I love teaching. There’s nothing like it; that feeling that you’ve helped a pupil find the switch onto something. Just that thing, of being in the classroom. The unexpected everything of it. The absolute joy and privilege and wonder.
It’s beyond job satisfaction.
So, then – why did I quit?
When I finally made the decision, properly, to leave full time teaching, it felt like failure. It felt like I’d let pupils down. None of it felt ‘good’. But it was right for me. I couldn’t carry on as I had been.
My only regret, now, is that I wish I’d looked at my working practice sooner. I wish I’d looked after myself better.
Why are so many teachers so tired? Stressed? Struggling? Worse?
There’s lots to be said about policy and staffing and all those things we know need to be improved.
But for the want of a magic wand, I can’t do anything about that immediately. I can only look at what I could have done. For me.
So much is said about wellbeing. And so much that goes on in teaching culture doesn’t help wellbeing.
I think the core of it is to do with the fact that most teachers, if not all, want the best for their students. We want them to achieve and flourish and be… happy.
This means it’s a job with no turn off time, no end, no clocking off. There’s always something you can be doing as a teacher.
And there’s also always the pressure of management wanting to keep or make a school ‘Outstanding’, a list of things that feel undoable, unapproachable, like you will be the reason the school – or worse – the pupils fail.
So many teachers’ answer to this is to just… keep working.
That was me. Working every day. Long into the night. Over weekends. Early in the morning. My entire life was the job.
I would have carried on forever that way if I hadn’t developed an anxiety disorder and depression.
But there were signs all along. My working habits and what I felt was expected of me were hugely unhealthy, and were always going to end in burn out.
So, am I saying give up teaching? No!
If I could go back in time, and talk to me then I would have some advice and maybe things would be different. For example:
Are you in a school where even sitting in the staffroom without working is looked down on, or you feel guilty to not be doing something? That has to stop. You are allowed to take breaks.
Stop at a given time each night. And that time has to be before 9pm.
Have two weekday evening where you do nothing at home, not one thing, for school. Sure, stay later, but come home, and only do fun things, or relaxing things, nothing for school. Learn how to say, ‘No’.
Go to the doctor’s much sooner, and do not feel bad about taking time off work to feel better. Because, what is important to you? What matters? Your pupils are only going to do better if you are well. That’s just true.
Sometimes, we forget to teach our students that constant striving isn’t everything. Doing your best, yes.
Creating a world about you that is better, kinder, with people you care about, and a life you love, also yes. But always doing more? I don’t think we’re doing any good by teaching them that.
Knowing how to genuinely look after yourself, modelling how to do that, and showing young people it’s okay to say ‘no’, to say, ‘I need more time’, to say, ‘I am looking after me’, might be the most important lesson you teach them, after all.
And if I’d have thought about this sooner, I might still be in the classroom today.
Yours, a friend
Do you recognise yourself in this letter? If so, Education Support Partnership – the UK’s only charity providing mental health and wellbeing support services to all education staff and organisations – might be able to help. Find out more at educationsupportpartnership.org.uk.
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