A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on the worst week of my life which was the most personal blog post I’ve every written, but the events in my personal life have impacted on my professional life in such a huge way. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘teacher guilt’ and the impact our personal lives have on our professional lives and vice versa and why we often feel we have to suffer in silence.
Back in September I had to take a week off of work, unplanned and badgered into it by a nurse, my husband and my head of department. I wanted to go in on Monday and Tuesday, but was forced not to. And although they were right and I was definitely much better at home, the reason I wanted to spend two days at work was that I wanted to hide behind ‘Miss’. I wanted to avoid being at home and facing the reality of my life at that time; to use my professional life to escape my personal life.
Once I got over the initial panic of returning and having to talk to people and deal with sympathy (don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t ungrateful for people’s care and consideration, but at that time I wasn’t ready to say the word ‘miscarriage’ let alone acknowledge that I had experienced one), I quickly fell back into the day to day routine and my role as ‘Miss’ and worked hard to try to catch up on everything I had fallen behind on.
Sadly, the reality of what had happened quickly caught up with me and I found myself suffering from depression: I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings; avoided going home in the evenings; crept straight into bed once I did get home; spent most weekends in bed; avoided people. Needless to say I rapidly fell behind at work.
It is impossible to do all your PPA in your PPA time; we have to work outside of those hours just to keep our heads above water. As I wasn’t in a position to work outside of school I was sinking. I got by for a while just planning lessons and nothing more, but then more things started to collapse and I realised I was drowning. I think that was the darkest moment: feeling like I had failed personally and was now failing professionally.
It took a little while after that realisation to feel strong enough to want to face the challenge of fixing the mess I was in. However, doing it alone proved impossible. More work kept piling up and I kept trying to hide my struggles from myself and those around me. Needless to say that didn’t help and I came to face the reality that I couldn’t come out of this alone. I needed to admit the mess I was in and ask for support.
It’s a horrible feeling when you know you’re in a mess and realise that you have to tell people just how much of a mess you’re in. Speaking to both my head of department and head I was greeted with understanding and compassion. I’ve been offered help and been allowed the time, without any pressure, to get myself back on my feet. I felt instantly better after speaking to both of them and from there felt strong enough to look at the largest To Do pile I’d ever encountered and work my way through it.
During my years in teaching, I’ve found that we can often be too silent when it comes to our own struggles and need for help. Which, to me, seems bizarre as we are in a job where we are caring and compassionate every day and often go out of our way to support or get support for struggling students. It felt very liberating talking to my head and head of department; dropping the façade of coping took a massive weight off my shoulders allowing me to start finding a way back to myself.
Teaching is fast paced and because of that, it’s so easy to fall behind and the further you fall the harder it is to get back to where we need to be. Throw in the guilt of failing our students and colleagues then it begins to feel like an impossible task. But these past few weeks I’ve learnt that it’s not.
The most important thing I’ve learnt from this and would share with anyone else who feels like they’re falling behind and sinking slowly or rapidly is talk.
Talk to the people who need to know your struggles.
Talk to the people who will listen and support you as a friend.
The key thing is to get it out of your head and into the world. Get it out there and it suddenly seems less scary and less threatening. Speak it out loud and it becomes clearer about how to start finding a solution.
The reality is that the only way to get out of a mess in teaching is often to work your way out, but trying to do that whilst still keeping up with each new day’s work is hard. But it is doable: I’m doing it now. I gave up a day of my holiday to go to school and work undistracted to catch up. I’ve worked smarter: only marked ‘actual’ work; planned lessons with peer and self assessment to stop adding more and more to my to do list; built time into my lessons to give myself time to mark / plan / do admin; said no to additional tasks that I cannot take on properly at the moment.
And even though I’m pushing myself hard at the moment, I feel happier. I feel like I’m on my way to winning.