Teacher wellbeing is perhaps the most important issue in schools.
I know you are going to try to argue that the children’s learning and development is the most important thing, but hear me out. I have reason and logic and I’m prepared to use it!
Picture the scene: it’s 9am and you are entering a classroom full of eager, intelligent children. You have been awake all night creating amazing resources and ensuring that their lessons today maximise your time together. Your Mum rang last night to say that Auntie Ethel died yesterday, she was your favourite aunt growing up and you know you haven’t made time to see her for years. You are heartbroken and annoyed with yourself for not visiting her more often. To make things worse, you probably won’t be able to get to the funeral because she isn’t a close enough relative to get the time off so you won’t even be able to say goodbye. You know that you have reports to write at the weekend otherwise you won’t get them done in time but it’s your youngest daughter’s birthday on Friday and she’s desperate to have a family day out on Saturday to celebrate – bless her, she hasn’t even asked for a party.
You will inevitably end up working late all week so that you can justify the time off on Saturday and you have already noticed your diet sliding. It will be ore take aways this unless you can convince your partner to cook. Your best friend text this morning to ask if you would do the Race for Life with her this year, you really should, but you can’t remember the last time you made time to go for a run, who knows, maybe this year it will finally kill you? You grabbed a coffee on the way into school and sat for a few minutes and cried; exhaustion, grief, despair? Who knows. Thank goodness you didn’t put make up on so it won’t be obvious to anyone. You look at the children in front of you and wonder if they can see all this on your face, probably not, but some of them definitely clocked that stifled yawn a moment ago and a couple of the girls are looking at you with a mix of sympathy and confusion, it’s probably the unnatural amount of dry shampoo in your hair this morning. When was the last time you had a shower?…
Is this the best mindset to be in to cope with the demands of teaching? Will those children be getting the best from their teacher?
Equally importantly are your own children or loved ones getting the best version of you.
Most importantly though, you deserve to be feeling, at least some days, like the best version of you.
My teacher wellbeing journey…
This photo is me with my very first class. I was 23 years old and living alone for the first time. There were lots and lots of factors (which you can read about in more detail here if you are interested.) but one of the most impactful was my burning desire to be the best teacher I could possibly be. I had wanted to be a teacher all my life and I wanted to prove I could really help the children in my class.
I lived alone, so I didn’t have anyone else to care for at home. My parents were still young and healthy, even my grandparents were. I had more time and energy than at any other time in my life to put into my job and that was the problem.
I gave teaching everything I had. Literally every drop of energy, every waking moment. Until I woke up one morning just before Christmas and I couldn’t stop crying.
It took 6 months of antidepressants and a lot of weepy conversations with my Mum (also a teacher) and lots of good friends to get me back on track.
I was lucky.
I know that probably sounds silly, but it’s true. I threw myself into teaching so completely that I broke hard and fast. The result was that I recognise the warning signs when things were starting to get too much and I didn’t let myself go as far down that road. I changed my routine, my habits and withdrew any non-essential energy. I have been fortunate that I have never reached that point again.
Many teachers bob along somewhere on the “teacher wellbeing scale” for years without hitting that point. Many more than would like to admit it are closer to breaking point than they are to blissful happiness though.
Teacher Wellbeing Training
Last week I was finally able to deliver some face to face training and it was so good to be back with teachers. The impact of the last two years has been huge on schools and it has never been more important to focus on mental health.
The schools had asked me to talk about my resources and particularly my whole school programme (which they had subscribed to but not explored fully) and also to talk about the science of wellbeing and focus a little on teacher wellbeing. This is my favourite sort of training session, and what I encourage schools to have because making the session all about the children can feel like we are just adding to staff stress and workload.
At the end of the sessions I had so many teachers, incuding leadership teams, coming over and thanking me for giving them the opportunity to really think about their own wellbeing and priorities.
You might be reading this and thinking, “I’m ok, I love my job and I never feel stressed!”. I hope you are. However, if you have noticed that you aren’t sleeping as well as usual, your diet has changed, you are drinking more alcohol or feeling more negative than usual you might be at the top of a slippery slope. Please don’t ignore my warnings because it is so much easier to make changes and create good habits when you are feeling well.
Often our good habits slip over time and we don’t notice. Life gets busier and busier and we just keep sacrificing ourselves and we hardly notice that everything we enjoy doing has slowly slipped away and we are just machines fulfilling the many and varied rolls we have in life.
We know that we should make time to exercise, that when we eat better, drink more water, get more sleep… that we feel better and we have more energy and most importantly that we are more efficient and calmer at school. When we care for ourselves we don’t lose our temper as quickly, we enjoy life more, we cope with hiccups and set backs with ease and we smile more. When we smile more and we cope with life more effortlessly everyone around us feels happier and more able to cope and the feeling spreads just like that awful virus that we’re all fed up of hearing about!
Care for yourself and you accidentally benefit everyone around you.
If every you needed an incentive there it is! I know that you think that by putting yourself last all the time that you are helping everyone else as much as you can, but in actual fact you are doing the opposite.
If you get to the point, like I did, where you can’t get out of bed and can barely function, who is going to teach your class? Who will look after your loved ones? Think of all the worry you will cause everyone? You don’t want to do that, do you?
Of course none of these things would be your “fault” you always do your best, I know that. I’m just trying to push some of the buttons I hope will jolt you into action and make you realise that you are the most important person in your life, whether you can believe it yet, or not.
By looking after yourself you are giving them a happy, healthy, enthusiastic person to enjoy spending time with, in and out of school.
So what changes can you make this school year to ensure that you are happy and healthy and giving everyone in your life what they really need from you?