Thank you, Beast from the East

As a teacher in the UK, I often feel as if I am on a treadmill where the setting is slightly too high and I just keep going and going, a seemingly never-ending cycle of planning-teaching-marking, of getting up early, working a full day where an uninterrupted break time is a luxury, coming home and doing more work, and repeating the cycle the next day. On top of this, I don’t make it easy for myself when it comes to my home life. I put far too much pressure on myself to keep up with cleaning, tidying, washing, and find that I feel stressed when my home environment is chaotic. I also care a lot about my family and friendships, prioritising them too, but if I’m honest, do I prioritise them above my work? I really try to, but striking a balance is hard. I consciously make an effort to set myself boundaries of when I’ll work and when I’ll see friends and family, but I also find that I need time for just me to be on my own, and that is very difficult to fit into my busy schedule.

Considering all this, I very often feel myself wishing and hoping that if I could just have one day off, if I could only stop for a moment, that I would get some much-needed breathing space, that I could get off the treadmill. I often get up in the morning, longing for more sleep and wishing I could stay in bed. On my days off at the weekend, I have often packed so many plans in, almost trying to make up for the all the work I do, that it isn’t really a rest. Work hard, Play hard.

So you would think that this morning, when I got a message through from the Assistant Head that our school was closed due to the snow, that I would have been rejoicing. A day off? My prayers had been answered!

Wrong – my initial feelings were worry and disappointment: disappointment, because Wednesday is usually the “easy” day in the week for me, where I get 2 hours or so of Planning time, less contact time with the challenging members of my class and generally less marking; worry, because I left my laptop at work yesterday, as well as the fact that to complete planning at home I need access to the medium term planning on the school system and I can’t get onto that at home. A day off school, unable to do work, unable to use this time to prepare for next week… I felt like I should be happy about the free day ahead of me, but instead I felt anxious.

Feeling worried, I shared my feelings with my family, who told me to just enjoy the day. I knew I should feel like that… but I still felt underlying guilt that I wouldn’t be able to work. It wasn’t until our boss sent us an e-mail that actually told us all to enjoy ourselves (don’t do any work, and don’t check your work e-mails again!) that I started to feel better, that actually it was OK not to do work today.

So, with my gift of a free day, I did the kind of things that I usually long for – simple pleasures that made me feel much more relaxed and happy. I went back to bed, slept, caught up on some TV, chatted with family, met friends for a coffee… and we ended up making snow angels and having a laugh, walking like penguins huddled together under an umbrella as the snow came down around us.

It was a fun day, which made me embrace my inner child, playing in the snow, taking pictures of the pretty scenes, and finally just letting go. The roads here are also far too dangerous in these weather conditions, so it comforted me that by staying off school, we were keeping ourselves and others safe.

So, thank you Beast from the East, for forcing me to relax and to realise that the sky doesn’t fall in if you get off the treadmill for one day! (Even if there are huge snowflakes falling from it).

snow

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From London to Lincolnshire: Part Two – And breathe…

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In my last post (which was sadly over 3 months ago) I mentioned that I had recently moved “home” to Lincolnshire and that I had been relaxing before the September madness begun.

What I didn’t realise fully was that September really would be MAD, and October… and November…

I feel as if the last few months have been an absolute whirlwind; they have pushed and tested everything I thought I had learned about a) teaching and b) managing my own struggles with anxiety and depression.

I guess any kind of major life change will do that to you. And I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself, that I haven’t actually been here for that long and that on the whole I have settled in well, made friends, joined a new choir, and also made great strides with conquering what was once a somewhat debilitating fear of driving (there is a whole blog post I am planning to write about that!)

Changing schools is always difficult, getting used to a new way of working, new colleagues, new class of children, new expectations from leadership… and I am really pleased to say that I am enjoying my new position, that I couldn’t really have asked for more supportive colleagues who have made me feel so welcome. My class on the other hand… whilst the majority of them are lovely, there are a few who do challenge me and I’m not ashamed to say that they have occasionally brought me to tears at the end of a draining day where I have felt that I have failed or let myself down as a teacher. This is where I have to remember not to be too hard on myself.

Moving back to live on my own is something I really wanted to do and I don’t regret the decision to live on my own at all. I think it’s important for me to come home after work and know that I have this space to myself. However, this might sound silly, but I am really struggling with managing all the household jobs on my own, like cooking, washing, cleaning, shopping… I know that’s not a lot and that people do these things every day… but for some reason I feel like I can’t manage to do it all. I think it’s also to do with changing schools and having trouble with a new school routine. I end up taking marking home with me and working for about one and a half hours every evening; I then can’t do the other stuff I need to because I’m so tired. It feels like I’ve spent the last 3 months being tired and feeling as if I don’t have time to do anything well; I am just doing lots of things in a substandard way.

It got to the point a few weeks ago where I had been so down on myself for all the things I wasn’t doing, as well as not sleeping enough, not having any time to myself, that I actually started to feel like I was losing my grip on reality. My head was no longer clear, it was just full of noise. On reflection, most of this was probably a lot of self-criticism.

I quickly realised that to nip this in the bud, I was going to have to change a few things. Sleep more. Cut down on alcohol and unhealthy foods. Have some me-time. Stop putting myself down. Think more about the things I have done, rather than everything I haven’t.

I’m feeling better. For the last few days, I finally felt I had the headspace to sit down and write this. But I know that although I have settled in well here, I am having a few struggles to find a new work/life routine that works for me.

I’m hoping that I’ll figure it out soon, and I’ll keep you updated in the next blog post. In the meantime… I’m going to remember to be nice to myself, and when everything feels too much, to stop, take a moment, and breathe.

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Snippets from my Day

Holding child’s hand, comforting teary-eyed girl, leading whole class downstairs

Holding colourful hula-hoops, colourful bouncy balls, stowing safely in cupboard

Mixing liquids with food-colouring for magical maths lesson

Staining hands with food-colouring for magical maths lesson

Putting bins out early this morning

Putting books on tables early this morning

Receiving thanks from some grateful parents at parents’ evening

Gratefully receiving cups of tea from colleagues to support with parents’ evening

Slowly and reluctantly taking onesie off and getting up this morning

Slowly but joyfully putting onesie back on this evening

Enjoying selection of cakes in staff room at breaktime

Enjoying more cake on sofa at hometime

Laughing at very expressive “actors” in class play

Frowning at impertinence of child “critic” in class

Feeling by turns, relaxed, stressed, happy, annoyed, tired, energised, calm, patient, impatient, peaceful.

Saying Thank You

Two little words with a big meaning: thank you.

They don’t take much time to say, but the most heartfelt of “thank yous” can stay with you for years, perhaps forever.

With only about one and a half years of teaching experience behind me, I have already felt on several occasions that teaching can be a thankless job. I have put a lot of work in throughout the last academic year, and into all my shorter jobs previous to this, but, other than receiving a pay-cheque at the end of the month, I haven’t truly felt like my hard work has been returned.

Until today, I hadn’t felt the true reward that teaching can bring when a student says “thank you”.

It was the final lesson of the year with a class of 13-14 year olds, and I knew it was going to be a “Good bye” that we would all really mean, rather than students running out of the class desperate to leave, not caring or even thinking that I wouldn’t be coming back next year, and me breathing a sigh of relief, glad to see the back of them. I had just joined the class with my colleague, who also taught this group, when they presented us both with a present – a photo of us with the class – and following this, an entire bag of presents – a Spanish flag they had signed and written messages on, a personalised handmade badge, sweets, a lollipop, and some (hilarious) Spanish-themed shutter sunglasses. Of course, they didn’t have to give us anything, and even just one of these presents would have been amazing, but with all of them put together, their generosity was overwhelming.

one of the students’ gifts: a handmade personalised teacher badge

What was special to me is that I have rarely felt that I have made a difference to a student’s life. Of course, as a teacher, you know that you are helping your students in some way, but your work often goes unappreciated and has left me feeling downhearted, particularly when you face group after group of unappreciative classes. But this afternoon showed me that if you can touch the life of just a few of your students in a positive way, then the job is absolutely worthwhile.

These students’ generous “thank you” meant a lot to me, and aside from the presents, a simple verbal “thank you” is often enough to make someone feel good and feel rewarded. Saying “thank you” and really meaning it can touch somebody deeply, lift their spirits, and make them feel appreciated. So, if there’s somebody you want to thank, whether you say it, write it, show it with a gift, or in any other way – if you really mean it, the two simple words speak for themselves, and they speak volumes.

“You [have] a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one of them to say “thank you”?” – William A. Ward