Reset or refresh?

As a new school year is about to kick-off, I’ve looked back at the last one and tried to make sense of how I feel about this year. A little shocked, a little numb, very relieved, proud of what I’ve achieved, regretful over what I got wrong, but overall, I’m left with a feeling of blind amazement when I think how, on both a professional and personal level, this year has panned out.  The only thing I can compare it to is the moments after giving birth to my firstborn when I held her in my arms and despite the joy, fear, and uncertain moments, I was left gaping open-mouthed thinking, what the hell just happened?

For me this year was supposed to be a year of challenges, particularly where my CPD journey was concerned. I set up a blog, joined Twitter (possibly the best move I made in terms of growing as a teacher), applied for (and was fortunate to win) a scholarship for IATEFL and signed up for a DipTESOL to finally consolidate over a decade of experience and reignite my spark for learning. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that international pandemic or not this year was always going to be a challenge, especially with two small children who vie for and almost always win my attention at every opportunity.  This meant that I had bizarre is-this-really-happening moments more regularly than I had envisaged throughout the year, like the strange combination of reading about Sociolinguistics while housed in a lovingly-built cushion fortress fending off dragons.

Up until Christmas I was buzzing, fuelled on adrenalin, my brain in overdrive balancing studying with plans for my IATEFL workshop (courtesy of the C Group), bookmarking fascinating links from Twitter and seeing every lesson as a potential experiment in ELT. And despite the sleepless nights, the mounting stress, and the constant neck ache from looking upwards so as not to drop the many plates I had in the air, I absolutely LOVED it.  It’s amazing really how one decision can refresh, rejuvenate, and reignite passions that you don’t realise need reigniting.  I have been humbled beyond belief, connecting with edutwitter has opened my eyes to all of my shortcomings and, more excitedly presented a plethora of possibilities of directions to develop in.  There is nothing more exciting a prospect than knowing that there are countless areas I want to read about, my biggest challenge now is trying to figure out how to squeeze them into my ever-increasing packed agenda.

At the end of the last school year, I realised the most important lesson I had learned was the importance of pressing pause. When something goes wrong; stop, pause, and take a step backwards.  When I first heard we were moving online I was petrified. Questions shot through my mind:  How can I make my lessons interactive? How can I replicate classroom banter online? What on earth does an online lesson with a 4-year-old look like? And I reacted predictably by trying to match like for like – in my mind, I equated the move online to a requirement for making my lessons as technological as possible.  I scoured the internet for techno-tools, I pored over powerpoints, ok I admit it most of my time was spent trying to choose the prettiest theme but powerpoints became my crutch.  Needless to say, two weeks later I was suffering from serious burnout.  Frazzled, I realised I was looking at this all wrong so I stopped.  I stripped myself of technology and went back to basics. And of course, you know what happened, my lessons and my outlook were transformed.  I became a teacher again not a presentation tool.  This was a painful lesson in realising that the added value is always the teacher and not the bells or whistles, or in this case the beeps and slide transitions (though they were beautiful)

Now the new year school is upon us I find myself faced with a whole new set of challenges.  As someone who finds comfort in planning, this year is terrifying. It is very difficult to plan for every eventuality when you don’t know what that looks like.  For the most part, and for the (un)foreseeable future, we are back in the classroom, embracing hybrid lessons and trying to get creative with a socially distanced classroom.  I am impressed by the tenacity of both our teachers and our students, who embrace the uncertainty with positivity and a drive to succeed and I know that while things will probably never go back to how they once were, going forwards doesn’t seem half as frightening either.

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