It’s been a long time now since I put pen to paper, for anything other than marking, writing shopping lists or adding another social commitment to the calendar. Which explains my long absence. ‘Real life’ has had me in its grip for too long, and this morning I am breaking free. I am forcing myself to ignore that overdue pile of marking (ugh) and its accompanying ball of anxiety in my stomach. It can wait. After all, I am part time now (though it doesn’t often feel like it) and I have to keep reminding myself of this. I went part time for a few important reasons, and lately I’ve been losing sight of them.
It’s been quite a hard couple of months, and emotionally I feel a bit all over the place. I went to two funerals in the space of a month; both old women who lived next door to us growing up, and who meant a lot to us, and to our own kids. One of them, in particular, I loved. She was in her nineties, which is obviously a great innings, and that’s just life, of course, but it was hard nonetheless. I was also pretty ill over October half term – just a bad cold, but it zapped my energy, and I feel like its after effects are still out staying their welcome. I’ve always felt slightly smug about my strong immune system, but it’s been letting me down recently, and I’ve learnt that I don’t deal very well with illness. I get even needier and more emotional than when I’m healthy; essentially becoming a blubbering, gluey- eyed snotbag in my darkest hours.
More than anything else, work has been pretty relentless. It turns out that even three days of teaching, especially at the sort of school I’m now working in, is harder than I’d envisaged. I found myself on the brink of tears in a lesson, for the first time since my NQT year, on Tuesday. The kids are tough, I’m knackered, and my resilience is worn fairly thin at the moment. I swear they can sense it, like sharks sensing blood and going in for the kill. Thankfully I managed to blink them back until lunchtime, when I momentarily locked myself in my room for a quick cry. I stood and cried in what I thought was a blindspot in the corner, before I realised that anyone further up the corridor would still be able to see me through the glass walls. Anyway, it was an improvement on the lesson I’d walked out on during my (bloody tough) NQT year, to stand sobbing in the English office whilst simultaneously shovelling pieces of doughnut, passed to me by my sympathetic mentor, into my face. So that’s progress, of a sort.
On the plus side, I have also had some hugely rewarding moments since starting at my new school. I feel like I’m *making a difference* to some kids, in a way that I similarly haven’t felt in years. At the risk of sounding like one of those DfE Get Into Teaching adverts (don’t, for the love of God), the euphoria that you feel when you witness a child’s pride in something you have helped them to achieve is magic, and shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s just that, for the most part, those moments are vastly outweighed by all the bullshit you have to wade through as a teacher. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a job, and one that I often find myself looking for an escape from; especially at this point in the year.
Anyway, this was not intended to become one long whinge about teaching. Everyone I know has the misfortune to have to listen to enough of that. (Joe offers well meaning advice such as ‘maybe you need to try and manage your time better’ or ‘maybe you could do more work on your days in school, so it doesn’t spill over.’ This, rather than making me feel better, usually has more of a red rag/ bull effect. Teacher friends will sympathise). What it is intended to be, is a reflection on the importance of self care, in all its many forms.
There’s a woman at my work who, like lots of other people I’ve worked with, cannot allow herself a life outside teaching. A few times now I have asked about her weekend, only for her to respond gloomily that she didn’t have one because she worked through it. I remember her guilty excitement a few weeks ago, when she confided that she was giving herself a Saturday afternoon off to go to a knitting workshop. God forbid that this woman, who is a grandmother in her fifties, should put down her purple pen and pick up some knitting needles for an entire afternoon. Part of me admires this level of dedication to her work and her classes, but a greater part of me thinks she is – though lovely and selfless – a bloody fool for allowing the job to take over like that.
This has never been me, and God willing, it never will be. Maybe I’m too selfish for that to happen, but, if that’s the case, then I’m glad, because some things are just more important than becoming a martyr for your job. Sanity, for instance. Relationships, and happiness, and having the space to think about other things. I dreamed about work last night, having been there for ten hours yesterday, and still not got everything I needed to done. And when that happens, instead of trying to plough on and get it all done, I know it’s time to take a step back.
As a side note, there is a public perception (which I may currently be reinforcing) of teachers as a load of part-timers, who spend all of their time feeling aggrieved about having to work hours that non-teachers can only dream of. Well firstly, this is a load of shit, but secondly, I don’t think this is just a problem with teaching – it’s a problem with our society. We place so much emphasis on career and financial success, and this inevitably comes at the detriment of our happiness and mental health. I know this is nothing new or groundbreaking – it is being talked about all the time now – but as far as I can see, little is actually being done about it.
So, for now, I’m trying to focus on self care. That looks different depending on what day it is and what mood I’m in. It can be as simple as poached eggs and fresh coffee on my mornings off (it’s often food related). As I’ve been under the weather, I’ve been justifying enormous bars of Dairy Milk as self care, too – then the whole palm oil controversy happened and somewhat spoiled my fun. But on Wednesday I put down the chocolate and dragged myself off my rapidly expanding arse, and out for a run, something I’ve not done in far too long. When I manage it, I’m always amazed by how it instantly and unfailingly lifts my spirits (and then makes me feel like I’m dying, and then, once it’s over, makes me feel great again). This is something I’ll try to remember as winter settles in for the long haul. The times I least feel like running are usually the times I need it the most.
Yesterday, after a late meeting followed by another meeting followed by a hideous journey home, self care looked, again, like chocolate (and cheap red wine). Today it looks like eggs and coffee, and sitting on the sofa, braless in my scruffy old pyjamas at lunchtime (a titillating image, I know), writing this. I think this has been by far my most self-indulgent post, but surely we all need a bit of self-indulgence now and again. And it’s felt good to get back to the blog.
I wrote in my first post that writing is therapeutic for me. I actually had a little cry at one point whilst writing this (told you I was emotional). It often feels like there are not enough hours in the day, but this is another thing I need to force myself to make time for. We owe it to ourselves to find time for the things (and the people) that ground us, the things and the people that make us happy. I’ll try not to stay away so long next time.