Some teachers get nervous, even anxious about going back to school after a break or at the beginning of a new term. But it must be particularly true now, after emerging from another schools lockdown and most teachers not having had their first COVID-19 vaccination.
That feeling of trepidation – nerves mixed with excitement and occasional dread - never left me, even after twenty years of teaching, so I can imagination how teachers are feeling this week.
Many teachers think that teaching is unique in terms of the emotional demands it makes. That may be true, but I know of at least one profession that is similar: acting.
Last year, just before the first lockdown, I saw a wonderful performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For nearly four hours the actors transported my emotions and consciousness, created in me a new understanding and knowledge – about myself and others - I did not know I had before I entered the theatre.
That’s what good actors do every time they go on the stage.
How? Well, they start with good preparation:
They learn their lines and get to know ‘their material’ – intimately.
They study - not just of the plot - but the sub-text and the con-text.
They understand the characters, not just what they say - but what drives and motivates them.
They acquire the necessary skills, not just the technical skills (what Aristotle called ‘techne’) of things like memory, articulation and enunciation, but emotional skills and practical wisdom (what Aristotle called ‘phronesis’) to engage, engineer and evoke a response.
Actors do this day after day, night after night and twice on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Actors also know that with preparation, comes confidence.
They may still be nervous and excited but with confidence they can go on stage and invite their audience to be led out of the world of reality and in to a world of imagination.
Good teachers do the same – they lead us out of our ignorance, our complacency, our stasis and in to a different place where new knowledge and understanding reside.
This ‘journey’ is called education – from the Latin ducere meaning ‘to lead out’.
Ask an actor if they have ever conquered their ‘first night nerves’ and few if any will tell you they have. And I suspect that they don’t want to either. Nerves and excitement fuel their purpose – which is performance.
So no matter how good or accomplished actors become they know they still have to prepare well, and with preparation comes confidence, and with confidence comes performance.
But they never stop feeling nervous or excited about it. And neither should you as a teacher - whether you're the old hack of the staff room, a rising star, a recently qualified newby or a complete beginner coming in from an initial training course.
So at the beginning of every new day, new week and new term, steel yourself with renewed resolution: be prepared, be confident, and yes be nervous… but still go on stage and perform.
As Ophelia said in Hamlet: “We know what we are, but not what we can be.”
Now is the time to find out, again.
Go for it and good luck!
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for over a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures and writes on professional values in teaching and runs the award-winning social media networknewteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.
You may be interested in his course in ‘The Foundations of Professionalism in Teaching’– which deals with issues of professionalism and professional values. It comprises a 3-module course that covers professional ethics and values, with over 4.5 hours of HD quality video presentations, additional course reading and materials, self-assessment exercises and completion certificates – ideal for showing evidence that you have completed cpd on ‘wider professional responsibilities’.