It became pretty clear to me how negatively teachers are viewed when our country’s teachers fought for better pay and working conditions last year. You didn’t have to look far to find someone’s point of view or negative comment about our children’s teachers online, and for a while there I would just read these comments and cry, my heart broken to know how we are really seen to those outside of education. I get it from people I know too – people who see me break and struggle under the pressure – people who know how hard I work – there are people in my social circle who don’t even see the value in what I do and they like to wind me up to entice some kind of passionate and emotional reaction. I understand though – I do, everyone draws on their own school experience – and because all those trolls on Facebook, and anyone else with an opinion, have learned to read and write and express their opinions so articulately, they have obviously gone through some kind of education system; everyone has their own memories of teachers and this seems to give them the idea they know what it is we do all day – and then they give themselves permission to criticise the teachers of today. It’s widely believed we work nine to three and lap it up with our twelve weeks holiday each year – this is just so far from the truth.
At the end of this year, I will have completed my first decade as a classroom teacher. Even after ten years of teaching, I still struggle to find the balance I need to thrive as both a teacher and a human being. The culture in which we work is toxic – it is fundamentally broken world wide and I believe this is down to the fact that what we do is not valued by the wider society. This in turn has led to an expectation that we do more than is mentally and physically possible within a day just to somehow demonstrate our worth and contribution to society. It causes teachers to compete with each other, rather than support and collaborate; Because society seems to view teaching as a calling, this has somehow led to a culture where it is expected we work for free and give absolutely everything we have to our job – to go above and beyond, with no second thought about the consequence to our own mental health. This is why we are losing teachers – all these expectations, they are just not manageable – they are just not sustainable. It is breaking us. This is why we need our holidays, our job is so mentally and emotionally demanding – it’s just not sustainable over long periods of time.
I honestly didn’t think teaching would be this hard.
Most days, we have to work through our breaks, eating lunch at our desk or scoffing it down quickly in the staff-room while we catch up on emails just so we are prepared to teach our kids and do all of that other admin stuff that is required of us. To enable me to go home without work so I can be a mother and a wife, I have to cram as much as I can into my day – so that means, going without actual breaks and zooming around the campus while trying to prevent myself from drowning under this immense weight I feel, only to take it all out on my family when I get home. We have to know where our students are at – what they can and can’t do – what they need to learn next and how we can best support them to get there. All our students are at different levels and we need to cater for each and every single one of them – it is expected we do. We need to be an expert in dealing with a vast number of learning needs, social needs and emotional needs – it is expected we do. We need to be a support system, a mentor, a teacher, and a councilor for well over 25 kids right now. And if I can get real with you, right now, I am really struggling to cope. I am a fierce advocate for teachers and our wellbeing, and even though I am well equipped with the knowledge and the skills to be a ‘well teacher’ and have the most incredible support within my team, the current climate is making it feel as though it is almost impossible for me to thrive as a teacher right now. Today I had to take a mental health day, because my head and my heart need protecting to enable me to show up for my kids as my best self. If I know all this, am self-aware of my feelings, can articulate them and know how to look after myself, imagine what it must be like right now for those teachers around the world who do not – my heart is actually breaking for them right now.
When we leave the school grounds, it is impossible for us to not take work home – even if we leave our laptop at school. The physical act of teaching makes up a small fraction of what we actually do. We care so deeply about our students and we genuinely want what is best for them so we take them home with us – in our heads. The emotional weight of our job is immense and this is really where teachers struggle the most. We don’t have enough time to process it all, and we give everything to our kids that at the end of the day, there isn’t anything left for ourselves – even if we make the time for it, our energy levels are just so depleted it winds up being a token gesture of mindfulness meditation where instead of an empty and calm mind, a tornado of worry and overwhelm swirls and we ultimately feel like shit that we can’t even meditate, let alone cope with this job that society views as a piece of cake with a twelve week holiday.
We worry about the girl with anxiety who doesn’t want to come to school,
We worry about the boy who is having trouble with his friends at lunch,
We worry about the boy without food,
We think of new ways to teach that kid who just can’t figure out fractions,
We scour the internet for resources for that boy with dyslexia,
We rack our brains with ways to make life easier for our kids,
We participate in webinars and podcasts to improve our skills and knowledge,
We feel the constant pressure of the clock.
We feel the constant pressure from the packed curriculum.
We feel the constant pressure from our kids’ parents.
We fall asleep with this swirling around in our heads.
Then we wake up.
A new day.
A fresh start.
But the cycle just begins again.
We open our email to find messages from parents unhappy with what we have done for their child – or what we haven’t done. Our professional judgement and experience is put into question and parents now hold all the power. When we know we are doing everything we can for all the kids in our class, or at least trying our best to, it’s actually hard not to feel appreciated.
If we believe something is beneficial for a child’s learning and their parents think otherwise – they win and we have to retreat with our tail between our legs making us feel as though all our years and experience mean nothing.
If a child is failing we look to us as the reason – our teaching failed them; we are so hard on ourselves.
If a student has poor behaviour, it’s because we are not engaging them.
Very rarely do we receive positive emails, genuinely thanking us for all we have done – it happens does happen though, and we appreciate it so much when it does, but the complaints and criticism far outweigh the positive, and that massive toll it takes on us emotionally. It makes us feel so worthless. We take it all personally. Some of us can take it, some of us can’t – most of us can’t. We give our hearts to our children – we give them almost every inch of ourselves, we honestly do, and to feel so undervalued when we have our professional experience and opinions challenged hurts like you wouldn’t believe.
Coming back to school post Corona has been a different experience for many teachers; where there are some teachers who work in schools with a visible wellbeing programme and teachers are nurtured, feel valued and supported to teach and thrive, there are far too many schools where the wellbeing of their teachers is being forgotten. If some schools can’t even have senior leadership teams value teachers, genuinely appreciate all that we do and go on to neglect our personal wellbeing, how on earth can we expect our parent community, or society to value and appreciate what we do? This is something that has been weighing heavily on my heart over the last few weeks as I’ve engaged with teachers online and seen how hard Covid has impacted teachers and schools all over the place, and while I can uplift and inspire teachers to take control of their own well-being with my words, the reality of the situation is, many teachers feel like their wellbeing has been abandoned by those who should be supporting us.
We can’t breathe under this weight.
Our teaching suffers,
Our kids suffer,
Our families suffer,
What makes it harder is all the other stuff piled on top of us.
What makes it harder is feeling like we have no power.
What makes it harder is parents who don’t support us.
What makes it harder is having no support from our leaders.
What makes it harder is the emotional support we provide our kids.
What makes it harder is receiving no emotional support for ourselves.
What makes it harder is feeling like we have been abandoned in all of this.
We want you all to know what teaching is really like, we love our kids so much but this job, it’s really hard and none of us think it fair or ok that we are all literally working ourselves to our physical, mental and emotional breaking points.
We need help.
The profession needs help.
We want support.
We want to feel valued.
We just want to teach and be respected for it.
We are doing the best we possibly can but sometimes, it’s just too much and all of these added factors are making our job so much harder than it needs to be. I love teaching, I find my joy when I am in the classroom and I love my kids – they are the reason I still do what I do, but the culture of teaching is toxic and I am not surprised teachers are leaving in droves. As teachers, we can only control our thoughts, feelings and personal expectations and that is hard enough to manage on top of everything else that is expected of us. We need help with the things that we can’t control, because it is just too much to sustain. Something’s gotta give. Yes, teaching called us and we answered, but just because teaching and working with kids might be our purpose in life, it doesn’t mean we should be expected to work ourselves into the ground and be hated on by society when we ask for help when we feel like we are drowning.
I just wish everyone knew how much of ourselves we give our kids and what we personally sacrifice to do so.
My heart is broken for teachers right now.