The hardest term

I remember keenly the late March, early April of my first year of teaching. My colleagues, buffeted and disheartened, seemed to be clawing their way through Spring 2 as I blithely looked on, just getting into my teacher stride, wondering why everyone else was having such a hard time of it.

That was the only year of my teaching career I haven’t had an exam class. Now I know. I firmly believe that the Spring term, although it begins calmly enough, is the hardest term, crescendoing into Spring 2 with a the strength of many tornadoes.

Here are some reasons why:

1. Deadlines

All of a sudden, these become very real. I started a countdown in my diary (40 days until language coursework call-up, 30 days until Speaking and Listening exams need to be completed, 20 days to sort out the Literature Controlled Assessment) to try to keep all of these straight. Throw in a bit of self-evaluation and it’s suddenly deadline city. I quickly cancelled as many learning walks/book looks/student surveys as I could get away with. In fact, what was I thinking? In the future, Spring 2 should contain no superfluous deadlines.

2. Coursework/controlled assessment

The above deserves double, if not triple, mention here. It’s all about your students having the strongest portfolio to show the exam board what they can do. A folder which was looking fine to me in November suddenly appears to be full of gaping errors and misplaced apostrophes. Re-drafting (or re-writing) happens in all the snatched time you can find. Other subjects begin to grumble. Year 11 students become gold-dust.

3. Revision becomes crucial

Those gold-dust year 11s who are borderline in your subject also seem to be borderline in everyone else’s, and the bidding war begins. What was previously “only English on a Tuesday” turns into fierce bartering, as actually we’d like the students Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week for Controlled Assessment; so I need to give up some year 11s to you next week. Who’s keeping the revision attendance to inform parents of who was there, not there, and excused on this occasion? Oh that’s me. My spreadsheet begins to look labyrinthine. I have to translate this into something digestible for SLT. They look at me with quizzical faces in the relevant meeting. Even I can’t make it out anymore. I also feel like I spend my life on the phone to parents, chasing children and barring the door at 3.20pm so they can’t leave until I have imparted precious wisdom.

4. Crunch time

The pressure piles onto the poor, crucial year group and you see some children absolutely fly. In our final assembly, I was hard pressed to make a list of 33 amazing students turn into a feasible number to meaningfully reward with lovely stationary treats for being so fantastic. And then there are the others, who crushingly give up. I was reminded by someone far wiser than I on Friday that it is “always our job to believe in them, especially when they don’t believe in themselves.”

5. They’re tired, you’re tired; behaviour happens

Which means exclusions, reports, internal referral and more phone calls home, leaving teachers doubly tired for the next lesson and primed for more behaviour to happen.

6. The fun stuff is over

Well, maybe not over, but definitely paused. No switching rooms with the person in the drama studio to have a real go at some practical work with year 7 – the tiny classroom will have to do as I don’t have the time to organize anything beyond turning up with my wares and ideas. Trips also feel like a far-off memory – I’ve taken only two this term, and each (while marvelous and enriching) nearly killed me.

Do I sound pessimistic? I don’t mean to; I’m just tired, like every other teacher in the country, particularly those with exam classes.

I share this in the knowledge that we are not alone; we are all part of a shared effort to get young people to the best possible position, so we leave as little up to the chance of the exam day as possible. Our students lead hectic lives, and by this point in the year, with some, it becomes apparent that so little of what really matters is within our control as teachers.

Yet I feel a renewed sense of purpose: after all this work, from students and teachers, parents and leadership, how can all the lovely children not reach their target grades? I’m hoping it is enough, and I’m hoping they can keep going for just two more months.

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