Teaching is a tough career – if you didn’t realise just how tough it is then by the end of your 1st term you will have started to get the message!
Not only is it a demanding job in its function every day, but it has the “potential” to occupy and swamp the rest of your life as well.
This is why there is so much concern with regard to teacher workload and the negative effects this has on staff. It is a simple conclusion to make, that if a teacher is tired, stressed and overworked then the quality of that persons preparation, teaching, and as such the childrens learning will be diminished.
Unfortunately, the effects can be exacerbated by schools themselves in what resembles a “postcode lottery,” with some school actively working to reduce workload and constructively look at staff welfare; whilst others ignore this altogether and compound the problems for all.
So what can we to help ourselves?
- Realise that this problem can exist….firstly be aware that this could be a problem in your career and also affecting your life. If you acknowledge this rather than ignoring it then you can move to the next step which is…..
- Do a mini audit and see just how far your teaching career is impinging in other areas of your life or affecting you personally. You may be surprised to see just how, little by little, your home life, social life and possibly your health have been chipped away to the position you now find yourself.
But don’t worry – whatever you find and realise is a great starting point to make changes. They don’t need to be immediate massive changes, in fact any change you make, however small will be positive. Be realistic and don’t embark on huge shifts as you won’t be able to maintain them. Much better to slowly and surely shift the balance back towards what you want and wish for.
Underpinning everything in your life (not only your career) is your health. If this begins to suffer for whatever reason then, if not addressed, it will have a huge impact on your life and on the lives of those around you.
When I took my 1st Headship I said at the time ” if I can’t do it or it affects my health then I will quit!”
So let’s look at some of the aspects of being healthy and staying healthy that will give us a great foundation to approach the pressures of the job. It’s not rocket science and I am not claiming to be an expert but it will give you some things to think about or even investigate further.
Food: There was a TV advert about 15 years ago that was about microwave fast food meals – it showed a busy teacher arriving home at her flat and putting all her marking on the table. She then went to the fridge and took out a ready meal and put it into the microwave. Seconds later (!) the meal was ready and she was able to sit and eat this whilst at the same time marking her work!
This is a classic example of what NOT to do…. there are 2 things here that are wrong – the first is that we need to spend time away from marking and planning and the second, from a nutritional point of view, you should be eating decent meals. If you have a family you will know how important it is to all sit and eat together at meal times and to catch up on each others days – but if you are not in that situation then its easy to allow other parts of your life to revolve around schoolwork.
The same applies to lunchtimes in school. To give you an example: – a colleague at one school was feeling the pressure and stress of her teaching career and visited the doctor for advice. One of the first questions asked was about her day and how it unfolded. The teacher was a very hard working and conscientious member of staff and regularly spent lunchtimes marking and preparing work whilst grabbing a sandwich along the way. The doctors first piece of advice ( in fact he put it more strongly than this) was NOT to work through your lunchtime – there had to be a period of time of at least 30 minutes when she had to eat, relax and socialise away from the classroom.
Healthy eating gives us a great foundation for our demanding days – Breakfast is a recommended start for anyone’s day but especially teachers – missing breakfast and snacking at playtimes to keep you going will obviously not do you any favours!
A HT friend of mine had a teacher who used to snack on Pringles and drink Cola all day to keep himself going…..that’s got to be a recipe for disaster!
Vitamins and supplements: Personally I have always taken vitamin supplements not because of my teaching career but from a sporting and training outlook. However I would say that I thought they were also helpful in keeping me healthy at school.
3 simple ones that might be worth considering are:
- Vitamin C …effervescent tablets 1000mg daily. Helps keep off cough and colds flying around from snotty kids!
- Vitamin B complex – loads of benefits across the board.
- Vitamin D – worth looking into as a recent report stated that a huge % of adults were deficient
As with any supplements if you are unsure then it is best to get medical advice especially if you are already taking any medication at the moment.
We all need to exercise irrespective of age or occupation and we must ensure that we make time to include this in our busy lives.
With such a busy schedule it is very easy for us as teachers to gradually slip out of the exercise habit and we need to be aware if this is happening.
If you have carried out your “mini audit” you will be aware of the time demands currently made by your teaching on the rest of your life. In order to include regular exercise in your schedule then it may be necessary to make adjustments to what is currently taking your time. It is recommended that you should be exercising at least 3 times a week for approximately 30-40 mins or more and that this should also include aspects that raise your heart rate. (further guidance can be found in this Government report and naturally medical advice should be taken if you have not exercised for some time) – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/213743/dh_128255.pdf
Apart from the health benefits of exercise – taking up a sport or exercise class is an enjoyable, challenging and social activity which takes you completely away from the teaching world and allows you to meet new friends, enjoy family activities together, recharge your batteries and puts a smile on your face!
Outlook and approach:
This is an important aspect of your teaching and indirectly affects your physical health but directly reflects your mental health.
Due to the “all consuming ” potential of teaching it is sometimes difficult to raise your head above it all and catch your breath. Its at times like these we can start to lose the enjoyment of teaching and start to mentally sink into its perceived gloom.
At such times you have to make a determined effort to do that audit of your job – how it actually is and how you would like it to be. I know that this is sometimes difficult to do but do it you must.
Running alongside any changes you may wish to make there should be a renewed effort on your part to put back some of the enjoyment you may have lost along the way. By relieving some of the pressure on other areas of your life you will hopefully find the confidence in your classroom and with your class to rediscover the enjoyment of teaching you may have lost.
If you’re having a good time then the children will be also.
Take a lighter hearted view of what is happening in your classroom and let your personality shine through. Try to put to one side the pressures of expectations and simply enjoy the pleasures of teaching and of your class. Things might take a little longer – but who cares!?
I know it is easier said than done and it is potentially a much greater problem – perhaps a topic for an article further down the line…but I thought I would mention it here.
Although a brief look at this issue I hope it has raised some important points for your consideration. Teaching should be part of our lives and not the other way round….our lives are NOT part of our teaching.
Maintaining and looking after our health is a fundamental part of our lives and also in the lives of those we love – we need, no WE MUST, ensure that whatever we do is not to its detriment.