Laura-Jayne Ward got out of a bad situation and found one that works for her, and she's never been happier
Work. Save. Travel. Repeat.
This has become my motto for life, and it’s what has kept me in the profession.
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. So finding the right school and the right job that fits you is vital.
Two years ago I had become one of those teachers with bags under her eyes from tiredness. One of those who sniped and shouted at home over the smallest thing and who tried desperately not to cry at work.
Work consumed every second, and I could not think of anything else even when at home or out with friends.
I did not like the person I had become.
After nine and a half years, the career I had invested so much in felt like it was breaking me. It was time to leave. But I wasn’t ready to give up on teaching just yet, so I decided I’d give it one last chance.
So in December 2015, I left my job, home and friends and moved to a city that, before the interview for my new job, I’d never even visited. I have never looked back.
You see, when I walked into my new school, I felt like me. I wasn’t being made to act like someone different. I didn’t feel like my gut was twisting whenever I had to speak to a member of staff to ask them to do something. Instead, I was encouraged and challenged to do the best I could for the students and staff.
When things didn’t work the first time I was supported to work out why it didn’t work and to fix it. Smiles and laughter had become part for my day again and when things did go completely upside down someone was there to make a cup of tea.
Chris Eyre in The Elephant in the Staffroom: How to Reduce Stress and Improve Teacher Wellbeing talks about your values, and having your own clear view of what education is for. Where this doesn’t align with the value and views of the school, that’s where we find ourselves in trouble.
Chris talks about the need for us to build relationships with others, for us to have autonomy and freedom and for us to be treated, and treat people, with dignity.
For me, my previous school didn’t enable me to do that, and the strain of working in an environment whose vision and values were at odds with mine had eventually taken its toll.
My current school, however, does align, and I feel a sense of purpose and a love for teaching again.
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. So making time for you is vital.Story continues below..
Starting somewhere new gave me the opportunity to rethink how I organised my life, my time and my finances.
I was adamant I wasn’t going to become trapped in another job I hated. We talk a lot about wellbeing in schools today, and I was going to make sure I put my wellbeing first from the start.
I don’t like the term ‘work-life balance’. It implies they are separate, but work is such a big part of my life and I’m OK with that. It’s just that work isn’t the whole me, and it doesn’t define me.
So, I thought carefully about where I wanted my boundaries to be.
I’m a perfectionist, which in teaching is a recipe for disaster as nothing will ever be ‘finished’ or ‘perfect’. I needed to accept this, and think about how to do my job effectively by doing my best in the time available – and by that I mean the time I make available, not all my time!
Teaching is not the 8.30-3.30 job many believe it to be. You have to put in the hours outside this, and I personally would much rather work like a crazy person during the week and have my weekends and, most importantly, my holidays free.
I save up time (and money due to looking at my expenditure and doing a bit of comparing meerkats) so that I’m able to have it free for me so that I can…
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. So knowing what makes you happy in life and prioritising this is vital.
I’ve always had a think about new places. It’s why I studied geography, and what led me to train as a geography teacher. Even as a senior leader in school I still declare myself, first and foremost, to be a geographer.
Thinking back over the last few years, I’ve been at my happiest living out of a rucksack and off exploring the world. In fact, I’m writing this from a bungalow on the outskirts of Kruger National Park in South Africa after a day of photographing elephants, zebra, wildebeest and giraffes.
I have come to realise travelling isn’t an add-on to my life. It’s part of my life, just as much as my work is.
Travel rejuvenates me and satisfies the ever-curious geographer inside me. I am a happier person when I prioritise travelling in my life.
Being a teacher is hard. It drains you physically and mentally. But it is possible to do the job well and be happy and healthy. You just need to make sure you prioritise what makes you you.
Finding a job and a role that fits in with my vision and values in education and realigning my time and priorities to enable me to do the things I love enables me to maintain my own sense of wellbeing.
Being happy makes me a better person and a more-effective teacher and leader, so ‘Work. Save. Travel. Repeat’ has become my motto for life.
Laura-Jayne Ward is a self-confessed geography geek, as well as an explorer, teacher, senior leader, GA Post 16 committee member and occasional blogger. You can find her on leading4geography.com and follow her on Twitter at @leading4geog.