher.

Not so long ago, when I was a student myself, I felt like I had a reasonable idea of what my teachers’ jobs consisted of. I thought this because I thought I was there for all of it. True, I was aware that teachers arrived at school before the students and left later, but I never really thought about what that time was used for; marking homework I supposed.

I was reminded of this the week I set my junior class a test on a Friday. The following Monday at 9:55am when my class filed in, instead of the usual cries of “good morning”, “kia ora” and “sup sir”, my greeting was twenty iterations of “have you marked the test yet?”. After pointing out how long marking a single paper might take, how many students are in the class, and how much time has elapsed since the previous Friday (not including the magical weekend time), I realised something. Aside from the fifty-five minutes we share, my students really had no idea what my job entailed. I don’t fault them on this, after all, only *cough mumble* years ago, I was exactly the same.

Now, I love teaching. My students are all gems, and more often than not I will leave the classroom practically skipping. Sometimes I skip in class as well, but I’m a physics teacher, I’m allowed.
Some teachers will talk about shining moments, when a student achieved something they once believed impossible, and how all the challenge and frustration was outshone by that victory. I’m not talking about those times. For me, the everyday, the bread and butter, the nobody-is-spellbound-but-everyone-is-doing-fine, is enough to have me grinning like a madman. I find teaching joyous, but that was no surprise to me (it’s why I got into the profession after all). However, what I’ve come to appreciate the most this year is everything we do behind the scenes.

There is much of the job that the students have no concept of; the planning, the reflecting, the debate around the workroom table, the meandering and occasionally tangential discussions of education theory, classroom management, and what to do about that one troublesome character.
Despite what I as a teenager believed, the guts of the job happens not in the classroom but in the workroom (which is presumably why it’s called that). In class is like on stage, where if the script is good and the actor adds life, then magic can happen and the audience can leave afterwards not asking for their money back.
Before that though, there is an awful lot of work to be done. I’m not saying you should become a performer because you love rehearsing, but it’s a crucial part of the job, and embracing it allows you to truly thrive in the profession.

When I meet with my mentor and talk over a lackluster lesson, or reflect upon an interaction that was a complete failure, I tell myself the same thing that I tell my students. It isn’t the result, but what you learn from it that matters.
At the bottom line, we do what we do for the students, but we must also do it for ourselves, and for every student we may have in the future. Change requires work, and for those of us dedicated to bringing about real change in education, that work is going to be extensive to say the least. I still have trouble conceiving what it will involve and what the result will look like. But if you ask me where that work will take place? Behind the scenes.