There has been a lot written in the teaching press at the moment about the wellbeing of teachers and the effect of stress on the profession.
With horrific headlines that have sent shock waves through our profession, such as this one
‘ Head Hangs herself after Ofsted down grades her school’ http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/nov/20/headteacher-killed-herself-after-ofsted-downgrade-inquest.
Teacher stress levels in England ‘soaring’, data shows from a BBC investigation.
Or the Crisis? What Crisis? | @ChocoTzar a head teacher http://www.labourteachers.org.uk/crisis-what-crisis-chocotzar/
The latest one to be published today is that ‘Teachers work longer hours in England and Scotland than most other developed countries’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-34902882.
How have we got to this situation? Our government is so convinced that we are doing such a poor job, that it is driving the profession into the ground with accountability targets, league tables, data tracking, and performance measures.
We are being driven in to production line mode, one model fits all. If you teach this way, the subject that we were taught in the elite private schools of our forefathers, and of our white middle class patriarchal government, then our current standards and students will all get better and be more successful; in the meantime, jobs are less available, prices are soaring, family units are changing, and our children have uncertain futures that they are unable to plan for.
Meanwhile innocent people attend a concert one evening only never to return home. We have to answer the questions, the why do we have to do this subject? this content? this lesson miss? when all they want to know is why did they do that miss? and we have not a thought to our own care.
We as teachers are caught up in the maelstrom of mayhem and somehow have to pave a way through this for the young and tender minds of our charges while taking care of ourselves as we make sense of the chaos.
So we push ourselves to keep going for the sake of our jobs, to reach the targets, to meet the deadlines of the never ending expectations that are thrown our way. The change in the marking policy half way through the year, the change in the presentation policy because somebody went to another school and their books looked better than our books. The HR policies that state you can’t go to a funeral unless it’s your absolute closest family member, even though this close family friend raised you because your mother was very ill for a lot of your childhood and now you want to say your goodbyes, yet when they finally relent you are reminded that your pay will be docked. The policy that states you can’t attend your own child’s parents evening because it falls on our parents evening and you have to prioritise the school’s one ahead of seeing to your own child’s progress. The policies that make you worry when you take more than the number of allotted days off sick within any three consecutive months for fear of a meeting to discuss your suitability to do your job, so you don’t take that extra day. You push on through to the half term and spend an entire 5 days in bed, spending no time with your family through sheer exhaustion.
All the while this eats at your own wellbeing, every day you take yourself into class and the faces stare at you and they start to ask. ‘Are you ok miss?’ and you reply ‘I’m fine, you know, marking late’. Looking at them wondering if they are ok because if they really knew, would they go for the kill, would they see the weakness and like the lions on the plains of the Serengeti picking off the weakest in the pack. So you are firmer, a little less tolerant of the mischief, of the banter. A little sterner with the discipline because you know if you let anything slip it could all come crashing down like a house of cards.
So where do we go, who do we confide in when we feel the turmoil and the worry becoming too much to bear? We feel the wellbeing well becoming dry and our ability to function as a ‘normal teacher’ disappearing each day.
Do we look to someone in our department, our faculty head, and our line manager? So you look around and what do you see, similar black eyes, sunken faces, so you know you can’t talk to them because if you open those dams it will be too much, the water will flow through and you could break them, as they are just holding it all together just as you are. Do you go higher, you try, but they don’t want to hear, they are the edict pushers the ones who are driving the train, they want the results because they too are being driven by their own masters who are bigger, harder and more demanding, ones who we at the whiteboard are shielded somewhat from if your leadership team are doing their job well. But again wellbeing is seen as something unquantifiable, wishy-washy, and all a bit girly and often these male dominated leadership teams just don’t get it.
So where are our wellbeing warriors? They are out there. They are in the ether. They are on social media,they are in the Twittershpere in the amazing connections of #teacher5aday who has now reached it 1st birthday and celebrated by a month of #Wellbeing madness of delivering #wellbeing bags to many deserving teachers across the country organized by individual teachers who each were experiencing their own issues, who continued to care and worked tirelessly through October half term to bring smiles to their colleagues who they thought needed to be taken care of. But also in the connection made by other educators who share their work, stories and friendships and experience.
They are in the friends on Facebook who check in on you every now again just to make sure you are doing ok. They are the #Staffroom bloggers who just say it how it is not for fame or glory but remind you that they are having a tough time, fun time, bake time, purple pen time, crazy exam answer time.
They are in the sharing world of edubloggers, both known and anonymous who shed light on their own schools and make your realize you are not along no matter how hard it gets.
The #WomenEd who are striving to raise the profile of women educators promoting the importance of not losing site of being a woman who is able to nurture and be strong at the same time in education. We don’t have to emulate men to be successful.
They are in your family when they just remember that you need chocolate when you are marking and not just those silly little bars but those really big 750g size bars and no matter how much you say you are on a diet they buy them for you anyway.
But finally your best Wellbeing Warrior is yourself, you need to recognize when it’s too much. Not be afraid to admit enough is enough. Put planning, pen, laptop, phone down. Leave the washing, ironing, tidying, clearing up or whatever other task it is that takes you away from listening to your voice, hearing what it is telling you. Then acting on what needs to be done.
I have found my Wellbeing warriors, I have small select group who know my struggles, I call them friends, who I trust to be honest with me as I am with them. But most of all I am now being honest with myself. Now it is time to start to fight. I want to put wellbeing at the front of everything I do, not just professionally but personally. I will not let my wellbeing become second place again and neither should you.
Are you ready to be a Wellbeing Warrior? Look us up. #Teacher5aday, #wellbeingsuperheros. #womensEd, #Nurture1516 write, stand-up be heard, before it’s too late and we are another front page headline. Make 2016 your Wellbeing year.