5 breakthroughs that made me a better teacher | Education Support
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5 breakthroughs that made me a better teacher

13th February 2019

Hi, my name’s Victoria and I’ve had a breakthrough.

When I thought about how I’d open this piece, for some reason I kept envisaging sitting in a room with a support group of strangers opening up to them about my mental health problems, no, my mental health challenges. I envisaged talking about my experience and the impact it had on me, my friends and family and my work. But I didn’t want this to be about the negative experience I went through resulting from workload stresses. Instead I wanted it to be about overcoming the challenges, the breakdown and how I found ‘me’ again.

You see, a few years ago, back in April 2016 I reached rock bottom; I reached a place I never thought I would return from. It was a place that left me emotionally shattered and physically exhausted. I thought I was on the verge of leaving teaching. I’d reached burnout.

At this time, I’d lost the sense of who I was. I’d wake, work, mark, sleep and then repeat and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

This piece however isn’t about the breakdown. It’s about the things I’ve discovered, the things that have made me a better teacher and a better person. It’s about the breakthroughs, the 5 breakthroughs that have found me along the way to this better me.

Breakthrough #1 – It may not be teaching that’s the problem

My first breakthrough came when I finally broke down; when I couldn’t bare to enter my classroom. I say this was my first breakthrough moment because it made me stop; it made me take time off work and it made me reassess my career in teaching.

I came to this realisation after speaking to Ed Support.  They’d helped me to breakthrough the cloud of stress, doubt and tears and to see that I loved teaching and that deep down I didn’t want to leave the profession; what I needed was to change my situation.

After a great deal of support and encouragement from family, I applied for a job at another school.

Breakthrough #2 – Not all schools are the same, some really do care about you

I’ve worked in 5 schools now, including the 2 during my PGCE year. They have all been very different, from rural schools in the depths of mid-Wales, to rural free schools on the rural-urban fringe, then from schools with high levels of SEN and deprivation to schools in the grammar system. Each has had its own unique challenges and stresses. But what has really made the difference is the leadership; their focus on staff and student wellbeing. My current school recognises that the wellbeing of staff is paramount to the wellbeing and success of students and they work hard to try to support staff to maintain a work-life balance.

Whilst school leaders may not always get it right, if they’re trying to support their staff’s wellbeing, to help them to manage the burden of workload, responsibility and life, then it can only be a step in the right direction.

Breakthrough #3 – You can still be a great teacher with mental health challenges

I still suffer from anxiety. I still suffer from bouts of depression. I still take medication to manage it. But that doesn’t make me a bad teacher. In fact, the one thing I’ve discovered is that by better understanding my mental health, I’ve become more aware of the mental health of others and have been able to support colleagues and students in a way I never could or would have in the past. For instance, I have now been able to find the words to talk to students about how stress and anxiety feels, the signs of potential negative mental health experiences and have been able to suggest ways to look after ourselves, both physically and mentally.

Breakthrough #4 – Mental health is not a taboo

Looking after our mental health, understanding it and talking about it is not a social taboo. I suffered in silence for too long, I didn’t tell people how I felt, and it led me down a dark road. Since opening up about my experience via my blog and twitter, I’ve spoken to many support staff, teachers and school leaders that have done the same.

We must not fear talking about our wellbeing and mental health, the highs and the lows. In doing so, we make a better society for current and future generations. We make it acceptable to talk about such issues and challenges and enable our young people (and adults) to reach out and find the help and support they need and deserve.

Breakthrough #5 – It is possible to fall in love with teaching again

If back in 2016, I’d been asked how I’d feel about teaching in 2019, I know my answer would not have been “I love it”. It would probably have been something along the lines of “I’ll love it because I won’t be teaching anymore” said with sarcasm and a grin.

After my reassessment of what teaching meant to me, I told myself I’d give one more school a try. If it didn’t work out, then I’d know teaching wasn’t my calling. I’m glad I did as it paid off, my fire for everything education has been reignited and I can proudly say “I love teaching, again”.

Finding your own breakthrough

If you feel that teaching is too much, know you are not alone.

Think about changing school. If invited to interview ask about wellbeing, ask about workload and ask about support. If you’re not happy with the response. It’s not the school for you.

If changing school isn’t an option, think about how you can help to create the change you need in your workplace. Start personal and try different strategies in your own classroom to reduce your workload and manage your time, most importantly make sure you reach out and talk to others when in need. Then think bigger, gather colleagues, consider solutions and propose them to school leaders.

Final words from me, we need more breakthroughs in education, not breakdowns, lets help each other to find them.

To read more on Victoria’s experiences and advice on tackling workload check out her blog, MrsHumanities.com, follow her on twitter (@MrsHumanities) and keep an eye out for the release of ‘Making it as Teacher’ with Routledge in Summer 2019.