Imagine the scene: you encounter a pupil, weeping in the playground. You go up and ask them what’s wrong, and they tell you they’re struggling with their homework. It’s all too much. They can’t cope.
Or, you become worried about a student in your form who is looking increasingly dishevelled, and constantly exhausted. They’re not sleeping, they tell you. They can’t. They’re too stressed about their exams.
Or, you discover that a student in your class is skipping lunch. Every day. Not because they’ve no appetite, but because they want to fit in half an hour of revision in the library instead of eating.
Or, a child in your class keeps exploding at the least little thing. Shouting for no reason, snapping and grumbling at everything. You ask them why, and they confess they feel out of control at school. It’s too much for them.
What would you do?
As a good teacher, in every single one of those circumstances, you would intervene. You’d identify that the student has a potentially serious problem, and you’d put processes into place to help them. You’d teach them that this isn’t normal, it isn’t OK, it isn’t healthy. You’d look after them.
So why don’t we do this for ourselves?
I’ve seen each of the scenarios described above – but with colleagues, not with students. I’ve seen teachers who are stressed, exhausted, terrified, not looking after themselves. And I’ve seen it not once, but many times. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is the norm in many schools.
As teachers, we are so focused on looking after others, that we forget to look after ourselves. Because our jobs are centred around other people, because we are the ones who look after, who nurture, who support, we forget that we are important, too.
Fortunately, the system is changing. Slowly but surely, many schools are acknowledging the need for staff well-being. The importance of mental health is no longer a taboo subject. But progress is slow, and we have a long way to go.
And, perhaps, the place we need to start is with ourselves. Perhaps we need to pay more attention, slow down, say no, prioritise ourselves.
Perhaps we need to practise what we teach.
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