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A Gold Star for Imperfection

Today is our final day of our consultation with Teacher Tapp examining the mental health and wellbeing of thousands of teachers across the country. We have had a fantastic response, but we would still like to hear from you. To mark this initiative we are publishing pieces from teachers, authors, experts and activists to get their thoughts and  experience of the mental health and wellbeing of school staff.

How is it really going?

Before you became a teacher you probably heard teachers complaining about how much they had to do and thought they were making a mountain out of a molehill. Maybe you spurred yourself on with thoughts of stressful situations you had already overcome, be it achieving a degree, surviving a high-pressure job, or getting a divorce. Flash forward to today. How is it going? How is it really going?

What’s your stress rating?

The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale assigns a score indicating the stress level of 43 different life events. It puts the death of a spouse at 100, retirement at 45 and going on holiday at 13.[1] So where would you put teaching? More stressful than your child leaving home? More stressful than getting married? Moving house?

Schools are tremendously busy places. Lessons are taught, papers are photocopied, forms are filled and filed, books are marked and classrooms are cleaned, all to a tight schedule. As a teacher there are targets to reach, curriculum goals to meet, differentiation to evidence and reports to write. And of course - the children: children to teach, children to cajole, children to support and children to protect. It’s no wonder teachers end up frazzled and discombobulated.

The holidays make it all worth it, don’t they?

Apparently not. 82% of teachers report that their workload is unmanageable.[2] Almost a quarter of teachers who have qualified since 2011 have already left the profession,[3] with just under 40,000 teachers quitting in 2016.[4] According to The Guardian, 1 in 83 teachers are off with long term stress and mental health issues.[5] In the face of so many external pressures that we have no control over, it might seem that there is very little we can do to protect ourselves from reaching breaking point.

Steps to improve your well-being for your classroom

Fortunately, there are some very simple and easy steps you can take to improve your psychological flexibility and become more resilient to the pressures of the job.

  • Sing your own praises: in teaching you often have to sing your own praises because everyone else is too busy to notice you’ve done a good job. You have to remind yourself. I’m not suggesting you waltz round the staffroom telling everyone that Millie used three adjectives in her description today, but do tell yourself. Tell yourself clearly what you’ve done well and write it in your diary so you remember.
  • Be honest, accept and adapt: sometimes you will be attacked from all sides by uncooperative children, over-enthusiastic leaders, angry parents and out of sorts colleagues. There is not a lot you can do to change this but acknowledging and accepting how you feel really helps. Rank your mood on a scale of 1 to 10. If you are currently on a ‘3’, that’s ok. You don’t need to change this or pretend that you feel fine. Take some action to plan accordingly, for example by swapping in a more low-key activity for the session after lunch, or by promising yourself a bit of down-time during the evening.

  • Take a mind break: mindfulness meditation is proven to have a significant impact on stress and feelings of well-being. Try to find five to ten minutes daily where you can take some time out to follow a guided meditation, or simply to focus on your body and your breathing. Throughout the day, try to pay attention to what is going on in the here and now, rather than always being caught up in the whirlwind of worry about what you need to do next.
  • Don’t forget to celebrate imperfection: teaching attracts well organised people who like to take control. Your strengths, which make you so good at your job, can also undermine you. Let go of the desire to make each lesson an all singing- all dancing performance, or to stock your classroom with beautifully laminated resources that change with every topic. Be pragmatic. Celebrate ‘good enough’, rather than pushing yourself to unsustainable goals. View less than perfect performance as an achievement – today, rather than making everything just so, you took the difficult decision to reclaim a little bit of time for yourself.

Sadly, these actions won’t fill in your paperwork or attend your breaktime duty, but they can help you to take control of your well-being and feel more resilient when faced with the many stresses and strains of your day. At Twinkl, we recognise the need to focus on well-being, keep on checking our blog during June for hints and tips. Find Twinkl on Twitter and Facebook: @twinklresources

Twinkl is a service that offers award-winning teaching, planning and assessment materials from birth and beyond. All of their resources are teacher-created and checked. Susannah Dean is a content writer at Twinkl, a primary school teacher in Scotland and an experienced yoga teacher and trainer.