Disclaimer: the following is a brief discussion about mental health for teachers.
Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.
When Jane is in your office telling you that her parents are divorcing and they don’t have time for her and she’s failed her math exam but can’t tell her parents because they’ll take away the only things in life giving her joy…
When Sam is looking to you for advice because his friends and peers are making fun of the fact that when he speaks to them as their Student Representative he uses hand gestures, and rather than focusing on his words, they focus on his hands…
When Anna is 100% engaged in class and contributes insightful and thoughtful comments in discussions but when it comes to assessment she simply doesn’t try and accepts her punishment because “she’s used to it…”
When Tim has spoken to you every day for 6 months about his mum having cancer and you can see that he desperately needs help but doesn’t know whom to speak to so he unloads on you and you don’t know how to help and you try and you try but it takes all your energy away and you can’t give anything more…
Teachers. We put our hearts on the line every day.
These stories are fictional, but they are based on events that teachers all over the world deal with daily. These types of events are the reason that I tell people going into teaching that it is the best job in the world and also the hardest. What I have learned is that we teachers, with our hearts on the line every day, cannot shoulder every burden that our students have. We also need to reach out for help and seek guidance in dealing with these burdens. Obviously we keep in mind student protection procedures and confidences, but by speaking with colleagues we can sort out our feelings, work out what we can do to help our students, and continue to support them, all the while protecting our hearts.
Sometimes it means stepping back and letting someone higher up in leadership or counselors take over with managing a student’s needs. Sometimes it’s talking to parents, or mediating conversations between peers. Either way we can always do something but we don’t have to be everything. We all have different roles to play and sometimes it’s easy to forget that we are humans with emotional needs too. We cannot take care of our students if we don’t take care of ourselves.
So, when you have given everything that you can to your students, and you’re barely holding it together because you’ve taken hit after hit to your heart and you can’t imagine feeling anything more than despair, and desperation to continue trying to help them? It might be time to reach out to your colleagues and seek help. Talk to someone, get strategies, and protect your heart so that you can continue to put it on the line every day.
It’s no secret that 2017 was a massive year, but what I didn’t realise was how much stress this year has brought into my life. It wasn’t until I had left the country for my honeymoon that I realised just how much stress I had been carrying around with me all year. A very good friend of mine and I were having a chat a couple of weeks before my wedding and we were discussing that elusive “work life balance” thing everyone goes on about, and how neither of us has been very good at it this year. My friend was ordered to go on a holiday from her doctor, and I had truly adopted the mantra of “one day at a time.” At what point did my friend and I need to learn that telling everyone that “I’m fine” will not actually make it so? Well, apparently it was running away to New Zealand for both of us (on separate holidays, maybe next time we’ll explore this beautiful country together) that made it sink in: in 2018, things need to change.
And so, I thought, what better way to start fresh than to share what I have learned about stress and its impact on our lives. Read on only if you are into personal development…
About a week before my wedding day, I decided to visit my hairdresser and have a dramatic change from middle of the back-length hair to shoulder-length (most brides would never dream of making such a change, but it definitely felt like the right thing to do and I do not regret it!) While I was there, my hairdresser told me that I NEEDED to find a way to reduce stress in my life, otherwise I would end up losing all my hair. This was the beginning of operation reduce stress, but first, wedding.
My wedding went so smoothly; I was not stressed at all and the day was absolutely beautiful and everything I could have hoped for. Even the last-minute change in plans because of a storm was not enough to ruin the day. It wasn’t until the following day though, that I learned just how much headspace a wedding takes up.
Side note: It’s amazing how much headspace certain things take up. Perhaps I should explain what I call headspace before I go on though. For me, headspace refers to how many things you are keeping in your head, all those projects, thoughts, worries, and jobs that you are constantly thinking about. Tertiary study is a really good example. After 3 degrees, 7 years of study (with one year off in there for working full time), I finally finished at the end of 2015. 2016 rolled around and I started my current job. I promised myself that 2016 would be the year of doing things for me, like getting my full teaching registration and reading anything I wanted. Although I loved having freedom and not having to worry about what I should be doing rather than what I wanted to be doing, I did find myself starting to think about studying again, to fill that empty space I had in my head. I very nearly signed up to start a second Masters in 2017, and in hindsight, I’m so glad I didn’t, because it turns out that opening a gym and planning a wedding are more than enough to fill that empty space!
And so, after the wedding was all finished with and we returned to our normal lives before heading off on our honeymoon, I had a moment of panic where I couldn’t help but think: what now?
I’m glad to say that I made it through that interim week without doing anything stupid, like signing up for another Masters (although the urge was strong), and I got on the plane with my husband with way too much luggage and that feeling of holiday excitement.
When we arrived in Wellington all I wanted to do was see everything. We were there for 4 whole days and I wanted to see it all. It took a spa visit on my third day in Wellington for me to realise that I was on my honeymoon, I didn’t need to be going flat out to see everything – I mean, we were in New Zealand, basically a part of Australia and not so far away that I wouldn’t be back any time soon – and that I needed to relax. It took some time and effort to stop my brain from going a million miles an hour, but from that point on, I found my holiday to be MUCH more enjoyable.
So, I’m writing this blog post on my 2nd last day here in New Zealand. We have been here for a total of 12 days and we have travelled from Wellington to Auckland, with a one night stop in Rotorua. Here’s what I have learned about myself:
I need more sleep than I have been getting. 5-6 hours of sleep a night is not cutting it for me, I’m much more pleasant when I get 8-10 hours.
Food is really important! I know it sounds silly but existing on caffeine, sugar, pizza, and the occasional bowl of cereal is not good enough.
My job as a teacher is always in the back of my mind, and that’s ok, but I have found that writing my thoughts/ideas down on paper and then walking away from them is enough to give myself a proper break from that particular headspace.
Friends that are ok with not hearing from you for weeks/months on end and then are willing to catch up when you’re free are the holy grail, and I am so lucky to have a few of these wonderful people in my life but, I need to try and make a bit more of an effort to reach out to those people more frequently because I always feel better after catching up/checking in.
I need to actually schedule in time for myself, so that it becomes a priority and not an afterthought.
Basically, I need to take all those pieces of advice that we give to our students and apply them in my own life.
I also have really taken to heart something that another friend of mine once told me: “There’s no such thing as balance. Stop trying to find it, because it’ll drive you mad.” She was essentially saying that there is no balance between work life and home life, that there are times where a certain part of your life needs more focus than the other and that can make those of us whom are chasing that perfect balance feel like we are failing. We need to be ok with things being slated towards specific priorities from time to time, but we also need to know when to let things go and get ourselves back on track.
Stress is an inevitable part of our lives, everything we do can cause stress. The trick is knowing when your body has taken on too much and knowing how to help reduce it. This year has pushed my body and my brain to accept more stress than it should, and it’s taken time away from my crazy lifestyle for me to realise this. Thankfully, I have an amazing husband, a supportive family, and some wonderful friends that have helped me to see the error of my ways in 2017, and are willing to help me focus on living my best life in 2018 and beyond.
Ps. When stressed, I often find the beach relaxing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed being close to the water for so much of this holiday. Below are some panoramic photos of the places we have been. These places have really helped me to relax and enjoy the now, I hope you find them as beautiful as I do.