This post was first published on Pedagoo on December 30th 2015.
I have been following the teacher slow-chat wellbeing posts this week with great interest and decided to have a go at a 15-16 wellbeing post myself.
I am a driven person. I am not sure when I became slightly addicted to pushing myself; I think that it hit somewhere around the age of 14 when I decided that I wanted to go to Cambridge. I think that I failed, as a teenager, to ever get a real sense of myself and threw myself into models of what I thought I ‘should be’. The underlying psychological issues are not for this post but safe to say that at 46, I’m still working on them….
Thereafter the joy of childhood seemed to slip away and I became very goal driven.
But of course hard work is a GOOD thing and workaholism is one of those addictions that is secretly ok because it is about ‘achieving’. As is an addiction to exercise….. You don’t get the same criticism for being addicted to work or exercise as you do for being addicted to booze or heroin….or self-harm.
I am not sure whether genetics added to my driven-ness. My maternal grandmother, widowed while pregnant, was a Lithuanian-German who lived a guilt-driven existence as a slave to the Protestant work ethic. I never really knew her.
My paternal grandmother, the polar opposite to ‘Oma’ in many ways, was also unable to sit still for long and lived on her nerves; a sociable, generous soul who would do anything to keep others happy. I miss her to this day.
My parents both committed their working lives to teaching in the state sector and worked accordingly. Dad was better at work-life balance than Mum. He was lucky enough to be part of the generation to retire in his early fifties. Mum similarly retired early but on ill health grounds, probably related to being a brilliant Mum and teacher but not so good on the self-preservation. Both parents engaged in marathon running and extreme gardening as ‘hobbies’ and so there was never much time for down-time in our house.
I had vowed never to be a teacher myself, having felt that the long holidays didn’t really make up for the other stresses and pressures of the job. I vividly remember my Dad avoiding shopping in our local town for fear of a pupil sarcastically shouting ‘Alright Sir!’ across the square.
But somehow the plans went awry. I didn’t become a GP. Or a lawyer. Or an actor. Or a drama therapist. Because ultimately I decided that I was born to teach. That may sound corny but it is the truth.
Doing a PGCE while I was waiting to be snapped up by the West End confirmed that. It also confirmed that drama teaching was the ultimate thing for me to do in order to assuage a thirst to change the world, one child at a time, through the power of theatre.
I am a good teacher. Years of affirmation from pupils, parents/carers and colleagues back this up. But I have to say that I never feel good enough. That is partly down to my psychology, I know….but it is also because it is a job where culture, society and the processes for measuring my profession constantly put me and my job down.
Several voices in the slow-chat (including @robfmac) have called for the development and promotion of teacher ‘agency’ and I would agree that this is a crucial part of helping improve the wellbeing of the profession. We need to have educational leaders at national and local levels who understand teaching, understand education staff and protect and nurture them, rather than subjecting them to unrealistic performance measures.
@LCLL-Director asked, on day 1 of the slow-chat whether perfectionists become teachers or teachers become perfectionists? I stated that I felt that there is an interesting piece of research to be done here.
But whichever way round it is, teaching and perfectionism can never be a good combination within the current climate. It is a climate where, in Scotland, we are told that we can do our job in 35 hours a week when we simply CAN’T. The non-contact time we get is so frequently taken to allow other absent staff to be covered that it is almost not worth having. Hence a system where we are set up to struggle and fail before we even start. It is a climate where electronic management systems that were meant to reduce teacher workload are so unwieldy and user unfriendly that they cause excessive stress and add to workload. And it is a culture where a politician visited England to learn about ‘closing the gap’, was told there were no clear conclusions to be drawn from the approach adopted South of the border but then decided to impose it on Scotland anyway. (For more on that, ask @realdcameron)
If I cleaned toilets, I would have a specific number of toilets to clean and set working hours in which to do it. I might go home and worry about the standard of my cleaning but it is unlikely that I would be able to go back into my place of work out of hours…. Or be made to feel guilty for not doing so. Equally, I do not believe that there is a technical solution whereby toilet cleaners can clean toilets from home. Whereas, thanks to IT, teachers now have little excuse not to ‘catch’ up on admin, marking, report writing outside of the contracted 35 hours.
So, this new year I make 3 vows.
1. To myself. It is time I sorted this out once and for all. I love the Facebook ‘memories’ function where you can see where you were and what you were doing on this day in previous years. But I am concerned that I have been saying the same things about needing to slow down and look after myself better for 10 years. Now is the time. My family needs more of me and I need to accept that excuses won’t do any more. Only I can do this but but I am hoping for a bit of help from @Doctob’s book ‘Inner Story’ which fortuitously came into my possession recently….
2. To education. I am doing the Scottish ‘Into Headship’ course this year and intend to learn all I can about how to be a Wellbeing-motivated educational leader.
3. To Twitter. I will use this forum to engage in the debate about wellbeing and teacher ‘agency’ and to support and nurture like-minded souls. I will not beat myself up if I don’t manage to tweet or blog as often as other brilliant twitterati friends…..(as I have in the past) but I will use Twitter for all its potential….
So, Happy New Year. Let’s make it so.