Recently, I found myself in an unusual situation. I managed to squeeze in time to have a conversation with a close friend of mine, who has in the last 12 months, retired from teaching. She began our conversation with tales of her overseas travels, lazy weekends spent reading things of her own choice; not what was prescribed as part of the Year 8 curriculum. She described the freedom of being able to find time to walk, garden, go to yoga classes and socialize with friends she hadn’t had the chance to catch up with in years. I listened, nodding with encouragement; knowing full well that these things she spoke of were what we ‘active’ teachers deprive ourselves of on a day to day basis. As much as teaching is rewarding, it takes its toll (jobmonkey.com). With increasing demands being placed on us at every turn, teaching can often seem like a bit of a life sentence, where we are deprived of our freedoms and liberties. For most of us, we work on the premise that perhaps one day, when we are ‘released’, after our time has been served and we retire, we too will live in a way that seems more socially civilized.
I finished the conversation and continued to rush about my day. I sipped cold tea in between talking about the unbridled ambition of Macbeth, shoved sandwiches in my mouth that were 3 days old at ’lunch’ as I worked with one group of students to resolve a conflict, and with another on proof reading a draft. I raced back to class for the afternoon, then to tutoring and all the while did my best juggling phone calls, attending and scheduling meetings, marking and finally, sending more emails from home until 11:45pm.
Eventually, I dozed off, mind still full of planning and logistics. I convinced myself that if I think about this at this late hour, it might help me get through the following day more efficiently.
I woke the following morning, rushed my 4 year old out the door and convinced him that ‘eating breakfast in the car is a special treat’. I sipped my coffee breakfast and as I tuned in to ABC, I hear on HACK at 8am ‘recent survey reveals that 80% of Australian teachers are experiencing bullying and harassment by students and parents…coupled with increasing workloads is one cause of teachers exiting the profession’. (Tuesday 7 May 2019).
I listened with a keen interest and felt deflated for the rest of my drive to work that day. I knew how much I loved teaching. Despite feeling like I would not get to yoga, go walking regularly, or enjoy hot cups of tea until retirement, I could never imagine myself doing anything else. Who was I anyway, if not a teacher? I realized that for better or worse, so much of my identity was associated with how I saw myself as a teacher. Teaching for me, and I imagine for most others who commit to this profession, were making a conscious decision to sacrifice. Teachers hand over such a large part of themselves to students, families and communities and it was in no way something we could call a job. It is a lifestyle choice and often, one that that defined us.
I arrived at school and was met with the usual number of students waiting at my desk for help. The blinking light on my phone indicated that my voice mail was full, and an email list as long as my arm had already arrived. In that moment I suddenly realized the importance of teacher wellbeing. Teachers, like parents make sacrifices each and every day so that we can do our best to help ‘our children’ thrive. It means we often forget to take care of ourselves. The solution to this is not for teachers to stop working hard for kids. The solution is for each and every one of us, (teachers, students, parents and members of our extended communities) to improve the way we value and treat each other, to improve the way we talk with and about each other. The solution is to ensure we don’t have our teachers exiting their career early because they feel bullied or harassed. The solution is to work together as a community to ensure that a teacher’s wellbeing and sense of self is healthy. St Edmund’s College has recently registered as a Be You school. Be You is a government backed initiative designed to help facilitate improved mental health and wellbeing for students AND teachers. It provides a platform for schools to access areas of strength and weakness with the goal of continually improving and developing culture, safety, academics and resilience. I look forward to sharing future stories of our successful implementation of positive psychology approaches that will ultimately, benefit us all.
For more information on Be You click on the following link https://beyou.edu.au
Leanne Gair (Head of Treacy)