My heart breaks for the burned-out teachers

This articulates many of the reasons I would never consider going into teaching.  
When I was applying for university in 2000 I looked carefully at doing a BEd degree and training to be a teacher.  I was put off by the way the government drive towards targets, overbearing amounts of paperwork, and stifling creativity in curriculum planning, means that teachers can often just end up as glorified paper shufflers, and so went on to study a Theology degree instead.  Several times since Head Teachers have tried to persuade me to move from youth work to teaching, but I could never do it.  A passion for education and developing children and young people is crushed by our system:

The atmosphere in the staff room will not be quite the same. There will be an empty space, for a little while, where she used to sit. Staff gatherings will not quite be the same. There will be a void, where her infectious giggling filled the room, at somebody’s silliness. The staff will bear the loss. But a loss it will be.

Thirty sets of parents and carers will feel different degrees of compassion towards the teacher, different degrees of disappointment. Some will, maybe, get their children to make a card and even write a comment in it themselves, to show love and support. But they will, all, feel anxious about what this means for their children. Some will feel disenchanted. The headteacher will have to divert some of her, already scare time and energy to meeting with them, to reassuring them. Life will carry on.

The headteacher will, in all likelihood, bear the added stress without breaking, because despite the enormous pressure she is under, she is resilient. But, added pressure it will be.

Thirty children have lost somebody really significant in their lives. Someone that accepted and valued them for being just as they are, someone that listened to them, someone that encouraged them, someone that empowered them. Some of the children have lost a role model, some an inspiration. Other teachers will valiantly and professionally step into the breach – probably from an agency – but they may only be able to stay for a few days, weeks, or months. Life will carry on.

The teacher’s coat will hang on the back of the classroom door for weeks, months, maybe even one, two, three, or more, years, as a reminder of the shell of the person left behind. The atmosphere in the class will not quite be the same. The relationships within the class will not quite be the same. The quality of learning will not quite be the same. The children will bear the loss because they are resilient. But, a loss it will be.

A family has lost a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a cousin. She won’t feel up to seeing anybody for a while. She will avoid family gatherings for months, or a year or more because it will be too much to see everyone in one place at one time. Life will carry on.

How to cope with exams

Under Pressure

Tonight we did a session for our 11-18 year olds on how to cope with exams and stress, the PowerPoint can be downloaded and here are some tips that we handed out for revision and the exam itself

IF I WERE …

Ask the group to sit in a circle. Ask each person in turn what animal best describes them and why. Make sure the leaders join in as well!

WOULD YOU RATHER?

Ask the group the following questions.  Indicate a side of the room for each answer and ask members to move to one side or the other depending on their answer.

Would you rather:

  • Eat a worm or drink the washing up water
  • Listen to an hour of Justin Bieber or never listen to music again
  • Watch Neighbours or watch paint dry
  • Clean the toilets at school or wash all the windows in Buckingham Palace
  • Hold a snake or hold a spider
  • Play rugby or straighten your hair
  • Eat prunes or eat porridge
  • Sing in front of the whole school or dance on TV
  • Walk up a mountain or knit a jumper
  • Take the dog for a walk (knowing what you have to pick up when you do) or clean out the cat’s litter tray

FUNNY ANSWERS TO EXAMS

Watch the funny answers to exams video.

HOW DO YOU FEEL?

Show the picture of an Exam Room to the group.  Discuss: How do exams make you feel?  Explain that today we are going to be looking at how we choose and cope with exams.

CHOICES

Ask the group to reflect on all the different ways they can make choices e.g:

  • The people we might ask for advice – teachers, parents, friends
  • Randomly
  • Thinking through pros and cons
  • Pray

Explain that today we are thinking about exams, and how we choose our subjects and cope with the exams we have to take.

RED OR BLUE

Neo has been seeing lots of strange things recently. He wants to find out about The Matrix although he has no idea what it is. He meets Trinity, who takes him to meet Morpheus.  Neo first meets Morpheus, and is given the choice of whether to pursue his curiosity about the matrix or not.

Neo has a choice to make; to take the blue pill and give up his quest, never knowing what the matrix is, or to take the red pill and find out all he’s been wanting to know.

Discuss with the group:

  • Do you think it’s an easy choice? Why/ why not?
  • Would it have been better for Neo if Morpheus had just offered him one pill as the answer to his quest so Neo didn’t have to make a choice? Why/ why not?
  • What do you think made Neo choose to take the red pill?
  • Do you like making choices? Why/ why not?
  • When it comes to choosing what subjects to take at school, what kind of things influence your choice?
  • Would you rather someone chose for you? Why/ why not?

WHO CARES?

Ask the group what people worry about when it comes to doing exams. Ask them to think not just about what they might worry about but what they think others worry about too.

Write their answers on a flip chart (or get one of the group to write them up).  Discuss:

  • Does God care about any of the things they’ve listed? Why/ why not?
  • Which things does God think are important? Why?

Ask the young people to find Philippians 4:6-7. Ask one of the group to read through the two verses.

Discuss:

  • Look back at the list. Have you changed your mind – does God care about any of the things we’ve listed? How do you know?
  • What do you think we should do if we’re getting stressed about our exams?
  • Why should we thank God when we are praying? What could we thank Him for?
  • What does God promise us when we pray?

If you are coming up to a period of exams, why not organise an exam timetable for the group. This could be a grid showing everyone’s exams. You could distribute it around the group (and throughout the church family) so that people can pray for each other.

If members of the group complain that they find it hard to get down to revision, you could also organise some revision sessions. You, or other leaders, could offer to supervise the sessions (to make sure they don’t just chat!).

CAN YOU TAKE THE PRESSURE?

Exams are important, but they are not the most important things in the world.  I have taken a few exams in my life, some I have passed, some I failed, but I always aimed to give it my best and achieve my potential.

So what pressures do we feel:

From Parents

They want you to succeed but sometimes their “enthusiasm”/help can make you feel under too much pressure.  Often they don’t want you to waste opportunities, but you also need space to make your own decisions.  Communication is key in this area, so talk about it.

From teachers

Teachers want the best for you.  If you are concerned then take the initiative and talk about your worries.  Don’t bottle it up.  Don’t feel you are the only one who doesn’t understand or is struggling – there will probably be others who aren’t brave enough to admit it – so just ask.

From friends

This can be a positive and a negative.  Working together when you are studying the same subjects can mean you help one another.  But it can be negative – trying to live up to someone else’s achievements can be daunting.  It is important you focus on achieving your potential.  Also don’t be put off by the few who think it is cool not to work, to be disruptive – it can seem like fun at the time but you will probably regret it later.

From Ourselves

It is good to have dreams and ambitions, but make sure they are yours and not what someone else wants you to do.  Set yourself realistic goals – not so high that you don’t stand a chance of achieving them.  I wanted to be a lawyer – that didn’t happen!

So what can you do?

Pray

Most people pray at some point in life, and at exam time it is usually “HELP!”.  Pray for peace and calm in the exam.  Pray for discipline to study and ability to achieve your potential.

Prepare

As Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”

  • Have a revision timetable but make sure it is realistic!
  • You need a balance of revision and relaxation.  Always take one day off a week from school work, no matter how much pressure you feel, God designed us to have one day’s rest per week.
  • Split the day into three: morning, afternoon and evening – use two of the three for focussed study and revision – the other is for relaxing and exercise.
  • Revise for an hour and then stop.  Have a break, have a kit kat!  Then come back to it.  Take time to switch off and do something completely different.

 

  • Organise your place of revision – make sure you have your notes, text books, writing implements, computer, drink and nibbles etc. all in easy reach.
  • Create a playlist of motivational music to get you going.

 

  • Ensure that you have regular food and drink, and exercise breaks – exercise helps to release endorphins – the feel good feeling and is an important stress factor.

 

  • Different ways to learn include:
    • Going through past papers (and model answers) is often very helpful.
    • Read it, doodle it, hear it, write it, speak it, etc, the more different ways you find to express it the more you will remember – also be aware that your teacher’s favourite teaching style may not be your best learning style.
    • Use different colours so you can quickly scan the really important stuff.
    • Make short notes, revise them the following day, then a week later. Repetition transfers info from short to longer term memory. Cramming not productive.

 

  • Stop all electronics at least half hour before bed.
  • Make sure you still make time for the one thing you love, the thing that fuels your energy rather than just saps it.
  • Get your parents to chill a bit!

Perform

  • Get a good night’s sleep, set your alarm, have a good breakfast and give yourself plenty of time, allowing for traffic hold ups, etc.
  • Check you have all your necessary stationary and equipment, including a watch!
  • Know exactly where the exam is going to be held – I still have nightmares about not being able to find the right room and I left school a long time ago!
  • Go to the toilet before the exam.
  • Avoid talking to people about the exam, what you have revised etc., while waiting to go in as it can make you feel nervous that you haven’t revised enough – instead make plans for fun things to do after the exams or chat about last night’s TV!
  • Listen carefully to any instructions, read the top sheet and complete it properly.
  • Know your candidate number.
  • Always take a deep breath before you start and know that people are praying for you
  • Go for it – if you don’t know the answer go onto the next one – don’t sit there panicking.
  • Read all the questions and make sure you know what you are being asked.  Possibly start with stuff you are comfortable with, which may not necessarily be the first question.
  • Know how much time to spend on each question.  Time is crucial in exams – don’t waste it.  If a question is only worth a few marks don’t spend ages on it.  Always answer multiple choice questions even if it’s only a guess.
  • If something is not clear then ask (just not the person sat next to you!)
  • Check all sides of the paper – don’t miss a back page!
  • Label all answers clearly and be as neat as you can.  Show all working out and attach any notes made on questions you fail to complete.
  • Leave 5 minutes at the end to go through and tidy up.

What about the exam results?

If the results are not what you expected – don’t panic – get advice.  It needn’t be the end of the world.  If they are what you hope for – well done!  Congratulations!

PRAYER – WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER

Ask the young people to stand in a circle. Ask them to turn to their right and place their hand on the shoulder of the person in front.  Then ask everyone to pray for the person they are touching – that they would know God’s peace in their worries, and His guidance as they make decisions. You can either ask everyone to pray out loud at the same time, or quietly in their heads.  Then ask everyone to turn around and pray for the person standing to the other side of them.

DON’T WORRY …

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)

Encourage them to look up the verse above in the Bible and copy it out.  If possible, laminate the cards to increase their lifespan! Encourage the young people to try learning the verse as they write it, testing each other, and to keep it in their purse or wallet to remind them to pray.