Education can a minefield or a roller coaster, or in a worst-case scenario, a roller coaster surrounded by a minefield. At times, it can feel like you've made a huge mistake and should have just worked in a safer, more predictable career. But educators are a special sort of human. They don't want money (clearly!), they don't want loads of spare time (ever) and they don't particularly need praise (no news is good news, right?). So what happens when the unpredictable happens and you have NO idea what to do? What happens when you map out the day in your head and everything goes a bit wonky? What happens when that bad day, becomes a bad week, a bad term and you're considering running away with the circus?
Anything from a Monday morning internet/printer/kettle explosion, a pupil who projectile vomits in your book corner in the middle of an inspection (yeah, it happened), a really tough class that you can't build a relationship with or a toxic colleague, who hides their horns and everyone seems to adore decides to make life uncomfortable?
From someone that is a terrible worrier, over-analyser or a forever optimist… hopefully you'll find something useful. This isn't a fix-all, the debate and actions taken recently around wellbeing should still be high on the agenda. But what practical steps can you take, to support and control your own day?
Find your personal and professional 'one'
You need someone out of your school, but in the same profession (retired and wise, or new and passionate helps) that you can talk to. Share your day with them, explain the good and the bad. Talk it through, they'll either laugh and say, ‘Yep, that's happened to me’ or listen and lend an empathetic ear. Sometimes talking outside of school gives a fresh perspective and allows you time to reflect that possibly something really small, has been magnified into a huge deal. Tiredness and stress play a huge part in this; be aware of how you feel, physically and mentally.
This is where your person outside of the profession can come into play. Find someone that knows you, really knows you. The one who can see when you're not right. The one who can see triggers that mean you need a break, or a gin, or a mahoosive bar of chocolate, or even… a run. But, you need to listen to them, they're saying it for a reason and your ‘I'm alright!’ act can only last for so long.
Reach out to the most relaxed colleague
There is always one. 'The great unflappable'. This could be someone working in your office, in the kitchen, the Site Manager. Find them. Tell them your woes. Immediate relief. Guaranteed. Watch how they work, how they interact with others, how they remain calm in a crisis. Learn from them.
You can't do it all and the list will never end
Someone once asked me to write down everything I did. I had a massive overwhelming surge of stress. The list started and I couldn't stop. It doesn't stop. Ever. The job is evolving, the expectations change, the DFE, OFSTED, the government will ensure that we are never done. But we can say no. The children are in school? They are being taught? You got a decent nights sleep? You feel prepared for the day? Enough. If you need to take it day by day until you're feeling better. Do it. Slowly increase to a few days at a time? Better. Tell your line manager, Tell your colleagues. Make it clear the reason behind it.
Don't be afraid to talk
Just say it. Honestly. Just speak. Holding negativity, stress, annoyance does awful things to you. It screws your face up. It gives you a stomach ache, it keeps you awake, it can make you really grumpy with people that are nice. Is it really worth it?
I have learnt to be less blunt. Admittedly, I've been known to just speak without thinking. But, nothing truly awful has happened when I've said what I'm thinking. Yet.
Ask for regular support
Anyone working with children, parents, people in general, carry all sorts with them. The highs, the lows, other people's problems, unanswered questions, If it all gets overwhelming, ask for regular support. This could be through coaching, supervision, regular meet ups with your line manager or finding a colleague that you trust.
Tip - Put a date in the diary! Don't just agree and then not do it. Plot out 3-4 weeks of meeting time that you can do and stick to it. Don't think your own well-being isn't a priority. You can't teach, support, or inspire others if you're not well.
Laugh - Cry - Laugh
A child once projectile-vomited during an inspection; it was bloody awful at the time. I didn't quite know whether to remove the class, the child, or the precious books. The inspector didn't know where to look, while the kids jumped up in horror. Looking back – it took a good few months – I laughed. It got sorted, life didn't stop, and worse things have happened. It gives another great round the dinner tale to tell, or a way to appease a panicking NQT!
If you need to cry, whether it’s on your own, with someone, or over a large gin and tonic – do it. To quote the great R.E.M., everybody hurts.
Just remember to laugh as well. We have the BEST job in the world.
Be brave and walk away
If something really isn't working well, and it's been going on for months. It doesn't give you the enjoyment it used to, or you're feeling worse and worse, run out of positives, run out of motivation. You've talked to people, you've got support, you've tried different ways to work through it.
Find the greener grass, find the place you belong, find the people that appreciate you, find your happiness again.
We have one shot at this. Make it a happy one.
Your mental health is precious.
This is just some practical advice. This is not a fix-all. Mental health is important, if you are feeling lost, here are some other contact details:
Charity providing support if you've been diagnosed with an anxiety condition.
Phone: 03444 775 774 (Mon to Fri, 9.30am to 5.30pm)
CALM is the Campaign Against Living Miserably, for men aged 15 to 35.
Phone: 0800 58 58 58 (daily, 5pm to midnight)
Men's Health Forum
24/7 stress support for men by text, chat and email.
Mental Health Foundation
Provides information and support for anyone with mental health problems or learning disabilities.
Promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems.
Phone: 0300 123 3393 (Mon to Fri, 9am to 6pm)
Voluntary charity offering support for sufferers of panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Offers a course to help overcome your phobia/OCD. Includes a helpline.
Phone: 0844 967 4848 (daily, 10am to 10pm)