Teaching, learning to teach, and (not) looking after myself somewhere in the middle.

None of you were probably wondering what plight has befallen my blogs as of late. Unfortunately I fell into the terrible trap of telling myself I didn’t have time to write, and boy did I pay for having that mentality.

Some of you may know this but since September I have been teaching. I work in a primary school in Thurrock, Essex. I teach 30 wonderful year 3 children and it’s been a blessing so far to give them an education. Alongside my job I’m studying for a PGDE. It’s a lot like a PGCE except it has a different letter in the acronym. It’s also two years long, so there’s that as well I suppose. My new life has left me feeling tantalisingly energetic in the same way that a beer-bellied 60 year old with creaky knees isn’t. As much as I love delivering an education to children, I have to come clean and say my life hasn’t been particularly brilliant these last couple of months. If this weren’t enough, I also have to reveal that *gasp* I haven’t exactly been very kind to myself during this time as well.

In the spirit of a reflective teacher, I’ve reflected on my blog posts. I’ve had such a long time away from thinking about what to write next them that I’ve been able to take a bit of a step back and look in on what I have written. My posts always appear to suggest I’ve cracked it, that I’ve come a step closer to mastering my mental health. The site charts a positive trajectory and whilst I would say I’ve come a long way from therapy, I don’t think of my progress as a positive linear stroll through the park. In reality there have been many regressions over the last few years and right now at this point in my life I am regressing. I’ve fallen off-track. This isn’t a post about how I encountered a problem and overcame it, this is me saying ‘oh… I’ve lost a lot.’

Let’s keep teaching on the shelf for now and discuss general life. I moved down to Essex in August, to an area called Grays. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s actually extremely dull. There’s a “beach” here which lies on the banks of the river Thames. I can’t slate it too much because it’s been a decent place to go reflect, but between you and me it’s an imposter beach. I’m in a house share which, if you know me, isn’t ideal. I can’t really write a post about my mental health without referring to my living situation at least once. It’s been a highly claustrophobic experience and hopefully I’ll soon be out of it. I haven’t been to a gym for longer than I’d like to admit and this is where we arrive at how I’ve been treating myself. I don’t really look after myself anymore. I always thought of self-care as being that constant holistic process whereby you take active steps to prioritise your needs, reflect on what’s going well and what could be better, and pay close attention to your flaws and how to improve them. I absolutely have not prioritised my needs. I haven’t exercised in weeks and I lament myself for it. I’ve put on weight because I keep drinking a dangerous cocktail, the main ingredients of which are neglect of exercise and an inconsistent diet. This has really impacted my self-confidence, and I find myself in a position now where my deteriorated physical condition makes me feel like a failure and my newness to the teaching profession has made me doubt my ability to success professionally. My entire mindset right now is toxic and it’s very hard to change it. I reflect occasionally on things I should be proud of, but by and large most of my thinking time is dedicated to aspects of my work, what I’m doing wrong or why I keep mucking up sorting my life out. In short, I’ve let my mind become a very messy, very unkind place over the last 8 weeks.

I’m going to write a separate post on life as a new teacher but for now I just wanted to express something about my new career. Unless you live in the land of make-believe you’ll know teaching is very hard. 12-13 hour days are common, the demands are extremely high and the school day is a microcosm filled with chaos. A lot of people have asked ‘how’s life as a teacher?’ and I’ve told them the positives, because I do truly feel very lucky to be in this job. However, I feel bad sharing the fact that I’m already burnt-out. I feel like I shouldn’t say what else is on my mind and that is that I’m struggling to cope with it. This job I love is exhausting and in the space of seven weeks I have dealt with more stress and heartbreak than I have in years. The learning curve-professionally, emotionally and mentally- has been ridiculously steep. As supported as I am in my job, I do still find myself questioning at this very early stage my capacity to be a good teacher. Rather than discuss this with people at length, blog about it or even write it down, I’ve kept it inside. This blog has been untouched and my journal hasn’t been opened in weeks.

I’m at a point now where I have taken a lot of the negatives of last term and have started to turn them into positives, the main one being my organisation. I can’t really say to you guys what my plan is to get better because to tell you the truth I don’t have one yet. I just wanted to dust the cobwebs off my fingers and get typing something that isn’t a lesson plan or professional reflection. You might call this step one of a sequence of baby steps to get myself back on track. It absolutely isn’t a miracle cure. However, it does feel good to get all this down. At the end of the day even after all the success I’ve had with tackling my mental illness it just goes to show that life is all peaks and troughs. This seismic change in my life has had a severe impact but I’m determined to face up to it. As I said, this is the first baby step back onto the good path.

-Nick

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