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At the Heart of it

School is back, new routines are being figured out, but what has changed? Cate Knight reflects on how time and wellbeing are still major triggers for teachers.

I want you to grab a pen and paper, or the notes on your phone or laptop. I want you to write down everything you love about your life. Then everything you love about your job. Next, I want you to write what upsets or stresses you in your life. Now, what upsets and stresses you in your job. (I’m guessing, if you’re in education, there are some cross overs here, right?)

Finally, I want you to look at each item and think about who benefits from the energy that you invest in it. I’m realising, slowly & uncomfortably, that I have prioritised the wrong things, the wrong people, the wrong impulses. And I have done it because of the oldest bully trick in the book; peer pressure. On a personal level my family and friends make me hugely happy! I love them. I’m stressed by the tidiness of my house, the bills coming in and never ending to do list. At work I love being with young learners, seeing them fall in love with knowledge, seeing them eager to ask questions. I’m stressed by continual feelings of guilt, not being “enough”, invidious comparisons, paperwork and time pressures.

Who told me my house needed to be tidy all the time? That I need to wear make up? Have my hair done?

Who am I trying to compete at work FOR? What is the point of most of the paperwork? The endless marking? The pressure of exams? Who is it FOR? Not me. Not the kids. Not my friends and family. I’m honest truth, if anything, these things DIMINISH the joy of all of that. They limit the time and energy I have to invest in friendships, relationships and real, in depth learning. We have somehow allowed ourselves to be bullied into a position of “musts” and “shoulds”. No one will be hurt if we don’t. There will be no crisis BUT we have been conditioned to feel pressure, fear, stress, anxiety and obligation when it comes to certain things. It’s simply not real though. Life will go on if you mark in the wrong pen. No one will fail at life if you leave the books a few days to visit your mum who is poorly. So what if your front garden isn’t immaculate? Who will die because you didn’t mow the lawn? No one. In fact. If you let go just a little some really important things thrive! Your students know you’re human and fallible, they get a breather from continual assessment and critiquing. Your mum gets the energy and attention from you that she deserves. The bees and butterflies and small creatures get a beautiful patch of wilderness in which to grow. The smoke and mirrors of fabricated necessity, urgency and conformity drift away on a breeze of realisation. Somethings matter. Some don’t. Look at your first few items on the piece of paper; the things that bring you joy. They matter. Prioritize them. Give them the energy and attention they deserve and try stepping out of line with the other stuff occasionally. It’s NOT your stress. Who is it FOR? Not you.

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The author

Cate has been a teacher for 20 years. She has worked internationally and across all key stages in the UK. Her secondary specialism is Performing Arts with a keen interest in PSHE/RSE. Cate is recently married with two cats who keep her busy and an allotment that requires more time than she can give it!

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