Of course teaching is time-consuming, but it’s not just that. It mind-consuming too. Yes there is a lot to do during the day, marking, planning, meetings, supporting, helping, guiding, writing, but the one thing that takes up most of my time in the day is thinking. I find this aspect of the job the most difficult. The inability to switch off, the constant thought process about how to be better, how you haven’t done that display, how you haven’t got that bit of paper laminated. The constant thoughts that pop into your head are exhausting. Possibly more so than the actual practical work. It happens in the holidays, the weekends, in pupil progress meetings and at 2am. Any time and usually every time. Teaching must be up there with the most mind-consuming of jobs.
The amount of mental effort that goes into teaching is the reason that teachers are amazing. It shows just how much each and every one of us care about the students that we look after. If it didn’t matter to us, this wouldn’t happen and I take reassurance from the fact that it does happen. The moment it stops is the moment we don’t care any more, and that is probably the moment we should probably think about whether we really want to be teaching.
But how do we deal with this all mind-consuming aspect of the job? The worries that ping into our brain at 2am. Spending an hour laying in bed at night debriefing from that difficult meeting with a parent. I’m not sure there is an answer to all of this, I think it will always happen. What worked for me was trying to get some perspective on it all though. I’m a big advocate of trying not to worry about things I can’t affect. That is an small statement, but one that can that in certain situations impossible to achieve, I understand it is not as simple as shrugging off all of the thoughts in our mind. However, there are definitely things that occupying our mind that with a change in perspective in our thought process, we can change our thinking, our response and improve our own wellbeing.
Here are some examples.
Number 1: A two hour meeting with a parent over a recommendation for a selective school I gave their child. It was unpleasant, it got heated in their behalf, especially when they realised it wouldn’t be changing. Previously, I might have stressed over this meeting for days beforehand and afterwards. But can I change the way they feel? No. Did I make the right call in my judgements? Yes. Were they always going to be upset because it wasn’t what they wanted? Yes. Will stewing over it help them or me? No. I can’t affect any change in that situation so why give precious time that could be spend in much more productive things to it?
Number 2: my budget. It’s a deficit, has been for two years. Does it keep me up at night? No. I can’t change the amount of money we have coming in, or the amount we have to spend. I am in a fortunate position where I don’t have to consider redundancies as it’s been acknowledged I’m not overstaffed. Will me worrying change the situation? Not one jot. Am I likely to find a solution at 2am?
Number 3: Pupil Progress Meetings. I worried about these for days as a teacher. What would I get accused of doing wrong? What else would I be asked to do? What would I be made to feel bad about? The solution to this worry was much simpler than I thought. Had I done everything I could for those students? Had I worked hard and done my best to get them to reach their potential as much as possible? If the answer to that is yes, then I have, or shouldn’t have, anything to worry about. I have to trust in my own expertise and knowledge of my class. If an SLT can’t see that I’ve done all I can, and that’s good enough, then maybe I’m working for the wrong SLT.
I found this ability to let go of things that I couldn’t change absolutely liberating. It wasn’t easy, it took practise and time. I’m not saying I don’t care, I do, deeply and always will. But the sleepless nights have reduced. The anxiety over my work has reduced. I’ve made sure the things I can affect are being done as well as I can. I have faith in my own practice, standards and ability. This has meant that I’ve been able to let go of things I used to worry about that my worry had no impact on, apart from making me tired and grumpy.
I’m convinced that almost all teachers are better then they think they are. I always encourage teachers at my school who are worried about meetings etc to remember that they are the expert. They know what they are talking about, and they have the knowledge to back up their point of view. Once we can get to a point where we are all secure in our own abilities and strengths we can move past these worries. There will always be exceptions to this rule, but there are definitely things it can applied to for our own wellbeing.
Teaching will always be a mind consuming job, but with some perspective maybe we can focus our thoughts and thinking time on the things that are in our control and really matter, rather than worrying over things we have no can have no impact on. Let’s make it so we can give all of our thoughts to the children and their progress rather than external factors.