In a single work day, I segment my life into various episodes. I teach music to secondary school students and my creative intentions are often jolted by the parameters of a timetable, and the numerous events occurring in the College. There are many rewarding aspects to teaching the performing arts but the challenges of teaching within a school are increasing.
On a journey between classrooms, I encounter hundreds of faces; each with their own story. Not only is the face-to-face interaction demanding of my focus and energy but so too is the digital communication. The ubiquity of email correspondence in the workplace creates extra administrative pressure. There is an expectation for teachers to respond quickly to numerous requests throughout the day, as well as teach, lest the email sender run out of patience! I receive a hundred emails a day on average, and since January this year I have been practising the art of managing my emails efficiently; needless to say, I am still practising. In addition to the multimodal communication platforms I operate within, I am responsible for coordinating performances, and ensuring the music and instrumental staff feel supported.
I have been reflecting on how fragmented my daily life has become. I like to do things scrupulously but I am constantly darting from one scenario to the other: from email to phoning a parent, conducting a choir to typing a newsletter article, photocopying to arranging music, booking a venue to consoling a student, chasing up assignments to marking. I rarely pause and I sometimes don’t eat lunch. The irony is that I am responsible for the wellbeing of so many others that I often neglect my own. (I won’t even discuss my performing life outside of teaching as it is beyond the scope of this commentary.)
Rob Nairn is the president of ASPA and a columnist for Education Matters Magazine. Nairn says, “it is impossible to support the social and emotional health of young people, if we as teachers do not attend to our own emotional health” (2017). It is perfectly wise to heed Nairn’s advice, hence the challenges of teaching in a school.
I have practised mindfulness and relaxation techniques a lot in the last 4 years. This has helped me cope with high pressure situations. I interact with a range of personalities daily, each with different work ethics and levels of professionalism. I am improving in being mindful and present particularly when solving problems in the workplace.
Good humour goes a long way and so does a good cup of coffee. Red tape doesn’t help anyone but gaffer tape does! Nevertheless, I continue to pick up the parts of my fragmented life and piece myself together at the end of the day. Thankfully, there is still joy and creativity remaining for me to keep giving to others.