For everyone Our best intentions

Image: Eleri Harris

New year’s resolutions are made with the best of intentions. I will eat at least one plant-based meal per day! I will curb my drinking! I will use exclamation marks more prudently! But, even so, by the time February rolls around, many goals have fallen to the wayside. According to Strava (a networking app for athletes), most fitness-related resolutions fail as early as January 12. But what about work-specific resolutions?

We teachers are optimistic folk, liking to begin each year with refreshed purpose, commitment and optimism. Personally, I find there’s no better way to do this than with a new pack of highlighters. Nothing says ‘I’ve got this!’ like a carefully colour-coded timetable (the colours matching the labels of corresponding subject folders, of course). A well-coloured timetable projects an image of order, calm and aesthetic poise.

Next: the diary. It takes roughly 10 minutes to transform the ‘year-at-a-glance’ page into a work of systematic, symmetrical beauty, with term dates crosshatched and public holidays circled in cheerful colours.

As you admire your fluoro handiwork, you are aglow with the knowledge you’re already an improved version of yourself: efficient, tidy, positively Zen-like. Surely, this will be the year you become the teacher you’ve always aspired to be. You will be a more effective educator! You will achieve worklife balance! You will be healthier at work! With a timetable and diary this spectacular, what could possibly go wrong?

Like nirvana, the so-called state of ‘work–life balance’ is spoken of in revered tones.

1: Be a more effective educator!

Hypothesis: It’s not that you weren’t a good teacher last year, but a new year is the perfect time to improve, especially with new students unversed in your weak spots.

Strategies may include: no smiling before Easter; learning one interesting thing about each student by the second week; and a maximum seven-day turnaround when marking assignments.

Likely outcome: you accidentally smile on the first Wednesday, laugh on Thursday, and tell a bad joke on Friday; you can’t remember half the students’ names, let alone their hobbies; and by Week 5 you’ve lost an entire class’s essays.

Result: D Just smile, apologise and tell another bad joke.

2: Achieve work–life balance!

Hypothesis: Like nirvana, the so-called state of ‘work–life balance’ is spoken of in revered tones. It’s so valued, your principal once made the whole staff attend a weekend PD on this very topic. (You’d re-read your notes if you could find them.)

Strategies may include: staying back each afternoon to finish planning/marking; better yet, arriving at school by 6.30am every morning to get it done while ‘fresh’.

Likely outcome: the 6.30am arrival lasts for two days, before sliding into 7am for two weeks, then a civilised 8am. You’d like to stay behind in the afternoons, but you have kids/appointments/sports/miscellaneous to take care of, and by Week 5 you’re found stacking piles of marking into the boot of your car at 4pm on a Friday. These remain in your car until 2pm on Saturday, at which point you haul them into your ‘office’ (spare/junk room), before shifting them to the kitchen table on Sunday at 10am, where they stay, glaring at you until 7pm on Sunday, which is when you reconsider the whole ‘6.30am’ resolution. You’re marking till midnight.

Result: C- At least you can sleep in till 6am.

3: Be healthier at work!

Hypothesis: It’s not that you were that unhealthy last year (at least not compared to Geoff, the IT guy), but there are areas you could improve upon. After all, a healthy body means a healthy mind!

Strategies may include: limiting coffees to two per day; bringing lunch from home; making use of one of those standing desks.

Likely outcome: You line your shelves with alternative beverages: green tea, rooibos and a can of that herbal coffee substitute you hadn’t realised was still legal, which languish on the shelves all term while you make another triple-shot coffee and grab a bottle of Coke Zero at the canteen – because you’ve been so good, bringing your lunch from home and all.

Result: B- Enjoy the treats. At least your diary is in good shape.

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