Back to school again. The terror never really fades. It always always feels like a big deal going back after a break. My morning ten minutes of yoga is a guided practice and I’m asked to set an intention – both for the immediate practice as as something to carry with me during the day. It’s meant to be a single word if possible. Today I chose “context”.

I woke several times last night with brain spinning and winding over various different problems and obligations that I have in school right now. I found it hard to unclench my mind and drift back off to sleep; I was just bouncing over and over again on the same topics that are worrying me: not having the course covered for the pre’s, the expectations that students have that it should be easier, the fact that our bloody robot isn’t working in 4th year and the competition is in two week’s time, the longer term preparation of non-exam-year students who so often get neglected …

Over and over, brain turning like one of those cake mixers, or cement mixers – not really doing anything as such, but keeping the whole thing churned up and unsettled. Good if you need to ruminate on something. Not so good if you’re trying to go to sleep.

But then this morning, that word occurred to me – context. If I put this job in the context of my whole life I feel more able to step back a bit from it and grab onto that bigger realisation – that the stuff I’m spending so much time ruminating upon is not actually even my job. That’s the stuff for the students to sort out. And as usual, some of them will do the work and perform according to the standards expected by academia in our country, and others of them won’t. But by and large the vast majority of them will get on with their own lives in the longer term and they’ll be just fine. They will have some kind of human life out there and they will probably think very little about the time they spent in school. Even less about the time they struggled with maths. They might remember turning up to a competition without a working robot, I guess, but maybe there’s even a lesson in there as well.

And I’m done attempting to bail them out.

Don’t read that wrong – I’m not done with helping and lending all the support I absolutely can, but if it’s not asked for, then what’s the point? I’m just shouting into the wind at that point, all my energy wasted on not making an iota of difference, and using up everything that I might have had available for the students who need that directed support, or – selfishly – for outside of the job, for my own children, family and creative projects.

Context, y’see.

So, there we go. I’m pretty sure I’m going to struggle with keeping that to the fore of my brain. I’m pretty sure I’ll have moments today when I get flustered and wound up and more than a little panicky, but even if I were to have spent my Christmas break poring over the up-coming pre-s and making sure to address all those niggly surprises in advance, it still wouldn’t help with the true exam in June, and in fact, it wouldn’t even land with 80% of the kids in front of me. And worse than all of that: it wouldn’t actually teach anyone anything. So a triple whammy of pointlessness; wasted effort, that undermines the kids’ learning potential, and doesn’t even help in a “teach to exam” fashion.

Writing here is helpful. Now I’m spinning the cement mixer in a different context (there’s that word again!). Now I’m turning over and over the words “larger context” in my mind over and over again to remind myself that there’s something bigger at play here – lots and lots of things, in fact. I’ve got the larger world-view of my own life rather than just my job to consider, but also within my job, doing more is not more effective. Sometimes it will even have the effect counter to the one that I expect. I need to take a bit of a leap of faith (leap into faith, Good Place?) and trust that I’m doing a decent job as it is, and all those factors that are outside my control really are actually outside my control, and that’s exactly where they belong.

I’m teaching them to deal with more than exams here, right?