I must admit that this isn’t a post I ever thought I would write but my tweet last week had an unexpected response.
You see, I finally took a leap of faith and shared how much I hate having period pains whilst teaching.
I had so many responses, with a large number of female teachers sharing easily avoidable experiences if there was greater understanding and acceptance in the workplace.
When my monthly friend arrives, I get awful pains and I find it incredibly awkward and pretty challenging to carry on when all I want to do is roll up in a ball and scream or cry with sheer pain. And despite the pain, I power through with determination and try to get to the end of the lesson so I can take 5 minutes to recoup.
On occasions I’ve had to step inside my somewhat rather tight classroom cupboard and apply a heat pack, scramble for tablets in my bag and recoil through a cramp. Then I’ve heard a student ask “Where’s Mrs H?” and I pop out of the cupboard with a smile and say “I’m just in the cupboard” and the kids are none the wiser.
More recently though, the heat pack hasn’t be sufficient enough and I’ve had to borrow a hot water bottle from the school nurse. Even in a girls school I find it awkward having to hold a hot water bottle at the same time as trying to teach, all whilst my insides continue to twist and wrangle and squeeze themselves silly.
And my monthly experiences aren’t even the worst of them. In response to my tweet I received over 400 responses from female teachers of all ages. They shared their stories from period pains to accidental leaks, there were discussions of the symptoms of endometriosis to those associated with the menopause along with many other conditions or situations that make the monthly cycle a whole lot worse.
I feel ashamed that there has been many an occasion I’ve gone to write a tweet about period pains and each time I’ve got too embarrassed and deleted it. However it’s such a natural process, why are we so scared to discuss it?
We might well teach about menstruation yet as a society we still seem to hide and shy away from discussing periods and the like. It’s a shame that periods still seem to be such a taboo subject, even though at times our periods can cause great discomfort for both teachers and learners.
When it comes to periods, for some the discomfort comes in the form of spasms of pain, for others it’s being unable to make it to the toilet throughout the day, and then there are those that experience such heavy flows that they experience regular paranoia associated with leaks.
Along side menstruation, there can be the symptoms of PMS/PMT too. I for one find that even whilst I’m on anti-depressants for up to 10 days before my period arrives I can become an emotional wreck. One minute my emotions can be soaring high, the next they can be diving into the depths of despair. Try handling that in the classroom with 30 odd teenagers looking at you. It’s not easy.
Further more it’s also not easy to talk about it with managers and colleagues, especially with male colleagues, mention periods and often they just want the conversation over with as quickly as possible however this could just be my experience.
On that note however I did once have a male colleague that dealt extremely well with me when I burst into the staff room in tears due to the pain, needing someone to cover me and painkillers to which he supplied some incredibly powerful pain relief (thank you Nigel M).
No Time for the Loo
One of the things that cropped up numerous times in the replies was the number of female teachers and school leaders that said they fail to make it to the toilet throughout the school day, whether it’s the time of the month or not. This can cause multiple issues due to bacterial growth such as urinary tract infections, thrush and cystitis, which could potentially lead to time off of work and disruption to learning. We must make time to go.
Breaking the Taboo
After I started to write this piece I started looking into period policies and came across this really interesting Ted Talk on the topic along with the links below.
Menstrual leave: a workplace reform to finally banish the period taboo?
Should The UK Implement a Paid Period Leave Into Work Policies?
Period Power: Periods in the Workplace
I also think this might be a useful read:
Now I foresee a number of issues with the implementation of ‘period policies’ in schools, however I do think it’s really important that we start talking about the impacts of menstruation on our bodies. By doing so we can create a better working environment to support female workers with menstrual suffering.
How exactly we go about that on a large scale I’m unsure but I certainly believe there are small things that can be done to support female staff in schools and things we can do for ourselves too.
School leaders could:
- Allow staff to leave the classroom between lessons to take a toilet break.
- Create a request for support system, so that if a teacher needs to leave the room to deal with menstruation they can do so discreetly whilst another member of staff supervises for a short period of time.
- Provide hot water bottles for staff (and students) and allow use of them in the classroom.
- Understand that during this time some teachers may have to take to sitting down rather than wandering and interacting with students as they teach.
- Ensure there are sufficient toilets for the number of staff (my last school had 1 toilet for about 17 members of staff).
- Ensure you designate time to go to the toilet. If you have a duty, let someone know you’ll be a few minutes late or ask someone to cover for five minutes. If student’s need to see you, pop a “be right back” notice on the door. Do what you have to do to maintain your health and hygiene.
- If you are prone to issues, discuss it with your line manager or a colleague that may be able to support you e.g. someone that could cover you for five minutes in between lessons.
- Be prepared, keep a supply of tablets, heat patches and other comforts (I mean chocolate) in a safe and secure location e.g. a drawers, cupboard or staff room.
- Stop just saying “it’s just my period”, accept that it can be troublesome, you might need to step away from the classroom for five minutes or more to recoup and for some that a sick day maybe required to deal with the symptoms.
I must admit, I even had trouble writing this post and after some encouragement I returned to it to adapt and finish. I hope I haven’t put off any readers in writing on such a female topic and instead perhaps it has opened the eyes of some teachers or school leaders as to what their colleagues maybe experiencing.
Feel free to add your comments on the topic and take a moment to read this poem of solidarity by @honeypisquared.