Be a Teacher - Stay a Teacher with Self Care.
As a Headteacher of a first school the thought of self care was not really on my agenda other than a glass of wine when I got home on a Friday night, hopefully by 7pm but sometimes later.
The job was demanding emotionally and physically but I really enjoyed it. The day started on the 35 minute journey to work when I would think about how much I had to do, could do, and what I would need do at home that night.
September brought thoughts about Christmas celebrations, January saw the focus on the learning targets achieved so far and April brought the planning for SATs, Sports Day, new entrants and transition for those leaving.
"As a teacher the needs of the individual children is paramount, their emotional and physical wellbeing is so important to aid the learning process."
The home, background and parental issues are a part of every child and as a teacher you become entwined, not just for one child, but every child in your class, and as Headteacher, every child in the school. My life was flying by, always thinking about the months ahead, the needs of others but not myself and certainly not the here and now.
I remember when a School Inspector (well before the days of Ofsted) visited my school. He spent a whole lesson watching me teach and then asked details about some of my children. I could tell him one child swam for a local team on a Tuesday night, another didn't have a TV, another didn't like fish and so on. Trivial you may think but the Inspector walked away happily as he knew that I really knew my children and what made them tick. I then went to the staff room for lunch and to do a bit more of my patchwork quilt.
"Oh how times have changed and not for the better."
Now the constant assessments, target setting, meetings, performance management have all made the job more and more demanding and of course more stressful with less and less time for Self Care. I began to wonder how teachers cope with their job, having a family, running a home and 'having a life' in these days of social and financial demands.
I read articles from newspapers and Trade Union reports from the last couple of years and the overwhelming message was that the workload is unmanageable, teachers work on average 49-65 hrs a week and the bureaucratic systems to record pupil progress and staff performance is having an impact on the mental and physical health of teachers. No relaxing lunch breaks these days.
"Lunch break I hear you ask, what is that?"
I thought 'WOW, THINGS HAVE NOT CHANGED SINCE I RETIRED!!!!!' I hadn't really expected them to. The job was having a detrimental effect on my health and with only 3 hours sleep most nights I knew I had to take control.
I was lucky enough to be able to retire and go back to the job of teaching as an occasional supply teacher. Actively making Self Care changes to your life can be a slow process and like other professions teaching is not an easy one to enable you to do this. But understanding the principles of Self Care and taking them on board is fundamental to a happier and more successful life at home and at work.
"Take responsibility for your own physical and emotional health and well being and look at your lifestyle choices and make changes to them to make things better."
Because if you don't who are you expecting to do it for you?
Here are some ideas that might help.
Can you work from home on your PPA time? If not ask why not and get others behind you to change school policy. It is amazing what you can get done without the interruption (and how many loads of washing). I always managed to do twice as much work at home. And of course now that you have done so much work don't take on something else to fill the time you have created.
Say no! A difficult one. Why should you do the village Fun Run on a Saturday- unless you want to and the whole family join in the fun. That is not your job, it is an expectation from others. Also make your career expectations known. Don't be pushed into a subject or responsibility you are not comfortable with.
Think of alternatives. Have a school based Fun Run, invite parents/carers for Christmas carol singing during the class music lesson, not at night. The list can go on. Be active in your own work/life balance. If you come up with good alternatives others will gladly listen. Challenge traditions and start new, more simple ones.
Share and work as a team- at home and at school. Children can do chores and love to be responsible for things, including washing paint pots! Get good parent helpers to do responsible jobs or supervise others.
Keep life simple. School comes with clutter and 'things' for different subjects and topics. Get rid of the old and organise what you need in boxes and cupboards. Delegate parent helpers and support staff to do this for you. Do this in your home too, getting the whole family on board.
Don't blame yourself when a child has not reached his/her target in maths or reading. Schools are expected to set challenging targets for children and in some cases too challenging. What if a child is ill, parents divorce and the child underachieves because of it? Is that your fault?
Most importantly make sure the weekend is for you and your family. Smile, laugh, see the funny side of things, watch comedies, do internet shopping, talk, go to the gym, paint that picture, read that book and needless to say have sex!.
Oh how I wish I'd followed some of my own advice, I may still be a Headteacher now, but would I really want to be? Of Course I would, but now I am painting those pictures at last!
Chris Lord taught in Staffordshire in Primary Education for 32 years before retiring in December 2008. She gave up teaching in her early thirties to train as a Chartered Accountant but missed working with the children and so returned to the job.
After doing her DPSE (Diploma in Professional Studies in Education) she became a Deputy Headteacher and later a Headteacher, gaining the National Professional Qualification in Headship (NPQH).
She now does voluntary work and was Chairperson for a local Charity, and now sits on school appeal panels and also helps West Midlands Hedgehog Rescue by collecting sick hedgehogs locally.