I am sitting in a classroom at 4.30pm supervising extra study for a Yr11 student; my Yr 9 daughter is opposite me doing her English homework on Macbeth. I have been awake for 12 hours, I have made 6 breakfasts, 6 lunches, I have made a batch of flapjacks for an illegal Yr 7 cake sale in class today as part of my marathon fundraising. I have taught 4 classes, set up a justgiving account, completed a job application form, covering letter, disclosure form and sent it off. I have amended my Yr 10 reports and, after a snotty e-mail from a colleague, amended another colleagues Yr 10 reports too. I have changed the system in support of one colleague and bemoaned the system in support of another. I have tutored my SEN student for Science GCSE (I teach RE!) and stood out in the cold eating a salad for lunch (It seemed the best option given that it was snowing) whilst doing lunch duty where I play the game ‘nick the nicotine’. I have printed off far too much students work for those kids who don’t have printers or internet access, I have marked some books, planned Thursdays classes and sorted out my groups for our Deep Learning Day on Wednesday. I have planned a meal for my kids tonight and one for me and my partner that fits in with our diet. I have chatted to hundreds of students about the concert I took my daughter to last night and linked student to student in the name of community. I have dried socks and shoes on radiators and found lost PE bags, I have lent my jacket to a student and bought one student a roll after his brother lost both their dinner monies. I have initiated a display with the reprographics man and had a cup of coffee with colleagues. I have caught up on Twitter links from my DH and done some more work on my MLDP course.
It is 3.40pm and my day is nowhere near over, at some point in my day, if I am lucky and my own children are not hugely demanding tonight, someone might just consider me. My well being may just be talked about, inquired after, soothed, reflected upon, advised in some capacity and my emotional ‘well’ may be replenished…just a bit, just enough to get me through tomorrow.
I am a happy teacher, I am a teacher who thrives on my work, the thrill of pedagogy and the constant opportunity to improve, trial, create motivates me hugely and I adore what I do. I am lucky, so lucky and so humble because I am reflective and self aware and I know why I love my work so much. I know why I can cope with my workload and my other commitments.
I am given time and opportunity to reflect, inspire and be inspired, I am encouraged and challenged and pushed with respect and my best interests at the heart of those who know me well enough to know what I can take. I have strong relationships with my colleagues and I know when to withdraw from those people that make me feel anything less than positive. As is my right. I am cared about and in turn I care. I am in a school where my well being is considered and this is why I stay being a teacher. This is why others, who don’t have what I have, leave the profession. I was almost one of them.
In my training year no one ever told me about how I should take care of myself or balance my workload; the only advice I got was to have one night off a week. I remember thinking that as a mother who hadn’t slept for a decade a ‘night off’ was never going to happen, even for the graduates free of responsibility, a night off was scary, we would fall behind and drown in the murky quagmire of our workloads and never get the illusive ‘outstanding’ with Ofsted. I knew I had to learn to cope and prioritise, being a parent highlights those needs quite quickly, but I had to go back to school to do it.
I went to evening classes and studied a course on counselling skills; I trained myself to be more resilient, self aware and reflective. Through a journal and with expert help I learnt to get to know me. I became a better communicator and realised how important it was to really listen to someone and be listened to; it was my eureka moment and changed my whole outlook on life and what I could expect from it. I did this course during my training year; I wanted to be the teacher I never had, a good teacher, a strong teacher a memorable teacher. I wanted, like so many trainees, to make a difference and I invested in that desire. My training year was hell, I was a mother of three very young children and had no support, I could cope with the workload but couldn’t cope with the lack of support from my placement school. I can honestly say that throughout the whole year I had no one to talk to, no one to listen to me. I was too busy to seek someone out and as long as I was working no one cared if I was there or not.
For me, well being is everything that underpins and supports our work, we are emotionally drained minute by minute as teachers, by their very nature children take everything they can from us and what they give back is rarely planned and intended in comparison to what we give. Well being is the difference between a resilient, brave and confident teacher and one who finds life staggering behind them whilst they hurtle through the days never reflecting and losing the opportunity to learn from their actions.
I now work in a school that looks after me, I am cared about and others are too, even if they don’t realise it. If I am feeling wary, fragile, uncertain, I can go to someone and say how I feel and someone will listen to me, actively listen to me. Can we all say that? Does it sound a bit too touchy/feely? Does it sound like something you don’t have time for? If your day is like mine above then at some point soon you too will need someone to talk to, and what will make you resilient will be having someone there at the time when you need them.
As leaders in any capacity how many of us offer ‘a chat’ to our colleagues, how often do we get ‘a chat’ offered to us? How many of us know how to actively listen to someone and turn a conversation around to someone else’s benefit? Can you listen without interrupting? Can you make a conversation with someone all about them? can you manipulate a conversation to empower and embolden someone to find the answers and solutions to their problems all by themselves through reflection and support? This is real well being and the absence of this in a school, in whatever form, makes me sad, but also makes me wary. As trainers and leaders this fundamental part of our practice is necessary to securing the successful recruitment of future teachers and leaders. We have to take ‘care’ of our staff, we have to listen and support and ensure that every day like the one above – and lets face it, the rest of the week will be pretty much the same – is coped with and enjoyed at some level
I left teaching after my training year; I spent time at home with my young family and used my newly gained qualification to home educate them and give them back something of the mum they had lost though my year of hell. I used my counselling skills to put my house in order and make solid plans that would support me and my family in the future; they didn’t involve teaching in high school. I studied some more and lived my life, I dealt with tragedies and loss, happiness and new beginnings, I started running and ran several marathons and joined a running club that supported me and mirrored the needs of leaders to care and build resilience and determination. Crucially, through it all. I kept a reflective diary.
One day I decided that I needed more security, I looked at what I could do (Having had a varied career history) and what I wanted to do, I looked at my growing family and the role model I wanted to be. I reflected and asked myself what would make me proud and what would make my children proud of me, what walk could I walk successfully and achieve highly in. The voice in my head said teaching.
I joined a supply agency with a determination to do things differently; to supply until I found a school worthy of me, one that fed my interests and would support me holistically. A school that would enhance my life, not drain it away.
I found one. I found a great leader.
In whatever form it takes, staff well being is vital from the very start of our careers and all the way through it, regardless of position. Those on reduced timetables and with more opportunities need to be seeking out ways of improving this for everyone, no ifs or buts. We need to nourish our staff, we need to support and refill their emotional wells as quickly as they are being emptied. Its not all touchy feely, its the responsibility that comes with leadership and working with human beings. It’s the emotional intelligence we need to own and foster in others to ensure strong and successful working relationships that are mutually dedicated to fostering success in other peoples children.
This job is not a 9-5er; it is not a job we leave behind at the end of the day, its never ending, on going, relentless and so therefore needs support and well being alongside it.
I love my vocation….it is not a ‘job’. I love the place where I am at now in my life. I have well being and I worked hard to achieve it. If you want a strong, resilient workforce then invest in well being for your school too, not everyone will travel a road like mine but while the challenges of life seek out all of us at some time or another then the need will always be there. If not, then we can expect more teachers to leave the profession in the first five years, many industries offer far more lucrative options that include every evening off and the weekends too. Is 13 weeks holiday a year that big a deal when for many your soul hangs in the balance? Clearly not.
Just think what we could achieve with a staff of empowered, self directed, confident, adventurous, brave and resilient teachers…..just imagine.