The Dark Night of the Soul

Today marks 8 years since the lowest point of my teaching career. I remember it vividly. However, looking back it was probably simultaneously the worst and best day of my career. 

I was coming to the end of a long year in Year 6, and despite coming off the back of another good set of SATs result I was at my lowest ever ebb. Working for a headteacher who can only be described as relentless I was fed up. Nothing I did seemed good enough and I couldn’t see how it would ever be so. Work sampling filled me with fear. Emails from the head made my blood run cold, as a member of SLT there were plentiful. It wasn’t that she was a bad head, far from it. She was excellent and demanded the best everyday, but I couldn’t see a way to come to terms with and deliver what she wanted. I didn’t want to go to work at all. This was more than the usual end of term exhaustion. I was as unhappy as I had ever been in the job.

The reason I remember the night so clearly is that it was the night of our Year 6 show. I remember sitting on my computer  between the end of the day and the kids coming back for make-up and googling ‘alternative jobs for teachers’. I had pretty much made my mind up to leave the profession. 

It didn’t take long before I realised that this wasn’t really an option. I had wanted to a primary teacher since the age of 14. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t work hard enough for GCSE and A-levels, and while they were good enough to get my onto my BA Primary Ed course, they should have been so much better (although I do now have a good motivational story to tell Year 6 every year). My degree was in education, all I knew was education. It dawned on me that all I was qualified for was education. As the main earner in my household and my wife pregnant, retraining wasn’t an option, we couldn’t afford the salary cut.

So, in that empty classroom I realised this was me, and this was what I needed to keep doing. I wasn’t qualified for anything else. At that point, after I had made that resolution, I instantly felt better, like a weight had been lifted. 

Over the nest few months I slowly started to come to terms with the fact that I didn’t need to be perfect. We can’t strive for perfection, we will never get there. However, we can strive to be excellent and we need to accept that this is OK. Teachers are a strange breed. They forever look for the negatives and the ones that got away and what they could have done more of for each child that doesn’t quite get what we wanted them do.. We need to stop this. It doesn’t do any good. Celebrate success. Accept you did all you could. Remember you are working with children. They aren’t adults, they are immature and unpredictable no matter how grown up they seem. By shifting my mindset I was able to fall back in love with teaching. I could hand on heart say I was doing all I could, and to be honest, no one can ask any more from me than that. After all, that is all we ask from the children. There are thousands of things we can do, hundreds of things we should do and tens of things we have to do every day. Once I accepted that I cannot do all of the things I could do, or even all of the things I maybe should do I instantly became a better teacher. Being able to say sometimes:

What is the worst that will happen if I don’t get this done? 

It is OK for my students to know that I have a life outside school and that’s why I didn’t WWW and EBI their RE work from yesterday. 

I am not going to be the perfect teacher, but I am going to excellent and make sure that no-one can say I haven’t tried my best.

I gave that child my all, and they still didn’t make their target – that is not my fault.

Accepting this liberated me, and I am so glad it did. This is the job I wanted to do, and love doing again. As a head I try and let my teachers have this attitude. Nothing will every be perfect, but if you have done your best, I will never tell you it isn’t good enough. I will tell you how it can get better and  help you with it. Why should we treat staff and differently to the children when it comes to their professional development?

We are privileged to do the best job in the world. We do it well. We shouldn’t be made to feel like we aren’t doing well enough when we are. If you are thinking of leaving the profession, before you make up your mind, take a look at your mindset and ask yourself if you are being too harsh on yourself. The children deserve our best, yes, but they shouldn’t get all of us. That is what leads to burn out, stress and and an unrealistic view of what an amazing job you will be doing for those children. Allow yourself some slack, appreciate how great you are and accept that your best should be good enough. 

Published by @secretHT1

Primary HT. Using this as a space to write honestly and freely about the state of education currently.

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  1. I didn’t have a day but early in my teaching career (I had completed my NQT year and had an extremely difficult 2nd year which sent me to the edge of a breakdown), I decided my third year was a make or break year. Thankfully I was picked up and supported by a very good Head Teacher. It was an awful process to go through – I even ended up attending stress management training – but that was the ‘make’ year and I’ve loved teaching ever since. I’ve had to learn that my best is enough too. I’m still regularly told the hours I work are too long but I’m used to hard work and for me – sometimes I’d rather work a longer day in the week ( my children are adults) and have an entire teach free weekend. Other times I choose to work for some of my weekend. Nowadays though it’s something I choose to do rather than feeling compelled to work long hours and I no longer feel guilty if I need to take a night off.


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