In a few desperately short weeks, my first baby will be donning the cutest little school uniform and heading off to Kindergarten for the very first time. My feelings about this are a melting pot and I’m sure that as the day dawns an emotional blog post is bound to come pouring out of me. But this week, as the summer weeks stretch (and stretch) out, I’d be lying if I said a small part of me isn’t looking forward to the predictability of the school week – to an externally-imposed routine we can shape our days around, a place for my daughter to go and be exposed to stimuli and influences other than my own. To share just a very tiny bit of the weight of shaping her growing and insatiable mind.
This has got me thinking about the teachers. Oh teachers, you are marvellous and amazing. As I’m preparing to shift a little bit of the childcare at the end of the school holidays, they are about to do the opposite. Many of them are parents themselves, and after a period of full-time childcare they are preparing to go back to their jobs – to educate and stimulate and care for kids other than their own.
I bet we all have teachers from our own schooling who, many (many!) years later we remember with fondness and gratitude. I know I do. Among the wonderful teachers I was lucky enough to cross paths with, I think almost daily of a certain Mrs Holmes who told me at the age of 7 that she expected to see my name in print one day, a Mrs Jenny Masterson who encouraged an 11-year-old me to write story after story and take pride in what I wrote, and the incomparable Miss Denise Baws, who inspired in anyone who crossed her path a passionate devotion to literature and learning.
But now that my own baby is starting her school experience, I feel even more indebted to the wonderful teachers out there. I’m handing over my most precious cargo to their care. We ask so very much of them and in return, they become the most important people in our kids’ lives outside their family. What a responsibility on their shoulders!
I wanted to know what makes the teachers tick. How do they do what they do? How are they feeling at this time of year? How do they balance their home lives and work lives – caring for their own kids and ours as well? What drives them? Where do they get their energy?!
So I spoke to a dear friend who is a passionate teacher about Back To School from her point of view. I found what she had to say so interesting I have decided to run it over the next two days – today she talks about her work/life balance and her experiences as a teacher. Tomorrow she will tell you what she wants all parents to know at this time of year – especially those of us who are entering the school gates for the very first time…
Here’s our conversation:
Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
My name is Fiona Dunajewski. I am 31 and I live in the Isle of Man – a small island in the middle of the Irish sea. I have been married to my high school sweetheart for 6, I say wonderful, he says long, years. Originally from the sunny city of Durban in South Africa, this incredibly safe, beautiful island has been home to me for the last 16 years and it is the perfect place to raise our two lively boys. Freddie is 3 and has a love of trains, animals and his dad is his superhero! Theo is 18 months and although had a very difficult start (he was born 3 months early) he has an amazing zest for life. My boys are only ever still when they are sleeping so this, coupled with my teaching job, makes me a very busy mum!
What made you want to be a teacher?
I had originally wanted to be a physiotherapist and at the age of 16 I had to do mandatory work experience that was organised by my high school. They said because of confidentiality issues they couldn’t send me to a physio clinic however they still felt I should get some sort of experience and I was asked what my second choice would be. I said I enjoyed working with children so I was put into a primary school. After being there for two days I had a gut feeling that this was for me.
What age/grade do you teach?
This year I will be teaching a wonderful, lively and enthusiastic class of year 2 and 3 children (aged 6-8 years old).
What do you love about being a teacher?
There are so many things about the job that I love. I go into work every day feeling so excited about what lies ahead. Every day is different and it is never ever boring. The thing I love most about my job is the children. The energy they have when they walk through the classroom door is contagious and I just know it’s going to be a good day. I love hearing their stories about the things that they get up to and having a laugh with them. By far one of the best things about the job is seeing the progress they make throughout the year, watching them overcome obstacles and have‘light bulb’ moments, and seeing the pride they have in themselves.
What is the most challenging thing for you about going back to school after the holidays?
During the holidays I find it very difficult to switch off from school. I love my job and I am always thinking ‘how am I going to make this year even better than last year?’ I stay on Pinterest far too late in the evenings looking for ideas for my classroom to create my ‘haven’ – things that are going create that wow factor. As a result, by the time I go back to school I worry that I didn’t spend enough time with my boys, that we didn’t do all our activities on our ‘Summer Wish list’. However I also worry that I am grossly unprepared for the academic year ahead and I should have spent more hours in school and less time at the park.
How does your family cope?
My husband loves it when I am on holiday because it means when he arrives home from work the boys have been fed, bathed and will be ready for bed. It means that ‘suicide hour’ has passed and they are relaxed and ready to spend a bit of quality time with their hero before he puts them to bed and by the time he comes back downstairs dinner is ready and we can spend some quality time together. However, when I go back to school it’s all hands on deck. Like in most houses, mornings are chaotic. I pack everyone’s bags and get Theo ready while Dan will get Freddie dressed and make breakfast. Dan walks Freddie to school and I take Theo to my mum’s house for the day. Evenings seem to be just as chaotic. Quick dinners, rushed baths, stories and bed. There’s no time for any real quality time during the week.
How do you balance caring for your own kids while caring for the kids that you teach?
This is a tricky one but one that both sets of little people make easier without even knowing it. When my own boys are unwell and I am at work it is difficult not to worry about them but then a child will come up to me and say something that will make me laugh and I instantly feel better. Likewise if I buy treats for my class whilst doing the weekly shop Freddie will look at me and say, “Are those for me Mummy?” When I explain that they are for the children in my class he just accepts it. Teaching is not a job you can leave behind at the school gates though. I will often spend hours at home thinking of strategies to put in place to; ‘help this child read better’ or ‘make that child more interested in learning’ – this can only be done when my boys are in bed and I have the head space to think about school again.
How do you have the energy to do what you do?
I get my energy from caffeine and the love of the job. I have an amazing team of colleagues and we are all so in love with our work (in fact we have likened it to an obsession!). We bounce off each other and help each other to get through the day if one of us is not feeling our usual sparkly self.