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When I started fieldwork, I didn't expect to end up emotionally exhausted

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When I started fieldwork, I didn't expect to end up emotionally exhausted

Very early this morning (between 5-6 am), I made my way to a school for fieldwork. I left Cambridge really early in the morning for first period lessons, as I rely on public transport and my whole journey to school on public transport would take about one hour, minus the time taken for me to cycle to the train station and walk to school, and I’d rather be early than late.

Only for me to be waiting at the school reception for slightly more than half an hour! I was exhausted from the cycle and train ride and the walk to school, and I desperately needed a second cup of coffee at that point. I was there early, only to miss bits of the lesson because s/he forgot about me intending to go to school today despite me telling him/her about it last week (The use of both gender pronouns are deliberate to protect the identity of my participant).

Participants forgetting about me coming in to see them is one of the vulnerabilities I’ve discovered, as I am coming to the end of fieldwork. I was already physically exhausted this morning, which I think has triggered the emotional exhaustion this afternoon.

As I was a Beginning Teacher when I studied for the MTeach four years ago, I get that Beginning Teachers are busy, having to learn to juggle school commitments (lesson planning, preparing worksheets, marking, etc.) and faculty commitments (looking up references, then reading them for write ups, essays, etc.), which brings me to the next vulnerability that I discovered - some participants not replying to my emails on school visits, which, yet again, I get as a beginning teacher (remember that I was once one of them); they might be anxious about planning their lessons and how their lessons would go, but…

I was very anxious myself when my emails were not replied to, despite the fact that email replies are totally beyond my control. Granted all of them have replied to my emails at this point in time, but at that time, all my thoughts were jumbled around my head: Will I be able to observe two-three lessons within the limited time I have? Will I have time to buy train tickets or plan bus routes so that I don’t have to take a taxi? Will I eventually need a taxi because the bus doesn’t show up on time or there are no buses that run on the route where the school is located? Will I need to get two buses to shorten journey time? Will I need a taxi because I won’t have time to train hop from one town at one side of Cambridgeshire to the other town at the other side of Cambridgeshire to get to more than one school in one day?

As I continue to interact with the beginning teachers during the course of fieldwork, there is yet another vulnerability that I discovered: the interactions with them sometimes forced me to dig deep into myself, causing me to confront myself. When it happens, it causes emotional exhaustion, and I need to recover from my emotional exhaustion by putting distance between myself and my work for the time being.

When I first started fieldwork, I expected physical exhaustion from all the travelling, but I never expected emotional exhaustion and the vulnerabilities - two things worth reading up on.

Hamizah Haji-Haidi (@AmyHeidi) is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. This story was published on May 8, 2017, on Hamizah’s blog, Reflective journeys of a doctoral student (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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Published on: May 28, 2019

PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
See more from Hamizah Haji-Haidi


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