Being a teacher is a bit like your favourite celebs Instagram page : we always want to celebrate, show off and promote the highs but neglect to expose people to our lows. (Cheesy use of metaphor – I know).
I’m writing this post because last week for the first time in three years my self-belief as an English teacher in the further education sector collapsed; it crumbled like a house of sand. I sat on the train home mid-week feeling tired and overwhelmed. I toyed with the idea of pursuing an alternative career.
Shortly after sharing my new ambition I received comments from my teacher friends. Some shared similar sentiments, others offered pick-me-ups or their frustrations with bureaucracy. My favourite comment came from an inspirational Headteacher who implied I have to claim over thirty years of teaching before my need to leave the classroom was justified.
I appreciated the comments and the efforts to cheer me up but it did not neglect the fact that I was still drowning in deep despair and I had not anticipated the downward spiral that was to follow.
Things didn’t get better for me; they got significantly worse. Deadlines were fast approaching but my spirit, confidence and positive energy were leaving. Pride did not allow me to ask for help. I suffered in silence, immersed in misery.
I was struggling with a particular aspect of my job. I did not ask for help as I had the ingrained belief that asking for support would show a sign of weakness. Becky Dunsby wrote in The UKFEchat Guide Staying Motivated, “People who work in education are some of the best actors and actresses.” I knew this all too well. I wore my pearly smile which I complemented with red lipstick and continued my dramatic performance called the destructive path of denial.
It was not until early Friday afternoon that the darkness surfaced to the light. I sat in the office with my manager, who I have a great relationship with and I knew a difficult conversation was going to take place.
I cannot detail the events of that discussion but it did end in the emotional response of tears. The floodgates had opened. I had finally cracked and crumbled. I sat and cried. The tears started in her office and continued at regular intervals throughout the rest of the afternoon. I hadn’t been looking after my mental health or managing my workload and I had reached breaking point.
I am not a huge advocate of anyone showing their emotions to that extent at work but it taught me that we are all human and we are not all able to control our feelings at all times.
On reflection it was not the difficult conversation that had resulted in my mini meltdown. Neither was it the feeling of being weak or intimidated as I usually survive, defend and thrive in high pressure environments. It was the feeling of being too strong for too long that had got to me. My perfect teacher persona had been ripped off.
I cannot really say much more than that however the experience of the past week brought to mind a few things.
A busy week is no reason to quit
I quickly learned that I do want to continue with my career in education. I really do enjoy my job as I am good at it and I love being in a position where I can make a difference to the lives of young people.
Talk it out
I reminded myself of the importance of talking. In The UKFEchat Guide Staying Motivated I professed that talking through problems is an imperative feature to enjoying your job. “If you notice your passion or drive dipping, confide in a trusted colleague.”
My colleague and friend sat with me in their staffroom on Friday afternoon and we talked away all the negative feelings. He reminded me that I might be feeling bad now but when I get over it I will still have my fantastic record of student success and achievements. I will still be an amazing teacher and I will still have excellent subject knowledge, great awareness of pedagogy and genuine interest in improving the literacy skills of young people.
Get some exercise
Taking part in exercise is great for mental health. It helps with the relief of stress and tension and improves confidence. I had not been making time for this and it had really affected my wellbeing. I have put this back in my weekly regime and I hope to keep this up.
Do not tell your friends
I confided in my best friend who allowed me to talk through my feelings. She was really supportive. However, I have since been the subject of many jokes and banter. (It is funny really).
Remind yourself of the good times
It is so easy to get caught up in the stresses of the present and forget the distance travelled. I learned that whenever things get too much I must remind myself of the good times to date and remember that more are yet to come.