Each month we bring the trainees in our network together for a 'Teach Meet'. These events are themed around a timely and relevant topic, designed to supplement their training. This month, our Teach Meet and our focus is all about wellbeing, which we know is an important topic to revisit at this point in the academic year. The excitement of the start of term has faded; the nights are drawing in; and it can start to feel like the Christmas break is a long way away .
Here, Carmel Greene, director of ITT at Inspiration trust, and Terri Slater from Ark Teacher Training, share some of their top tips for looking after your wellbeing as a new teacher.
The importance of looking after you
Terri Slater worked alongside our Now Teach trainees last year and offers a word of caution for career-changers: ‘Many Now Teachers are used to working incredibly hard in their previous careers and haven’t always created time for self-care and to ‘switch off’; this is a must! You need to set your boundaries, e.g. not replying to e-mails past 6.00pm, avoiding regularly working late or not getting enough sleep. Chances are you are coming from a very successful previous career where you have gained vast experience, which can make it easy to put too much pressure on yourself’.
Carmel agrees and suggests that when you are feeling overwhelmed, ‘it is more important than ever that you draw a line under things and instead prioritise the thing you know will ultimately make you feel better. Whether that’s getting an early night, watching a film with your partner, spending some time with your children - or going for a run - whatever it is, do that. Schools are like mirrors; whatever you’re feeling will be reflected back to you in your interactions not just with the children, but also with the staff’.
Think carefully about priorities when managing your time
‘Teachers are naturally do-ers, fixers - many of us even perfectionists’ says Carmel. ‘Sometimes however, perfect can be the enemy of the good. Whether that’s making the 100th edit to a PowerPoint, or trying to correct every grammatical mistake on a piece of written work, the reality is that we can’t do everything ‘perfectly’ all of the time. The work of a teacher can sometimes feel too big and, actually, I often think that’s because it is. What we’re actually doing when we’re making that 100th edit, in a strange kind of way, is projecting our concerns and anxieties about the lesson into something that actually won’t really make a difference’.
Trainees can often feel a pressure to create everything from scratch, but Terri advises you should ‘use the resources that already exist and focus on establishing your routines, preparing a great teacher exposition and ensuring that the learning is accessible for your students’.
Be realistic about your progress
‘As teachers we often tell our students that making progress is not linear, and yet’, Carmel reminds us, ‘we quickly forget that ourselves when we’re training to teach! It is entirely normal to get stuck, or to hit a bump. In fact, the evidence shows that it is the process of getting stuck and unstuck that means we learn. And the fact is, we’re all learning. Even that expert teacher you’re watching in awe, they’re making mistakes. They’re just better able to adapt and respond because they’ve been practising for longer. So, when you’re training, don’t forget to celebrate your wins and capture your reflections’.
And finally, according to Terri, an important part of these reflections is taking ‘a moment every now and then to remember why you do this; to teach students who really do need great teachers. Part of keeping your eye on this goal as a trainee is to also avoid getting caught up in wider school politics and issues. As a trainee your priorities are to focus on your development, your teaching and your students, You can dwell more deeply on the bigger issues e.g. whole-school curriculum design, school policies or recruitment and retention in a few years if you choose to climb the leadership ladder!’.
This year’s World Mental Health Day is on the 10th October.