Oh, thanks for asking! Because today was definitely one tough day.
Let me tell you a bit about it. Because I don’t have my own classroom due to overcrowding and funding issues, I spent the morning racing from one room to another, laden down with books and exam papers and tests, being jostled in the crammed corridors, late for every class.
My first class was with senior pupils; it’s mixed ability and I have every level in there, but mostly pupils who hope to do well at higher level. The Ordinary level pupils are utterly lost; and every time I look at them I feel so guilty but it is almost impossible to get time with them because our senior options classes have been cut this year, from 5 classes a week to 4, and I just don’t have enough contact hours any more. We’ve also lost time this year due to the weather, and I notice there are two Junior Cycle training days scheduled over the next two weeks. More time lost.
Then I had my 1st years. I have a pupil with severe behavioural issues and a pupil who is an elective mute, as well as twenty more. I have never been trained to deal with these issues, so every class is like treading on ice, hoping there won’t be any mishaps. I have rarely been so overwhelmed by a group of kids; all so lovable, with so many abilities, strengths, needs and so, so many questions.
Then there was Tom; he’s the hardest-working child in the world, and also one of the most talented kids I’ve ever met. But today, with the Christmas tests looming, something mysterious got the better of him and he cracked. There were copious tears, but no words; and when you have 18 more teenagers looking on and no time for an extensive counselling session, you do feel overcome, to say the least.
At last it was break-time. No tea for me, because I had to organise a sports event for the next day – I manage two school teams. Any free minute I got during the day was spent compiling team lists, organising referees, sorting out time issues, counselling girls who either did want to play and hadn’t made it, or had made it, but didn’t want to play, liaising with the team trainer, and preparing class work for the substitute teacher who would cover my classes when I was gone. My tea was gone cold by the time I got a chance to even look at the cup.
Class then again; my fifth years were worried because they heard rumours about that there was going to be a drugs test on Wednesday. I informed them that I didn’t know anything about it, but that if there was a test, I couldn’t imagine that any of them would need to be worried; moving on, I tried to continue teaching exam techniques. Some of them got confused though because they thought I was talking about the drugs test.
Lunchtime: I spent more time organising tomorrow’s matches, went down to the canteen to get some lunch, was continually stopped by pupils who wanted to talk about one thing or another. More counselling, more talking – simply letting kids know they are cared for. I had barely time to gulp down my soup before the bell rang, and off I was again, on the run to yet another classroom. I had just got started, when there was a knock on the door, and another teacher told me Tom was crying again, and since I knew him better than her, could I talk to him? She supervised my class, while I did my best to console a child who was clearly very upset about something, but who needed time and patience for it to be dealt with. Eventually, the school counselor was freed up and she took the child to her office where finally he began to settle down and open up. The poor lady – I don’t know if she even had time to even breathe today.
Another class; this time, I had to reprimand a pupil who had a curse-word scrawled across their pencil-case.
It’s the end of the day finally. But I don’t go home yet. We only have one photocopier in our staff-room, again because we just don’t have money – so I spend a while catching up on printing and copying. It’s dark by the time I get out of school; I’m ravenous, because all I had time to eat today was a bowl of soup and two squares of chocolate. Driving home, I make a mental note to schedule a doctor’s appointment for that pain in my hip and shoulder; I’ve been putting it off for almost a year at this stage hoping it’ll go away, but all the running up and down corridors carrying piles of books and lugging a heavy bag are doing nothing to help. Then I start going through my mental checklist for tomorrow’s match: gear, water, first-aid, cheque for the referee… And then my mind wanders through the day, with it’s ups and downs, smiles and tears – and I feel so worn out, depleted, and utterly weary.
At home, I see that Minister for Education Richard Bruton and Minister for Children Katherine Zappone released a report on young people’s hugely negative experiences of school, and how everything needs to be drastically improved. It’s called ‘How was School Today?’
And I think of Tom and his tears, and suddenly realize that maybe floods of ‘unexplainable’ tears aren’t too far away from any of us teachers.