When I was in the classroom every day, I think I knew my purpose. I was a teacher, with all the unpackable purpose of that job title that I had worked for so long to earn.
Being an NQT though, I was still very much finding my feet and still in a permanent state of considering what my purpose as a teacher really meant. Obviously, my primary purpose would be seen by many as facilitating learning, but I think every teacher who has survived a gruelling interview would attest that our most important purpose is to safeguard children and young people.
This might be something that has been passed mostly out of my hands, now that my pupils are at home for the foreseeable, but that doesn’t mean the off-switch has been flicked. In my classroom, I scan the room for any sign of upset. I listen in for signals that might translate out of ‘Year1Speak’ to “I’m not happy,” or “Something isn’t right.” This hasn’t changed in the lockdown – if anything, I am sometimes prone to thinking about it even more. Have I heard from X this week? Has Z got their vouchers for free school meals? I wonder if Y’s family isolated early enough to protect their vulnerable family member? This is way before I start thinking about whether A can use a full stop now, or if B has practised counting in 2’s.
My purpose is to teach, of course it is, but it will always be to nurture and care, too.
Part of this is working out how on earth to be the same bright and breezy Miss Bracken through a pdf document, that I’ve tried to be in the classroom since September. (And shush, if you’re giggling at the back about how I’m often more anxious and antsy than bright and breezy!) I have to work out how to teach my little ones what they need to learn, in a way that they can potentially do independently, that doesn’t necessarily need to be printed and certainly doesn’t require masses of explanation.
Don’t mistake this for me complaining – I’m really not. This is my job, this is what I do. It’s just usually a little simpler, as all of ‘my’ children are in the same place! Imagine doing the jigsaw below, with no idea whether you have all of the pieces, and being fairly certain that you have no idea how to put it all together. Some pieces will just fall into place, because that’s how these things work, but for many others… good luck!
So I am working on my purpose. Sadly, it’s not to be a reassuring face at 8.50 every weekday morning anymore. But I am still very much needed, and now in a broader capacity too.
I’ve been making mask adapters for the last couple of days: neat little crocheted devices with buttons, that aim to prevent a painful problem suffered by health and social care workers at the moment. Elasticated masks (vital in helping prevent the spread of coronavirus) can rub terribly behind the ears. As soon as I put out a message locally, offering help, a midwife replied, saying that her ears bleed every day now, from wearing a mask more than ever before.
I’m channeling the worry that comes from not quite knowing my purpose as a teacher. I’m using my nervous energy that might otherwise go into worthless fidgeting, into something useful and very much appreciated. It’s not my original purpose, but it still feels good.