Being good at your job sucks. It shouldn’t. Being good at what you do should lead to increased job satisfaction; it should make your days easier but it doesn’t.
And here comes the first apology. Bits of this blog are going to sound like showboating. I will, at times, talk about myself in a manner that could be perceived to be arrogant. I will lump myself under the category of ‘people who do their job well’ and for that I’m sorry. I hate talking myself up for two reasons – 1. when I’m honest with myself about my work ethic and when I compare myself to other teachers, I don’t rate myself highly. I truly don’t think I’ve been the best educator I could be. 2. teaching isn’t about me. Whatever success my students have is success they have earned. I might be there facilitating and encouraging but they’re the ones doing the work.
Okay… insert awkward pause here.
So, the absolute worst part about being good at your job is that you continually get asked to do more and more because of it. I mean, it makes sense. If Ed Sheeran was hanging out at my place I would be asking my four year old to bang out a tune on his mandolin. It makes sense but it’s not fair.
A number of times throughout my twelve years of teaching I’ve been asked to take another teacher’s challenging class (generally in a trade that sees me lose my best and brightest students) or be on some committee. My colleague has it even worse. He’s always being asked to oversee or lead any tech based initiative at the school. It’s ok for us, we’ve been around the block a few times, but it’s happening more and more to our younger, greener workmates. The pressures of this are ninja-like because you never see them coming. One day your responsibilities don’t stretch beyond the walls of your classroom and the next day you’re swamped. It’s tricky because, in isolation, many of these initiatives and programs have minimal impact on your workload. The problem is that you don’t notice how much you’re being asked to do until all the little increments come to a head.
I don’t feel like I’m explaining this well. Let me try to elaborate…
I’m one of two Associate Deans of English at my school (that’s just a fancy way of saying second in charge of the department). We’re a large school too so there’s 20 people teaching English. I’m not responsible for them as line manager or anything like that (although I do lead two of them through the Performance and Development process) but I’m expected to support them and lead them through curriculum changes. With this role I teach one less class than other teachers but two of my four classes are high performing, high profile classes with heavy marking loads. Beyond that, I’m involved in a new program at the school designed to increase student engagement through better content delivery. I’m supporting a year 11 student who has started a poetry group, mentoring ATAR students, tutoring students after school hours and writing exams for an external provider. BUT, I also want a life of my own so I’m playing football and I’m a member of four writing groups. Or at least I was. I’ve dropped one of my writing groups recently because I felt like I was spread too thin and wasn’t able to do the group justice. Likewise, in the past few years, I’ve abandoned some of the projects I was involved in at work and have stopped engaging in opportunities to write for or present to professional bodies.
* it feels like a lot when you put it down on paper (or online) – somewhere in there I hope my wife and kids feel like I give them the attention they deserve.
Please, if you haven’t fallen into this trap yet, learn to say no. Know your limits, choose when to engage and when to walk away.
This leads into the next point. Remember that ninja comment from before? Stress is often invisible until it has almost broken you. You need to speak up.
Another downfall of being good at what you do (or even just appearing that way) is that people assume you’re free of problems. That massive department I said I work in has seven people in their second year of teaching and a handful of others whose experience doesn’t stretch far beyond that. Without describing them in any more detail you would assume our office is a madhouse. It’s not. I am blessed to work with a group of educators whose confidence and abilities are more akin to people who have been in the role for many years. Anyone on the outside looking in would struggle to identify our beginning teachers. It is a credit to them and to the people and institutions that helped shape them.
But, because they are so good, no one asks them how they’re going. No one checks in to see if they’re okay. I’m complaining about it here but I’m not exempt from this. I don’t ask about their classes or their work load or their job satisfaction. I look at them and all I see are ducks. What I mean is, when I look at them all I see is what’s above the surface – they are calm, cool and collected. Who knows what’s going on under the water where the eyes can’t see? I don’t and I can’t use the fact that we’re a busy school (big too, with roughly 1800 students) as an excuse.
So, here it is. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry for all those people out there who find that their expertise has become a burden. I’m sorry for all those people who keep on keeping on without assistance. More importantly, I apologise to the people in my office who (hopefully) get the support they need but aren’t getting the support they deserve. I apologise for not being proactive in asking about your mental health. And, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry that the system doesn’t reward you for being awesome, that it won’t always allow you to be your best.
NB – while on the topic of apologies… I suck at compliments. I’m sorry to everyone who deserved positive feedback from me and got diddly-squat. My bad.