What did I do wrong? Did I do something offensive or upsetting? How do I fix this? What do I do? Where can I hide? This was how I started my 2018.
As Head of Sixth Form, I was feeling the heat of another average set of results across the board, my focus on Maths, English and History had paid off, to be replaced with concerns in Chemistry, Physics and Art.
All kinds of anxious thoughts went through my mind, I had a new line manager and his brief appeared, at least in my mind to be simple: ‘get rid’. I was panicked, how was I going to pay the mortgage? What would the kids have to eat or wear?
Rational thought went out of the window, I was either just angry or sad, I needed a way out. I was diagnosed by occupational health as having anxiety related stress, my eczema was out of control and I wasn’t sleeping. I was grumpy constantly and taking it out on the family which is never fair.
I took four weeks off school, something I had never done before and contacted my union with a simple request of, “find a way to get me out”.
Such thoughts are not pleasant, rational or indeed useful. I have looked into mental health issues facing teachers and mood disorders resulting from high anxiety are more likely amongst teachers and can be entirely debilitating. They affected my ability to interact with students, engage with adults and rationally present information to internal and external bodies, without added gloss.
Imagine standing there with a full and rich lesson in full flow and then a wave of anxiety strikes, weakening your whole body, as both confidence and energy drains away.
Suddenly the lesson grids to a halt and you have to sit down, the students looking at you with a mixture of mirth and concern; there is nothing you can do. It isn’t nice. Add to this the taboo over mental health, particularly affecting those in ‘locus parents’ and you have a real walking, talking problem.
The problem was, ‘I knew I was right’, the short-termism of school leaders searching for an instant fix misses the longer-term strategy, everything was in place to deliver success across the board that summer.
Luckily teaching is a wonderful community and there was plenty of support from colleagues and the online community who believed in my approach.
I took the brave move and resigned from my post, the union had negotiated a retention of salary and a move to a simple teaching role until August. I was free.
That summer the results came in and as predicted they were the best in the school’s history, I was right.
In September I started a new role as a Head of Humanities, a curriculum-based role different to the pastoral roles I had occupied. It is a role which has reignited my passion for my subject, building on the lessons learnt from my previous experiences.
For those of you who are in a similar position to the one I experienced, there is plenty of help out there.
I found Talking Therapies particularly useful as well as Opogo’s own “Teach Fit” strategy which has been extremely valuable in defeating ‘the demons’.
My advice to you is to be brave, be honest and look after yourself because education needs you.
About our Community Expert
Career Development Lead
Richard is a history Teacher by Training and for the last few years been head of sixth form. His specialism is leadership and career development in the classroom.