Mapping Bigger Pictures

Last week saw the end of my first year as a teacher at university. Before primary and secondary colleagues reading this think “oh, the life!” I should point out that I’ll be kept quite busy with marking, research, PhD and future planning up until Christmas eve, and I hope to be back in January teaching during the summer school period.

The transition from working mostly with kids to working solely with adults has left an indelible mark on my identity as teacher, albeit a mark that I’m still daily trying to figure out. My students this year were effusive in their praise, and though I know that I could have done better, I’m very lucky to know that I’ve made a difference.

The hardest part is that, at this stage in an academic career, I really can’t separate the layers of my professional identity. In many ways, the school world used to be so separate from real life. My roles were so neatly laid out like a fortnightly timetable; commitments were funnelled into lots of twenty and fifty minutes, separated neatly by chiming bells, buses and uniforms. It seemed in many ways a beautiful little world just carved out for me – finite, structured, made clear. 

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Within this structure, I worked out who I was in reference to the ideas that circulated within that environment. I was considered “innovative” by some because, in spite of the order, I moved outside the immediacy of the school environment, throwing myself into countless hours of dabbling with new technology tools, researching for my Masters, blogging and networking with teachers from around the world. But I always knew that I could come back to the safety and security of the school walls.

Now the structures seem to be shifting. “Self” means father, researcher, student, teacher, lecturer, tutor, cellist, traveller, blogger… Conversations from one area bleed into another, and I find myself helplessly thinking across traditional boundaries (it seems I’m only comfortable when I do, because sticking to one area makes me more consciously aware of what little I know). The world beyond the schoolyard is liberating but scary at the same time. I’ve always been comfortable moving from one skin into the next, so there’s nothing really to be afraid of but it does take some getting used to. It’s the intersections that are the most interesting, so I need to learn to stop trying to be the best at everything and start thinking about how overlapping roles gives me unique perspectives on education. 

I sit down to blog and I’m never quite sure where to position the perspective, how to “think” my way through the writing, what the purpose will be or who I’m supposed to be talking to. The blog itself has to undergo a huge shift, but mapping it out isn’t easy. 

I’m doing my best to map things out as best I can. My supervisor and I sit in his office with a whiteboard and marker, mapping out the chapters of a thesis I’m yet to write. 

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Meanwhile, I’m continuing to map out the changes in my thinking, planning and research for the future. The world of my classroom involved neat little programs, units and assessment tasks, many of which I’d taught for years on end. Now I’m thrust into a world of mapping much bigger pictures: government policies, national accreditation requirements, collective case studies of seventeen schools, two hundred years of educational theory… 

Academics often talk about juggling their commitment to teaching with research and the pressures of publishing. These last few weeks, I know what they mean; I’m marking 122 assignments, each requiring full attention, careful consideration and detailed feedback. To stay fresh, I intersperse readings on the educational theories of Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey, an intersection I’m hoping to explore in Chapter 2 of my thesis. I’m already getting a sense that teaching and research should be equal guests at the table, so I’m hoping to listen to their conversations more closely. 

At the same time, I’m learning to appreciate pre-service teachers and their world. I’m learning to empathise with their fears of standing up and teaching a class of kids, managing difficult behaviour, finding their first job and making their way in the world. Though it’s been twelve years since I was in their specific shoes, the world is now a different place.

As always, I know that it’s the slight turn of the wheel that often makes the difference to the journey. Like the kid in the video below, I’m trying new things to shift my perspective slightly and see the world differently. Each day is different – and I’m enjoying being me. 

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About Michael

Cellist, singer/songwriter, school teacher, nerd, recent scooter enthusiast and failed philosopher.
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