There are rhythms and moods to a school year; patterns that repeat across days and terms and years. A calendar of movements that roll from Monday morning bells to Friday afternoon bells, to meetings at 3.15 on Tuesdays to the deadline of reports each June; exams always start in October and the Swimming Carnival, weather permitting, always punctuates Week 3, Term One.
Time is broken up into productive increments. The precision of a school timetable with its 8.44 starts, and 1.02 lunch times is odd to anyone outside of teaching- minutes must be maximised but not overcapitalised on (as every school timetable will tell you). Teachers quickly fall into the staccato nods of periods across a day and forget that time isn’t so meanly delineated for everyone.
School years always start with The Planting Season. Teachers and their new classes familiarise themselves with routines and expectations, the rules and the rewards. Teachers quickly find themselves rolling out the old clichés – ‘not in my classroom’ and ‘I’ll be calling your parents’. Classroom dynamics are being established and teachers are working hard to ensure the year commences with the right amount of push and pull. Students are eager to be hooked. A new year comes with new possibilities – new subjects, new teachers, new knowledge and experiences.
There is an atmosphere of optimistic freneticism with the holiday break having rejuvenated teachers and students both. Dry, hot summer days are peppered across February, easing into the shortening of the days across March, and by April the school year is turning – fast paced with back chat, and seating plans and first assessments well and truly in fine swing.
Term Two is a hard slog.
Winter does its creep, slowly but surely and then you are driving home in the dark with a bag full of marking and the comments of a colleague with their whiplash opinion interrupting your podcast.
There is also a settling that occurs across this term. Students and teachers know each other and their ways of working, which can be leveraged for excellent learning. There is an anchoring to the mood in Term Two and with it comes opportunity. It is in this period that the successes or misses of Term One become particularly apparent. If the foundation was not laid well, the cracks start appearing, which can be uncomfortable and stressful. These tension points also provide the chance for experimentation and creativity and a spinning of approach, which ultimately lead to a fine tuning of a teacher’s skill.
The description of teachers ‘crawling’ to the holidays is thrown about, usually during report writing week when the additional work turns the tension of the term a degree to the right. This teaching season requires a quiet determination and a good dose of teacher self care. Warm soups, and lemon tea is a good place to start.
Term Three is the term where the results of student and teacher hard work reveal themselves. The Growth Season; where students demonstrate what they have understood, or missed entirely. It is the calmest of the terms with a steady pace and an emphasis on progress.
Term Three has its eye towards the following year. Students mature in this term with an edging towards the next year level. Senior students are asked to consider their subjects for the following year – the word ‘pathways’ is thrown about with little respect to its weightiness. Students are encouraged, and if required, gently coerced into making decisions about the where and who and what of their future. History or Biology? VET Hospitality or Health? More Maths or less Humanities? For students with a decided sense of their strengths and their interests this forward planning ignites a tangible drive; for others it is a flattening experience, where schooling is minimised into its utilitarian purpose of pushing students towards further education or work.
Fortunately, September brings the sun and with it an increase in mood. There are always less detentions run in Term Three than any other term of the year.
The Turning Season is one of heightened emotions. Signs indicating that end-of-year examinations are occurring start to appear on glass doors and a collective tightening of breath follows. Year 11 and 12 students with their heightened emotional states vicariously ignite the emotional states of other students, with the frenzy of final exams rippling across the school. Maintaining learning momentum can be a challenge with students and teachers feeling the nudge of summer holidays.
As the year turns over, there is a quiet sense of achievement that another year has passed. Time is allocated to teacher collaboration and reflection, with teaching occurring alongside forward planning and important reflections on the successes and the unfulfilled opportunities of the year.
The pace both slows and quickens as students complete their year’s work for one class, only to be thrust into an orientation of their new subjects.
For teachers and students this is a familiar end of year ritual – an unembellished exchange of verbal thanks between teacher and student often occurs, cards with kind words may be given and there is the possibility that a box of chocolates may be placed anonymously on your desk.
The relationships and dynamics that have been built over a year are unanchored and left adrift until the next year, when with inevitability the familiar seasons quietly commence again.