Even though it was well over forty years ago, I remember well my first year in teaching.
As readers of this blog (or my book) will know, my first term included the distinction of 1) losing a child on the London Underground, 2) my class class chanting in unison “We hate Newland!” and 3) a craft session with children making ornamental candles for the school Christmas Fair that all turned out to look like erect penises.
And then it got worse… it was about this time of year – the dark times of January / February, that the nightmares started.
My teaching nightmares have changed over the years. When I first started they were about never being ready, always in a rush and always being late. Then when I became a Head they started to be about trains leaving the station without me, trying to catch them before they left but never being able to get on board in time. Now… and yes! I still have them occasionally even forty-odd years later and well retired from schools, my nightmares are about not being able to control a class of kids, they won’t listen to me, they ‘cheek me’ when I try to correct them and then they just get up and walk out.
At the moment I am reading Paul McCartney’s autobiography ‘The Lyrics’ which I commend even if you’re not a Beatles fan or a native of Liverpool, as I am. I was fascinated and delighted to discover he has ‘performance anxiety’ in his dreams. Apparently it’s very common in all performers – actors, opera singers, rock musicians – the fear that an actor will forget which play they are in, an opera singer will forget their lines or an audience will get up and walk out while they’re trying to perform.
The ‘performance anxiety’ nightmares don’t feed into McCartney’s actual performances (which I can attest to having seen him just before the COVID lockdown when he wowed 20,000 people at the O2 Arena in London for three hours, non-stop) but, reassuringly for me, he says he still has them too. And Paul McCartney has been idolised as a singer-songwriter and performer for over sixty years!
He also has a very ethical but unnerving answer for himself when they happen. These nightmares remind him that if people do start walking out of his concerts, he needs to ask himself not, what’s wrong with these people; but, are we playing the wrong music?
January and February are always going to be difficult times as a teacher. But if you are a trainee or an ECT, then you may be afflicted right now by feeling of tiredness even exhaustion during these long, dark months of mid-winter. You may be struggling to manage behaviour positively or getting the kids to engage with you. You may be so unnerved by the doubt and worry that you may have chosen the wrong profession, that you are having nightmares about it, even regular ones.
Well let me tell you something that I hope will reassure and even inspire you.
You and I are in very, very good company. Thanks Paul.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.
His new book: ‘Becoming a teacher – the legal, ethical and moral implications of entering society’s most fundamental profession’ is published by Crown House Publishing and can be ordered here.