I continue to be surprised by the number of people who do not realize the tremendous responsibility placed on classroom teachers today. Regardless of language or culture, teachers, by nature of their profession, have an irrevocable influence on the development and learning for each child entrusted to his or her care. As I visit schools and classrooms this term, I can’t help but reflect on this reality; it is both exhilarating and frightening, depending upon the skills, knowledge and energy of the individual teacher.
I wonder if others recognize just how difficult the teaching profession is. Although from all appearance, little has changed in the process of schooling (i.e. classrooms, annual calendars, time tables, grades, homework etc.). Conversely, I would argue that expectations for teacher performance have undergone significant change over the past decade. For the moment, let’s set aside the endless heartwarming narratives in which teachers have fulfilled a meaningful parental or counsellor role in a young person’s life. Rather, let us take a look at all of those expectations and responsibilities placed on teachers as they plan for, deliver, and reflect on the act of teaching in the classroom – five days a week, 10 weeks a term and, typically, three terms the academic year.
It is difficult to imagine the amount of energy it takes to meet the above expectations on a daily basis. Classrooms can be unpredictable at the best of times and the best teachers I have seen have the remarkable skill of being sufficiently attuned to classroom dynamics so that their fully prepared “Plan B”, “C”, or even “D” is manageable, let alone effective. In many office environments, staff often have the flex time for general and informal banter around the coffee pot or water cooler. Regardless as to whether or not this practice is deemed valuable, given the typical single classroom design in the majority of schools today, such social opportunities seldom exist for the daily classroom practitioner. The reality is that for the most part, teachers work very hard, over long periods of time, and in isolation.
For both novice and experienced practitioners, the planning process is a critical, yet time-consuming responsibility. Working either as a team or an individual, the processes of researching available and/or required system documents, planning for effective and differentiated classroom experiences, designing and crafting learning activities and experiences, assessing and recording student progress, and reflecting on one’s personal performance and efficacy is difficult and time-consuming. There are no two ways about it!
In addition to the demands of the daily, monthly and annual planning processes, many teachers in the Middle East are confronted with the reality that second language teaching is much more than using images, games, and songs. Teaching students for whom English is a second language takes significant understanding, skill, and patience and when teachers underestimate or minimize the challenges and default on their professional responsibilities, not only chaos reigns in the classroom but also students become disenchanted and ultimately learning opportunities are lost.
And then we add FARCH! The Urban Dictionary defines ‘Farch’ as the combination of February and March. The term aptly depicts those long dark and very cold winter days leading up to April and the promise of spring and vitality. Many years ago, a principal colleague in Saskatchewan, Canada ascribed to the theory that when teachers shift their perspective, have fun and smile more often they are better able to survive the challenges of ‘Farch’ in schools which in turn creates a happier and healthier place for teachers and students. Over the past few weeks school visits have suggested that this time of year can feel equally long and difficult for teachers in the Middle East. Although not encumbered by snowy landscapes and frigid temperatures challenging their colleagues in Western Canada, teachers in the Gulf region unquestionably share the pressures of a demanding second term. This past month, I have encountered some typically very skilled, energetic and positive teachers moaning and groaning about the seemingly endless demands of the organization (e.g. standardized assessments, performance appraisals) as well as the challenges of motivating students whose behavior mirrors their high levels of frustration with dreary days. Although the temperatures in Abu Dhabi this year bear little resemblance to those in Saskatchewan, I hunch that Farch thinking is festering in the minds and actions of Abu Dhabi teachers as they eagerly awaiting April and the promise of sunshine and warmer temperatures. Without a doubt, when ‘Farch’ thinking creeps in, both students and teachers suffer.
During these last few weeks leading up to a well-deserved trimester break, I hope teachers in the Middle East as well as in Saskatchewan can find a few moments to sit back, reflect on the importance of their contributions as teachers and their professional responsibilities to students and their learning, regardless of the time of year and celebrate their efforts in the classroom and the staffroom. Farewell ‘Farch’! Hello April and a new beginning!