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World Teacher Day: "Your mental health is more important than any task."

NHS Talking Therapies and Solent Mind employment advisor Charlie talks about her time as a teacher.

As part of World Teacher Day, NHS Talking Therapies and Solent Mind employment advisor Charlie has shared what she has learnt in her time at Solent Mind, that she wish she knew as a teacher...

You and your mental health is more important than any child, work, meeting or task that’s put at you. It took me a while but I realised I needed to say no to things and know my boundaries. The students I worked with were generally ok and I had a good relationship with them. But I learnt over time that I needed to say no to things and focus on the main part of my job which was teaching. 

In September, every school wants to try this new initiative and implement this new rule which, 99% of the time, doesn’t happen or stick. Nothing gets followed through but there we are as the classroom teachers being told at the start of every term that we need to be doing more. Sometimes less is more. 

I started to question these new ideas as ‘is this factually going to make me a better teacher?’. I didn’t have time to do these things. Lots of teachers I speak to have mentioned all of the above and agree that they don’t have time. The people putting these new ideas in place are the ones who don’t spend time in the classroom and have probably just read it online somewhere thinking it’s a good idea.

I also learnt that I need to be more honest with the people I work with and talk about how to get the best out of me in a work environment. All I did in school before I left was complain. I enjoyed some elements of the day but most days just seemed like a drag. In my new job role, the first thing I did was talk about how to protect my mental health. 

One thing in particular is how to speak to me; My line manager asked if she could speak to me at some point in the day and this put me in panic mode as I would then question if I’d done something wrong. A simple conversation and my manager now says ‘Can I speak to you regarding…',‘nothing to worry about’, or even just a smiley face on the teams chat. At school, teachers would just walk in and say they needed to see me at the end of the day. Like a school kid being asked to stay behind at the end of the lesson, it puts you in panic mode.

I then took the decision to go part time for my mental health. I found lockdown great for my mental health as I could still do my job (teaching isn’t great online but I did what was needed) but then I had time to go for a run, to do some baking, to prep dinner, to put some washing on. All the household chores didn’t feel like chores anymore as I enjoyed doing them and they no longer took up my weekend which should be used to rest and have fun.

Going part time is something for teachers struggle to consider. There is an excellent calculator online through TES which can work out how much you’d get if you dropped days – it includes everything from pensions to student loans and NI tax. This showed me that I was able to drop a day and still be ok. I know not everyone is potentially in this same position but it's worth finding out. This did help me, although I wish I’d done it sooner as I already knew I was leaving by this point.

This extra day gave me time to do all of the chores my partner and I would spend the weekend doing, or that I would do late at night after school. I felt so much better. At first it was tricky as the person doing my Friday didn’t always do everything I asked so I would still be picking things up on a Monday morning, but overall I wish I’d done it sooner.

When I was looking to leave, this was something I needed to consider – something that will give me some flexibility to do things for me and not spend evenings and weekends doing household stuff, or even work. Even if I’m busy, because I’m home I can pop some washing on, have something in the slow cooker, read a chapter of a book at lunch time – all things that have improved my mental health.

I’m weird and like to keep a tidy household; Tidy house tidy mind and all that. Most other jobs finish and that’s it, no emails to keep you awake at night, or even emails at the weekend. A lot of people get worried about holidays but I told myself that every other person who isn’t a teacher manages so why can’t I. 

I’m currently in a fortunate position that the only child I have is my dog - another thing I couldn’t have when teaching but now do and he brings us so much joy - so don’t need to worry too much but I understand for a lot of teacher-parents that having an educational job gives you the same holidays. As children get older though, this is something to consider that they can manage on their own.

I’ve also learnt how supportive people are with your mental health. Before I left, there was a situation with one of my classes that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable. I had to just carry on, even though I was crying, had a class and tutor time to teach. Luckily, a member of my department took my tutor group and missed their lunch but I still had a lesson to teach with no one to step in or even if there were, I would have felt so guilty. I faced a difficult conversation in my new role and the first thing my manager said was ‘are you ok?’. 

We talked about the situation, she offered to take my calls and contact my clients for me that afternoon. Luckily I didn’t have anyone booked in so she told me to close my laptop and go and have a cup of tea – not something that can easily happen in a school.

If you want to hear more about what Solent Mind are doing on World Teacher Day, you can read more here.

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