I have decided this week to write about being unhappy!

Why? Because, I know that this is a peak time for student teachers to be feeling disillusioned, unhappy and anxious even if they are doing well, and I want to give you permission to feel a bit fed up and to say I am not remotely surprised if this is the case!

Am I weird if I am not enjoying everything about the course at the moment (even if everyone is saying I am doing ok)? No!

Try to look down on yourself and consider what has happened to you since September:

For the best part of six months, you have been bombarded with information, new ideas, feedback, advice, targets, building new relationships, settling in to new contexts, intense situations, … the list goes on! Surely it is no surprise then that this doesn’t always make you happy?

You have not had a real break –

  • in October half term you had lots of planning and preparation to do for your first teaching experiences when you returned to school;
  • over Christmas, whilst you might have had some time away from teaching, it is likely to have been a very busy time socially – you will also have been preparing for Teaching Practice and working on assignments;
  • February half term is a key week to catch up and get organised so it is likely you will have only had odd days off and, perhaps even then, you were thinking about teaching!

Easter is really the first time when you can designate an extended piece of time to proper relaxation. You have long enough to do some work and get organised but also have plenty of time for guilt-free time off teaching – remember this and look forward to it!

Every day of Teaching Practice you will have been observed teaching and you will have received advice and feedback – sometimes the same targets will emerge, sometimes they just add to an already long list and sometimes they conflict with what someone else has said!

If someone else was describing these experiences to you would you feel a little bit sorry for them and understand why they didn’t always feel happy? Yes? Then be kind to yourself and don’t worry!

Why else might you not be happy?

I think the main problem might stem from the very reasons why teaching is such a wonderful job. Like most of you, when I decided to train to be a teacher, the two main reasons were because I liked my subject and because I liked working with young people. These have both stayed with me throughout the years and are the key things that kept me happy in my job.

The difficulty, however, is that these are the two things that are almost impossible to get as a student teacher – certainly in any consistent way.

I remember in the middle of my main placement I had quite a major wobble and really wondered about whether teaching was for me. I felt like I no longer liked my subject because I was struggling to learn a whole new set of subject knowledge (what I now understand as subject knowledge for teaching). This annoyed me because aspects of my subject I had loved just became really frustrating – I wasn’t allowed to just get on and ‘do’ maths, I had to think about it from a teaching perspective all the time. I hadn’t expected this to be so hard and it was wearing me down. Learning to plan in a manageable timeframe, coping with lessons and constantly being given ideas for improvement was making me feel like I had lost the passion for my subject.

What upset me most though was the fact that I didn’t like many of the children I was teaching! This really shocked and unnerved me. I now know that what was actually happening is that I was taking pupils’ behaviour too personally and that, in most cases, it wasn’t actually the pupils I disliked but what they were doing and how they were making me feel; at the time though I just thought that I must have got it wrong and teaching wasn’t working for me.

The issue is the two things that are likely to be the most prominent reasons why you came in to teaching are the two things you are going to find it hardest to get right at the moment!

Even if you are managing behaviour well, and lessons seem to be going smoothly, it is unlikely that you will really like all the classes you are teaching. Pupils take time to trust teachers and build relationships with them and the ‘fun’ of the teacher-pupil relationship normally comes with this trust. This means in many cases you won’t be having the relationships with pupils you imagined and, without these relationships, it may be hard to like some pupils and really enjoy many of the lessons you teach.

So how do you combat this?

Focus on the positives – don’t sigh, I know I keep saying this but it is so important! You need to find the class you like, the lesson that went well, the breakthrough in a relationship and celebrate it. If you are only enjoying teaching one class (even if there are no problems with the others) then this is the class you need to think about at the end of the day. Tell people about them and what you enjoy about working with them. Similarly, notice when you have actually enjoyed planning a particular lesson or using a specific task with your pupils. Don’t expect this to happen all the time, just make sure you notice when it does!

Ask experienced teachers how they felt in the first one or two years of their career – pick a teacher you trust and ask them to be honest about they felt in their training year. They are likely to begin by talking about how challenging it was and that ‘it gets easier’ but try to push them to talk more about how they felt – do they remember not being happy? Not liking pupils? Not enjoying their subject? This will help you know it’s normal.

Prioritise your targets – instead of looking at a whole list of targets, and feeling like you don’t know where to begin, try to agree with your mentor a specific target to focus on for a few days. At the end of each day think only about your development in relation to that target and, again, celebrate and enjoy the steps you have made however small.

Don’t think about getting to the end of June – instead of thinking that the end of June is a long way off just focus on the upcoming week. What do you want to achieve by Friday? Break the weeks running into Easter down and just take them one at a time. Focus on finding one thing to enjoy or celebrate each day and, before you know it, it will be time for a break!