Mrs Humanities

Because I'm married to the job.


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#TMWellbeingIcons 2019

I’m so excited to be organising the first Teach Meet Wellbeing Icons and sharing what will be a magnificent day.

Keep reading to find out more…
Are you interested in teacher wellbeing, mental health and workload reduction?

Join the TeachMeet Icons team for a day of inspiring speakers, networking and a few laughs.

Aimed at teachers and school leaders across the spectrum of contexts, everyone is welcome. VISIT EVENTBRITE FOR TICKETS.

The day comprises of two fantastic keynote speakers and a series of short Teachmeet style presentations of 3,5 and 10 minutes long. If you are interested in presenting at the event, please fill in the form here.


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Mrs Humanities shares… 8 reasons why I love to teach.

After all my recent anxieties, the first day was fine. I’m sure tomorrow will be too, Wednesday the same…

Anyway, I’d like to share some positivity around teaching so here are a few reasons why I love teaching. Would love to hear your reasons, feel free to add them in the comments.

1 // Learning is awesome. Seeing my students engaged, enjoying their learning is a fabulous feeling. I love it when a class is fully engaged and I can step back and see the learning taking place.

2 // Planning learning is also awesome. It’s great sitting down and planning the process in which my students will participate to learn what they need to learn. It’s a beautiful moment when it all comes together and you know the kids will love it.

3 // Students teach me as much as I teach them. Whether it’s pedagogical, subject based or something a little more personal like something about them, I love that I learn from my students. One of my favourites is when students take our learning in a different direction due to their curiosity, it’s inevitable that I will learn something too.

4 // Students help me to forget my worries. Teaching takes me out of my mind, the best distraction possible. My students make me want to be happy, to want to be the best possible me. They deserve that so I strive for it. That includes taking charge of my wellbeing, to be the best teacher possible we need to be healthy, rested and present.

5 // Developing lifelong learners. Knowing that the skills, knowledge and understanding my students develop in my classroom they will take forward into their futures is empowering. I want them to be the best possible version of themselves now and in the future.

6 // Responsible citizens. In the last 7 years I’ve seen a huge shift in the attitude of young people. In general they are more politically engaged, more open-minded and more emphatic to the experiences of others. When the world is becoming increasing fractionned, the rise of the far-right is evident and leaders aren’t exactly the best, it’s a relief to see that young people want to see change. Our job is to empower then to engage and be work towards that change. I love it when students start to be the change they want to see.

7 // Teachers are great people. Generally speaking, most are caring, supportive and helpful. Sometimes that means we are taken advantage of but it also means there are some incredible people who’ll have your back.

8 // Teaching is like a jar of jelly beans. It’s fun, full of variety, colour and flavour. Every handful is different, so is every day in the classroom. Embrace it.

Why do you love teaching?


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Starting the conversation… #PedagooHampshire2018

PedagooHampshire2018

This week I’ve had to take some time away from twitter. My anxiety surrounding returning to work has been growing and growing for the last 2 -3 weeks and reached an unbearable level at the beginning of this week.

You see recently I’ve been spontaneously emotional to the point that I’ve burst into tears twice just in the street with no obvious reason. I’ve had palpitations, restless night sleeps and hours of not doing anything because the anxiety I’m experiencing feels debilitating.

My anxieties aren’t so much about going back to school, I’m really looking forward to it but about whether I will be able to manage my mental health, wellbeing and work-life balance as well now that I’m not longer on medication.

As I pondered about the world, my thoughts turned to the anxiety and the causes. It’s partly the fact that I’m no longer of anti-depressant medication but also the fact that I surround myself in education for too much of the day. I realised I was spending 5 or 10 minutes here and there on Twitter reading notifications, browsing my twitter feed and following links to interesting articles and blogs. I was continuing to surround myself in education when what I really need is a break. As a result I decided to sign out of twitter on Tuesday 28th August and didn’t sign in again until Friday 31st August.

The break has helped, I’ve managed to put things into perspective and consequently I’ve also decided to no longer have twitter signed in on my phone to stop the incessant desire to check it.

You might be wondering the relevance of this; well on Saturday 15th September I will be attending and speaking at Pedagoo Hampshire for the 3rd time running.

My first session was on Less is More: Marking with a Purpose, my second Less is More: Strategies to Reduce Workload and this year I’m going to share something a little more personal, Less is More: A motto to live by.

In my session, I’ll be sharing my journey with mental health from breakdown to recovery and the 5 strategies I try to live by to maintain a work-life balance; it’ll be part self-help, part pedagogy.

The whole signing out of twitter isn’t one of the 5 strategies, so you’ll have to attend to find them out.

But what I want to share is how having gone through a breakdown as a result of work-related stress, I’ve developed the ability to see patterns, to identify characteristics and too hopefully take measures to step back and recoup. That there is importance in understanding yourself.

(Note: However I can only say this though because people remind me that I do, that I have done over the past two years and that even now that I have come off of medication I can and will).

The other thing I want to highlight is that its okay to not be okay. I have the knowledge now that if I need to there are people to help; I’ve opened up the dialogue and can continue it whenever I need. I can go back on medication if I need to. I can get through stress and anxiety; I’ve shown that already. Relapses are not a sign of weakness.

The reason I’ll be sharing my experience is because too many others are experiencing similar circumstances in the workplace; pressure, accountability and high levels of stress. But there are also those going through depression, stress, anxiety and other mental health issues as a consequence of work. But no matter your experiences with mental and physical health in schools, I want people to know they are not alone. That there is help and support available.

We can insist on change, we can implement change and we can create change in our schools.

I look forward to seeing familiar faces and meeting new ones in the Library at 11:15.

Until the 15th, best wishes for the new school year.

Mrs Humanities

p.s. For some reason I can’t get this to flow right, I hope it makes sense.


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The What if… of mental health.

It is the week before we go back to school. 5 weeks have passed. I’ve relaxed, rested and written the majority of a book.

I’ve also been off of anti-depressents now for 3 full weeks. By the end of July I’d made it down to 1 a week. End of June 2 a week. End of May 3 a week. You get the idea I’m sure. There were a few hiccups when I’d forgotten a dose and had a few side effects but on the whole it was a relatively okay process.

Anyway, the longer between doses the more my thoughts have invaded the space in my mind that has been clear for the last two years. My thoughts have turned back to sudden thoughts of possible dangers, thoughts of worst case scenarios and just general worries.

Now I’ve always suffered from some sort of anxiety or stress, uni was a particularly prominent time for instance but it wasn’t until I started taking anti-depressents that I realised just how much I worried about things.

When I started taking medication, I experienced for the first time in as long as I can remember what it felt like to just have a clear mind. To not be continuously worrying about this or that. To have a thought come into my mind and have the ability to decide whether to continue with it or shut it down. I felt like I’d become more productive and alot happier.

As I started to come off of the medication, I maintained the ability to abolish those thoughts that plagued me; to switch them off. But as the time has progressed and the level of medication in my system declined I’ve found my thoughts returning to old patterns. The school holidays have certainly not helped; no routine, time to think.

As we’ve gotten closer to the beginning of September the more I’ve started to worry about going back. Worrying about the anxiety returning. Worrying about managing my workload. Worrying that I won’t be the best teacher I can be for my students. Worrying about worrying.

It’s gotten so bad I’ve had to detach myself from all things education for a few days, including Twitter.

I’m not the only one to be experiencing such fears I’m sure but I feel like I made such headway in the last two years, I’ve implemented strategies that have reduced my workload. I’ve developed a system for working that works for me. I’ve learnt to put myself before my work and to look after my wellbeing so I can be on top form for my students.

Yet still the fear is there. What if I can’t cope. What if I fall back into old routines. What if I stop saying no. What if… I burnout and breakdown again?


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Teacher Burnout

This week I shared my experience of burnout and the resulting breakdown I experienced with a journalist from the Observer. He’s written a great article on the issue to raise awareness of the issues schools and their teachers are experiencing.

Please do take a read at https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/may/13/teacher-burnout-shortages-recruitment-problems-budget-cuts

Feel free to get in touch if you’re going through similar and want to chat.

On a more positive note however, do check out http://www.teacher5adaybuddybox.com for wellbeing fun.

Best wishes,


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New Post Series – #MyWellbeingHero

my wellbeing heroAs part of the #Teacher5adayBuddyBox scheme, we’re launching a series of posts entitled ‘My Wellbeing Hero’ and we want to hear from you.

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Who inspires you to look after yourself for a change?

Who makes you feel positive on those dark days?

Who promotes wellbeing across the school for staff and students?

Who makes you smile each day?

If you have someone to give a shout out to, get in touch by completing the #MyWellbeingHero form over at Teacher5adayBuddyBox.com. 

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Here are some for inspiration…

My Wellbeing Hero by Lorette Ashwell
My Wellbeing Hero By Mrs Humanities

Hope to hear from many of you soon.

Mrs Humanities

 


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My Wellbeing Hero

my wellbeing hero

There are some people you meet in the world that have a lasting effect on you; some positive, others well not quite so positive. To celebrate the amazing people out there helping us all to look after ourselves, I’m starting a short series of #MyWellbeingHero posts.

I thought I’d start with someone that has had profound an effect on me, I won’t say who they are as there are some personal details but they will know it is them.

Who is your wellbeing hero?

We will call her Ms A…. A for awesome.

Give 3 words to describe them.

Inspiring. Brave. Positive.

How have they helped to improve your wellbeing?

This person makes me think. They inspire me to look after my wellbeing and that of others. They’ve helped me to see the impact #Teacher5adayBuddyBox has had and makes the work involved totally worth every single minute of it.

What makes…

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A Big Thank You!!! 

Yesterday I received the exciting news that the blog has been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2018 (again). 

I cannot express how much it means to me the fact that so many people voted for Mrs Humanities.
UK blog awards finalist

Last year the news came after a really hard year – in 2016 I experienced a mental breakdown due to my previous workplace. The rest of the year was spent recovering, starting at a new school and focusing on my wellbeing. It came as such a surprise  when last Janaury I recieved the email. It made my year. 

2017 has been a very different year. A year of striving for a work/life balance and actually achieving it (alot of the time). It was a year of significant improvements. I’m now really pleased to find that my blog has bee  shortlisted again. It honestly means so much to me that people voted and that my work has been shortlisted.

A really huge thank you to everyone that voted for MrsHumanities.com I am really grateful for every vote, comment and visitor throughout 2017. 

I hope you’ve had a positive start to 2018. 

Best wishes, 


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5 Years a Teacher. A Reflection.

In October 2016, an article appeared on the Guardian that struck a chord.

“Almost a third of teachers quit state sector within five years of qualifying”

I started my teaching career in 2010 by undertaking a PGCE in Secondary Geography Education at Aberystwyth University, finishing in July 2011.

Living in the depths of Mid-Wales meant there were few employment opportunities so I made the tough decision somewhat late in the school year to move down to the South East of England where I initially went and worked in Early Years for several months before moving onto my first full time teaching role in June 2012.

The statistics in the article were concerning “Of the 21,400 who began teaching in English state schools in 2010, 30% had quit by 2015, the schools minister, Nick Gibb, confirmed. More than one in 10 (13%) of newly qualified teachers left after a year of teaching, meaning 87% continued to work in the classroom, a proportion the government says is largely unchanged since 1996. That figure fell to 82% after two years in profession, 77% after three years, 73% after four years and 70% after five years”. (

And whilst I wasn’t one of those that began teaching in state schools in 2010, I’m definitely one of those that has considered leaving the profession several times within the first 5 years.

To be honest teaching lessons has always been the easy part; it’s the relentless workload surrounding book scrutinises, data input, assessment and observations that have made it so difficult. Alongside that I became Head of Department at a new school in April 2014, which had opened in September 2013 and had to set up the department from scratch. Fortunately for me my planning was my strong point, but as the only Humanities specialist it was a solo effort and a lot of hard work.

So, here’s my tale of 5 years a teacher.

Year 1 

My NQT year was interesting. I worked with some amazing educators and a fantastic department. The school was tough with high expectations for staff and often challenging students, but I always felt incredibly supported by my department and NQT coordinator.

During this time, I lived 30 miles from work and although the journey wasn’t too arduous I didn’t drive; Never needed to learn living in Cardiff and Aberystwyth, where public transport was reliable and cheap or things were in walking distance. Luckily a wonderful woman came to my rescue, she lived in the same town and was also an NQT. She was older than me and had entered the profession after a wealth of experience elsewhere; dare I say it, she became like a mother to me with all her words of advice and constant reminders of work/life balance. Even when I eventually passed my driving test and got a car, we continued to car share.

However despite the support it was a struggle learning to manage behaviour whilst trying to ensure progress; trying to juggle marking and planning; keeping track of student data and monitoring progress; writing reports and attending meetings; finding time to make phone calls home due to negative behaviour and trying to ensure you added a few for positive behaviour; attending NQT CPD sessions and ensuring time to research pedagogy and classroom management strategies… the list goes on of the balancing acts that took place. The PGCE really didn’t prepare me for this level of work.

There was definitely no work/life balance at this point, along with Ofsted in the first term but I still managed to pass my NQT with Outstanding thanks to the support I received.

Year 2 

I stayed at the same school, I felt confident this year would be better. I knew the routines, more of the students, the GCSE courses etc. It should have been a breeze and to start with it was. Well until my projector broke in the first term. Doh!

No projector meant all my resources from the year before were somewhat redundant, that along with the fact that photocopying budget was low so printing was restricted which meant that teaching lessons suddenly became a lot more difficult. Unfortunately, it was going to be several weeks for the parts to be delivered because I just so happened to have an ‘old’ projector.

This point taught me a lot though, how to teach without technology and resources. I relied on my knowledge and the white board. I used models students had made the previous year to demonstrate, for instance rainforest structure; I became more imaginative in my approach. But it was hard work, really hard work though.

The tip of the iceberg came just after I’d been told to relax on my marking by the Head. He recognised how hard I was working and that my marking was top of the school but I was working myself into the ground. Yet we had a Mocksted and my external observer gave me terrible feedback – firstly he commented that I hadn’t shared the L/Os with students (hrm, yes I had they were on the whiteboard and at the top of the student instruction sheets and if you’d been here at the start of the lesson you would have heard me read and discuss them with the class), he commented on my poor planning (there were a range of activities with plenty of differentiation to suit individual needs and to stretch my more able, but that wasn’t recognised) and finally the negative comment on my marking… MY MARKING! Insufficient! WTF. I blew my top at that. My Head of Department was not happy, the Head certainly didn’t agree and essentially the whole observation was wiped off the record. The school threw a big party that Christmas… many of us felt it was a way to say sorry for the terrible Mocksted experience especially as we’d got Outstanding the year before from the official Ofsted.

After that experience however by the time half term came I was exhausted and didn’t feel I wanted to go back to school. I’d fallen into a state of depression, which I hadn’t realised at the time but looking back that’s exactly what it was. I started experiencing dizziness and vertigo as well which almost led me to passing out in front of a class and several visits to the GP and hospital.

The school provided some counselling which helped and I eventually applied for Head of Humanities at a different school, closer to home. I managed to get the position in February and handed in my notice to end at Easter. Whilst the Head did not seem happy with the decision and did not make things easy, I’m sure deep down he recognised it was the best thing for me at the time.

I left in April and started my new role after Easter.

And wow, how very different it was. I went from teaching Geography and History to teaching across the Humanities, as well as Art, Cookery, ICT and Drama. The previous Head of Humanities had left no resources, so I had no idea what they’d been taught already. What an interesting time that the first full term it turned out to be. The kids were very challenging in completely different ways and it was an exhausting summer term but I stuck with it. I immediately implemented routines and behavioural strategies and laid out my expectations clearly. My NQT year had prepared me well.

That summer was spent preparing for the September. I had to make sure I was fully prepared for my lessons in order to ensure my time went into managing behaviour and the resulting workload as well as the high levels of differentiation and scaffolding that would be needed.

Year 3

Year 3 went by in a whirlwind. Being a new school, there was a hell of a lot of work involved in setting up whole and departmental resources and routines. We were a small community and it felt like that to begin with. Everyone was supportive of one another, we ate together and chatted when we could.

As a consistent team of staff emerged, the kids became better behaved and the consistency helped many of them to feel better about school. In fact, what became more challenging was the workload. Being a new school, we had regular visits from a DofE representative (I think) who would observe the progress of the school, staff and students. We’d have one a term, along with other observations as part of the self-evaluation weeks. We had to provide data packs on classes, flightpaths on books, targets and progress on the front covers etc. The amount of paper being used was huge and that was before we thought about resourcing lessons and scaffolding for students. Anyway, I did what I had to do and got through. There were times I wanted to just give up but I kept on thanks to the support of my family and closest colleagues. By June we had Ofsted and it was a very positive experience. I felt confident and it came across; the inspector had no feedback on how I could improve. Win. My marking and feedback was also highly recognised and praised by the inspection team. My feedback not marking approach was beginning to take shape and as result I ended up running a CPD session in the final term for current and new staff on marking and feedback strategies.

Whilst it had been a difficult year in terms of workload, #Teacher5aday and twitter had helped me through the rollercoaster and I finished the school year on a relative high (although I was disappointed we didn’t have a celebration to celebrate our excellent Ofsted result).

Year 4

This was the year of my undoing. This was the year I came closest to walking out of teaching once and for all. This was the year when it all got too much. The workload, the behaviour, the level of SEN, the lack of support, the lack of specific CPD…. the staff morale. In fact, I think staff morale had the biggest impact. Seeing people working as hard as they were and receiving no recognition and appreciation for it and instead just having more and more work piled on to them was the hardest thing to witness.

I started to dread morning briefings, what would I need to add the humongous to-do list that was already impossible to complete even if I didn’t eat and sleep day in day out. I’d roll up to the meeting and the sense of anxiety in my stomach would bloom. My hands would shake and by Easter I’d leave with tears rolling down my eyes. I hated the morning briefings. I hated the feeling of worry. The stress. The anxiety.

If the workload wasn’t relentless enough, I felt unsupported by SLT. Behaviour was worsening and despite following the school procedures, kids seemed to be getting away with the highest f sanctions. I’d always follow through at my end but they weren’t exactly followed through at the top. This made teaching harder and harder.

I started looking and writing applications for jobs outside of teaching, but I was too scared to send them. I wouldn’t be able to finish until the summer; would they even wait that long? I wrote many but didn’t send any.

Then the penultimate day before the Easter break I eventually broke down in front of a class. The poor handful of students that wanted to learn in this particular group – their enthusiasm for learning slowly declined; their patience for others dwindled. I hated seeing this and burst, tears rolled down my face in front of the class and between my sobs I asked “Why? Why will you not respect your peers? Let them learn, if you don’t want to fine. But let those that do learn.” I remember my speech/rant going on for a bit longer than that but I don’t remember the rest of it. I probably rambled about the opportunities they’ve been given; how great the teaching and learning is at the school and how the school rules state that ‘everyone has the right to learn and the teachers to teach’.

I tried to enjoy the Easter half break but instead I ended up working most of it, marking assessments and planning for the next term. When I returned to school, I couldn’t do it.

I walked into my classroom and walked right back out again. The anxiety was too much. I walked away. Where was I to go? Since my other half would drop me into work so he could have the car, I couldn’t exactly go home. Instead I made my way inside the main building a member of staff caught me, asked if I was okay. That was the it, tears streamed. I sat in the quiet meeting room for what felt like hours sobbing. I eventually went home. I couldn’t return the next day or the next and eventually I was signed off. Three weeks I spent away from the classroom in total and although it helped I still didn’t feel ready to head back without a bit of medical help.

During my time, off I’d received notification that I’d been offered an interview for a job I’d previously applied for. I went to the interview and whilst I liked the school and they liked me, I felt I needed time to process the offer. In the interview, I’d asked about staff wellbeing and this essentially confirmed to me that it would be a good school to work at. After speaking to my current Head, I decided that accepting the offer was definitely the best thing to do.

My return to school was hard, I wasn’t ready but I was pressured into returning – I won’t go into the details. I returned and the kids were amazing. They were happy to see me and even those that had been difficult before Easter had somewhat improved for me. I didn’t share why I’d been off, but the kids made up a wonderful story about fighting crocodiles in some far off tropical land and being injured and so on. It was a relief when they just made a light-hearted joke of my time away.

I struggled through the remainder of the year and left feeling loved by the students. The array of gifts and messages were heart-warming. It’s not until you leave that you realise how appreciated you are. I do miss many of the kids, I’d formed some fantastic bonds with some of my classes and it was hard to say goodbye to them. But if I hadn’t accepted the job after support from the Education Support Network, I know I would have ended up leaving the school and teaching.

Year 5

This year has been the best year of my career so far. I’ve seen my career and happiness flourish. I’m glad I stayed in teaching and tried one more school. I can see this as my forever school.

There have been a few ups and downs, a struggle here and there but on the whole, it was nothing compared to my prior experiences. Nothing I couldn’t handle with a bit of determination and dare I say it… resilience.

The number of times reducing workload and ensuring staff wellbeing has been discussed in meetings this year has blown me away; to have a senior leadership team that cares so much about its staff and students really has meant a lot to me. I’ve felt appreciated and respected as an educator and member of staff. I wish every school could make their staff feel this way.

What has 5 years in teaching taught me?

The answer to that is a hell of a lot.

I know how I teach now, I know my preferences. I know how to learn about learning. I know what I like in the classroom and what I don’t. I know what makes for good practice for me and I know what doesn’t. I know how to be flexible but also how to be consistent. I know how to balance my work and my life.  I know I’ve grown as a practitioner and will continue to do so.

But I only know all of this because I’ve tried so much and learnt so much. I’ve experienced good times and experienced bad times. I’ve had the opportunity to explore and try new things. I’ve taken the time to read and research, to talk and discuss, to share and to steal (ideas). Without all my prior experiences in how to deal with behaviour and being overburdened with workload from marking and feedback, assessment, data analysis, planning etc. I wouldn’t have become the teacher I am today.

I honestly believe it takes finding the right school to really make you enjoy the job and love this all-important career. If you’re not happy where you are, try a few places before making the big decision to leave teaching forever. You just have to find what’s right for you.

I’ve now come to the end of my fifth year in teaching and thankfully I’ve remained as a statistic of survival. I’m staying in education because deep down, I love teaching those young humans who will one day be grown up humans that will make decisions about our world. I want them to make responsible ones that benefit and support each and every one of us; that respect their future colleagues and their kid’s teachers, that look after their communities and wider environment, that abolish homelessness and poverty, that fight diseases and find cures, that innovate and design. I want them to be able to learn so that they create a better world than we have today. And that’s why I’ve stuck it out and will be staying.

NQT and others in their first few years, I really hope this insight into my first 5 years, gives you hope for the future. Don’t become a statistic of despair in the system, instead become a statistic of survival and change in the system.

Mrs Humanities

 

 

 

#Teacher5aday Pledges 2017

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#teacher5aday

If you are interested in supporting the fundraising I will be undertaking whilst I walk (I really mean hike) my 300 miles over the year, please visit my fundraising page https://give.classy.org/300for30th to contribute. Thanks.

Best wishes for the 2017!