Mrs Humanities

Because I'm married to the job.


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Resource: 20 Ways to Improve Teacher Wellbeing

20 ways to improve teacher wellbeing is a resource I produced for the Teach It community of websites.

It’s simple, straight to the point and hopefully beneficial. You can download the PDF here or the adaptable word version on any of the TeachIt subject websites.

Hope you can find the resource useful.


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We need Breakthroughs NOT Breakdowns in Teaching.

The title of this post is inspired by the Education Support Partnership’s Christmas Campaign 2018. Reason being I went through through the latter. I burnt out, broke down and wanted to leave teaching for good. I asked for help, I reached out but it never happened and after two years of the same routine I reached my limit by bursting into tears in front of a class.

During the first 5 years of teaching, I had moments where all I could think about was injuring myself or worse still taking my life so I could end the way I was feeling. This all came back to me yesterday when I saw the following video on the BBC.

I shared the video on twitter with the following comment and spent the rest of the day dealing with an IBS attack. When I eventually viewed my twitter notifications I had over 500 notifications, many of which were associated with this single tweet.

It was late and the thought of replying to all the responses was a little overwhelming, so instead I decided to write this post.

In response to the tweet there were so many replies from people that were made to feel the same way. Teachers that had loved the teaching element but hated everything else; there were examples of bullying from senior leaders and other members of staff; examples of couples leaving the profession so they could actually see one another; teachers stepping down from roles of responsibility because the pressure and expectations got too much; teachers that have left full time positions and moved into part-time or teaching assistant roles and those that have left all together.

Alongside the examples of teachers that have felt the same way or similar, there were examples of those that were told or made to feel that by speaking up about workload or their struggles that they were weak, a let down, incapable, not cut out for teaching etc. etc. This should never ever be the case. The lack of support and deniability of the problem is causing a mental health problem in education.

On the positive side though, there were also those that talked about feeling this way and coming through the other side. Those that said how leaving teaching returned them to full health. Those that said they’d stepped down, cut back or changed positions that now manage. And those that moved schools, are much happier and enjoy teaching again.

I want to highlight that it is possible to be happier in teaching. It is possible to manage your own workload. It is possible to be a highly-effective teacher with mental health challenges. I know because I’m managing it.

Back in April 2016 when I reached rock-bottom I honestly thought that was it. I thought I was done with teaching. I took time off, I thought that was going to be the end of my time in the classroom. But… I spoke to Ed Support. I asked for help from the Doctors. I went on anti-depressants. I finally opened up to family. I finally acknowledged my position, my choices and took action.

I decided that I’d give one more school a try. One more. I was encouraged to write an application for a position at a top school in the area. I had no confidence that I’d be invited for interview, let alone get the job but I did.

I was still off work when I went for interview. I was still signed off sick. I was still struggling each day. But I went and did what I loved, I taught Geography. I really liked the school. I asked about wellbeing. I was happy with the response. But I worried. I worried my time off would look bad. I worried that this school would be the same; high expectations of staff, limited time to meet expectations, regular scrutinises, Mocksteads, regular observations…. etc. etc.

I was offered the job almost immediately after leaving the site. But I needed time to think. They were happy with this. I’d be leaving behind a department I’d built up from nothing (literally), single handed. My physical and mental health had gone into that department, that school, every resource, every lesson. I’d be leaving behind a major part of me. But when I spoke to the current Headteacher to explain my predicament, I knew then I was replaceable, valueless. My decision was made for me. I accepted the job offer and it’s been the best decision.

I still take anti-depressants, I tried coming off of them and even though I’m so much happier, I manage my time effectively and love teaching again I can’t cope with the general anxiety of the role. I went back on them. I also have periods of highs and lows but that doesn’t make me a bad teacher. It doesn’t make me incapable of being the best teacher that I can be for me students. Instead it has made me more aware of myself, my mental health and more so the mental health of my students. I see things I never used to, I’ve learnt how to support young people, colleagues and friends. Mental health is not a problem, a hindrance.

Help is Available

If you’re feeling like the teacher in the BBC video, please know you are not alone. You never are and never will be. There is help and support out there.

Speak to Ed Support.
Speak to colleagues.
Speak to friends and family.
Never let the job take over your life or worse still take your life.
Reach out.

There’s always someone there to listen, to support, to help.

Here are some useful organisations, their websites, twitter accounts and phone numbers

Education Support Partnership @EdSupportUK 08000 562 561
Mind @MindCharity 03001233393
Samaritans @Samaritans 116 123
The CALM zone @theCALMzone 0800 585858

There’s also those that have volunteered to listen via #Talk2MeMH. It’s over on twitter and is pretty simple, if you want someone to talk to search for the hashtag, find somebody that has added it to their profile and contact them. They have volunteered to listen, not as a professional but as a friend.

We need more breakthroughs, not breakdowns.

As a profession we have to reduce the stigma that surrounds teachers mental health, of struggling with workload and the pressures of accountability. We have to listen to those in need.

We have to speak up, accept the problem and work together to improve the experience of many teachers, school leaders and support staff whether new or experienced.

We need to change the system to ensure that teachers and school leaders are able to deliverer high-quality education within the parameters of the working day, without the excessive workload and impact on home life. We need change.

Where do we start?

We start in our own schools. Work together to create a better environment. Workload a problem? What are the solutions? Don’t just moan, be proactive. Offer alternatives. There’s no point saying you want change without a potential solution. What is the problem? How could it be changed or solved?

If leaders don’t listen, leave. Apply for jobs in other schools. There ARE better schools out there with leaders that listen. Go find them.

Campaign. Support action. Unite.

Here’s a recent resource, 20 ways to improve teacher wellbeing, that I produced for TeachIt.

Right I’m going to end this episode of being a keyboard warrior and actually go and do something proactive.


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Mrs Humanities shares… 10 Tweachers to follow in 2019

The great thing about twitter is it has opened my mind, inspired my teaching and introduced me to hundreds of fantastic people, many of whom I would call friends.

The following are some people I would recommend following this year if you don’t already. In no particular order then…

1 // Adrian Bethune. Tweets as @AdrianBethune

Adrian is the author of ‘Wellbeing In The Primary Classroom’, Primary Teacher and creator of teachappy.co.uk. 

I first met Adrian at the Festival of Education, we were both on the Education Support Partnership panel as part of the discussion on wellbeing in schools. We later met again at Pedagoo Hampshire. He’s an inspiring, down to earth person so go follow.

2 // Sarah Larsen. Tweets as@sarahlarsen74 

Sarah has been an influencer in the #feedbackNOTmarking movement. After having taken ideas to her senior leadership team, she’s been able to influence change in her school to reduce workload and improve feedback.

Part-time teacher, full-time mum. Go follow her.

3 // 𝓝𝓲𝓸𝓶𝓲 𝓒𝓡. Tweets as@NiomiColleen

Niomi has so much positivity to share. A new mum and Primary school teacher, I’m sure there will be lots of interesting perspectives coming from her this year especially once she’s back from maternity leave. Until then, adore the many baby photos.

4 // Kim Constable. Tweets as@HecticTeacher

Kim is a wellbeing warrior, cat lover and all round goody. I’ve met Kim a number of times over the course of the last few years and she’s as lovely in person as she is online. If you teach Sociology or PSHE, well your in for a treat; her website HecticTeacher.com has a huge array of resources. Additionally Kim shares resources and ideas relevant for any classroom.

5 // Fearghal O’Nuallain. tweets as@Re_Ferg

Teacher, Geographer and Adventurer. What more could you ask for. You may not get much in the way of teaching resources from him but you get a hell of a lot of inspirational photos, stories and links. I love the break Fearghal creates in my twitter feed from all the ‘Edu debate’. Much appreciation.

6 // Tom Rogers. Tweets as@RogersHistory

History teacher, Tes columnist and Founder of @tmhistoryicons. Tom is a top bloke and one I’m proud to call a friend and colleague. We may not work together in the same school or even country but being part of the #TMIcons team is fantastic. Tom has helped me to open many doors, the first of which was overcoming my lack of confidence and presenting in front of a room full of history teachers at TMHistoryIcons way back in March 2016.

If you follow Tom on Twitter you’ll find lots of tweets saying the things so many of us are thinking but daren’t say aloud. Tom says it for us, we all need people like him fighting for our profession.

7 // Kathryn. Tweets as@Arithmaticks 

Kathryn will be leading #TMMathsIcons, the first #TMIcons event for Maths Teachers. How cool is that? I’m sure there will lots of inspiration posts over the coming year from her.

8 // Natalie Scott. Tweets as@nataliehscott 

Natalie has been quiet throughout 2018, she’s been through some hellish experiences over the course of the last year but she’s back and excited for 2019. Who knows what 2019 will bring for her, but I she’ll be sharing lots of educational inspiration over the coming year. Check out her heart felt blog post on the WomenEd blog here.

9 // Patrick Ottley-O’Connor. Tweets as@ottleyoconnor

Patrick is a leader with heart. He cares about his staff and students, he creates change and posts plenty of positivity. If you enjoy travelling, bonus! He’s guaranteed to inspire with his holiday snaps. Enjoy!

10 // Martyn Reah. Tweets as@MartynReah

If you’re not already following Martyn, why ever not? At times a man of few words, but his enthusiasm and positive nature is contagious. It’s been an absolute pleasure meeting Martyn and becoming part of the #Teacher5aday movement. Without him and it, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the academic year 2014-15. He’s one to follow for wellbeing advice, ideas and inspiration.

Okay that’s my top 10 to follow at the start of 2019. Check them all out on twitter. Many of them have blogs too so be sure to take a read.

Best wishes for 2019.


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Mrs Humanities reviews…2018, a year of being braver

Oh my, what a year it has been. It’s been a year of being out of my comfort zone, a year of taking action and a year of raising my voice on matters that mean a lot to me.

When I first found the courage to acknowledge and share my experience of a work-related breakdown, I did so to help others. I never thought it would lead to the opportunities I’ve experienced throughout this year.

It has been a whirlwind of excitement and nerves.

January

The year started with the news that I was a finalist in the UK Blog Awards for the 2nd year, this was shortly followed by an offer from Routledge Education to write a book; after being invited to write a proposal in Summer 2017, my proposal was given the go ahead. What a crazy but exciting start.

January ended with another visit to Canterbury Christchurch University to present at the Beyond Levels Conference. Loved it again.

February

After Beyond Levels came Southern Rocks hosted by Kristian Still and David Rogers. This was a really enjoyable event, took plenty away and inspired a number of others to look into feedback rather than marking through my presentation.

February continued with my birthday but more importantly the 2nd birthday of Teacher5aday Buddy Box. This gave myself and a few other buddy box participants the perfect excuse to meet up over pizza.

March

Next up one of the highlights of my year, TMHistoryIcons. The last few years I’ve been the token Geographer that’s allowed to present. Additionally it will always hold a place in my heart for being the first teach meet I presented at.

Whilst I may no longer teach History, I still love to keep up with the world of History teaching just in case I head back in that direction. It also helped that for the academic year 2017 – 2018, the NQT I was mentored was a History teacher.

I’m gutted I can’t go this year, partly due to its location and partly because I’ve volunteered my services closer to home. I will miss my annual dose of TMHistoryIcons and more importantly Tom Rogers.

April

This month I flew by. I also flew on a plane, this is a big thing for me as I hate flying. I’ve only ever flown once before and that was to and from Iceland for school trip.

This time it was to the Bay of Naples. I loved it there. The history, the geography. I was in my element. But I hated the flying part. That alone makes me feel like I was 10% braver.

April ended with the UK Blog Awards. Myself and Bethan (History NQT) had a blast. I caught up with Ross McGill (Teacher Toolkit) which left Bethan and I both feeling a little star struck. Whilst I may not of won, the evening was so much fun (again).

May

May was spent preparing for the upcoming GCSEs. My class had been awesome, they helped me to love teaching again, I started teaching them in the September after my breakdown, their enthusiasm and humour was contagious. I was going to really miss them, so I made them little GCSE survival packs which they loved.


When they sat their first Geography exam, I overheard some of them on the way in wishing each luck and telling each other to do Miss Hewett proud (and they really did).

They don’t know it yet but I’ve dedicated my book to them as a way of saying thank you.

This month I also spoke to a journalist from the Guardian about burnout in teaching and my experience. You can read the article here.

June

What a month June was. It started with taking part in a panel discussion on teacher wellbeing at the Festival of Education with Julian Stanley (Ed Support), Vic Goddard and Adrian Bethune. It was nerve wracking but an awesome experience I’d love to take part in again. It was disappointing though that a panel on a topic of such importance was hidden away from the main area which meant despite eventually having a standing room only audience, many people missed the beginning as they walked to distance to get there. Hopefully if Ed Support are invited again this year, the event organisers place them more centrally.

This was followed by an overnight stay in Rugby for ResearchEd. What a beautiful school that was. The event was really interesting with lots of ideas to take away and thoughts to consider and digest. I also presented as part of the Humanities strand on moving from marking to feedback.

Here’s a little clip from the day

Next up was my favourite event of them all, TMGeographyIcons. I’m probably a bit biased there though as I am the lead organiser. The event was a huge success thanks to the help of Jenn and Gemma. It would not have been the event it was without their help and support.

The day brought together over 100 Geography teachers from across the UK to share and discuss. Our keynote speaker Alan Parkinson was fantastic and each presenter brought something for others to take-away. Really looking forward to the 2019 event. Gemma and I have some very exciting plans so watch out for further details in the new year.

For now you can find all the presentations from the 2018 event here.

June ended with the Teachwell Fest at Vic Goddard’s school, Passmores Academy. It was an event that was different to all others I’ve experienced.

I decided I would share my experience from breakdown which turned out to me quite an emotional rollercoaster. It was the first time I’d ever discussed my experiences with an audience. It was small but supportive.

It was difficult talking about my journey but I needed to do it. I’m glad I did it as it has put me in a much better position to be able to help others.

July

July was a quiet month. Apart from book writing, it was month for relaxing when not in work.

August

The summer disappeared very quickly. It started with some filming with the Education Support Partnership and was followed by a few days away touring the battle fields of France and Belgium with the husband and his nephew.

The remainder of the summer holidays evolved around writing ‘Making it as a Teacher’. Whilst I’d written bout 20,000 words between January and July, I wrote over 40,000 in just 4 weeks. I was amazed by my capabilities. It was a challenging process, very different to writing blog posts but I massively enjoyed it.

September

September has been characterised by an annual trip to Hampshire for Pedagoo for the last few years. It has always been a pleasure to attend, see people and to say hello (and thank you) to the inspiration that is Martyn Reah.  

Pedagoo Hampshire was the first time I presented on the topic of feedback and sparked my engagement in the movement. This year I returned and shared my experience of breakdown again. I spoke to a number of people at the event and the feedback was humbling. I just hope it inspired them to go away and make a change.

October

Another quiet month spent finishing off the book. Oh wait, that’s a lie.

I was invited to speak on BBC Breakfast about teacher wellbeing, workload and mental health. What an experience that was. I was on TV talking about mental health and teaching!!!

November

I sent off my book manuscript before the deadline. Will update you when I have a publication date.

December

I’m hibernating.

And that’s the end…

A lot has happened this that I’m extremely proud of. A lot of things that I would never have had the opportunity to do if a) I hadn’t gone through a breakdown, b) if I hadn’t spoke out about my experiences. Despite the hard times, I am very grateful for the person it has made me and the opportunities it has opened up.

However, the thing I think I’m most proud of is being able to be there for others, to be able to be someone that others can turn to for advice, guidance or a rant, someone that shows it doesn’t have to be the end of a career in teaching.

If you ever need to talk to someone about workload, your mental health or just need a friend. Please feel free to get in touch with me, Ed Support or someone else supporting #Talk2MeMH.

Hope you have a great end to 2018.

Best wishes,

Victoria


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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.

we-need-you.png

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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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

 

 

 


1 Comment

Breakdown, reach out, recover.

In April 2016, on return to work after the Easter break I had a breakdown. Anxiety hit as I walked into my classroom the morning after the Easter break. Anxiety that was so crippling I immediately left my classroom with no words to convey how I felt.

A member of staff caught me in the corridor, asked if I was okay and that was it.  Tears ran down my face, snot poured from my nose, words failed to leave my mouth.

I sat in the meeting rooms for what felt like hours. The deputy head came to see me to ask what was wrong. I couldn’t explain it other than the fact I couldn’t be there. The job had worn me down, the emotional toll had broken me. I cried. I cried some more.

Eventually I was sent home. My partner would drop me off at work so I had to make my own way home. I don’t remember though how I got home. It’s all a blur now. Did I get a lift? Did I get the bus? Did my sister in law pick me up? I don’t know.

I don’t remember much of that day to be honest.  I don’t remember much of that week actually.

I remember trying to go to work the next day but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d never felt this way about a job before.

I’d worked hard all my life, at one point I was working two part time jobs and a full time one and still wasn’t as stressed out by employment.

I didn’t go back for some 3 weeks. I stayed curled up in bed or watched Netflix. I visited the doctor eventually. But only after I’d spoken to the education support partnership. I knew I needed to talk to someone. Someone that could advise. Someone I didn’t know.

The counsellor I spoke to was patient, supportive and helped me to come around to the idea I needed time off and needed to see a professional.

The next day I went to the doctors.  I returned the following week to be signed off. I got help. I got medication. The first medication didn’t help. But my medication was changed and I got better.

It’s almost a year since I started taking anti-depressants. A year on something I said I would never take. But it’s helped me to reclaim my life, reclaim my love for teaching and reclaim my happiness.

I moved schools, I feel confident in the support network there. I feel confident in the focus on staff and student wellbeing. I feel confident that if it’s raised with SLT it’s not going to just be swept under the carpet.

Like a number of teachers I know, I’m not the only one to have gone through this. I’m not the only one that’s broken down. I’m not the only one to be taking medication.

I want you all to know that, no matter what you have to look after you. There are so many organisations out there, but in particular I’d like to recommend the Education Support Partnership. Reach out, talk and get help.

Feel free to get in contact in you need to.

Best wishes

Me.