This is the thirteenth part of my Reflection Series – a self-reflection of my year teaching in the UK.
What was the biggest mistake you made this year? How can you avoid making the same mistake in the future?
Absolutely the biggest mistake I made this year was to not look after myself. As you probably know, it was an incredibly stressful time for me. Being away from my family and friends, living in a new country, teaching in a new system, it was all incredibly hard.
I was diagnosed with the full whammy of stress, anxiety and depression at the same time. I didn’t even know that was possible – anxiety and depression often exhibit opposite symptoms. I was having anxiety attacks on the way to school, swinging between extreme agitation and complete apathy, and could feel myself becoming a meaner (or less kind perhaps) person. I could see all of it in myself, and my husband could see it too. The other people we were around didn’t know the old me, so they didn’t know any better. I was not in a good place mentally for most of the year.
The biggest impact on my mental health was my job. Yes it was hard living away in a new country, there were so many new and strange things to get used to in everyday life, but I had my husband with me and made some great friends. The winter definitely didn’t help with my depression either. Seasonal affective disorder is a real problem, especially for someone who has come from a sun-heavy environment. I know that the real crux of the issue was the work though.
With things like physical intimidation, RSI, and an unsupportive senior leadership team, piled up on top of an increased workload compared to what I was used to, I am sad to admit I crumbled under the pressure. I went home crying a lot, made myself ill many times, and my personal life was affected in a negative way. I had never had real problems with work before, so it was difficult to deal with. I didn’t have any good coping mechanisms, having not needed them before, and I didn’t really seek help to bring myself out of the spiral.
I just simply didn’t look after myself well enough, and part of that was my pride telling me to stick it out at the school. I kept taking on more responsibilities (which I actually loved), not realising how much it was getting to me. I didn’t exercise much or eat well, using a whole suite of excuses, and no doubt this compounded the problems.
I am working to avoid anything like this happening again in future, and I am working really hard at it.
Even though I am doing more outside of work (like this blog, gym, actually making time for my hobbies instead of just procrastinating, starting to do a bit of charity work) I feel a lot more grounded. Having seen the increased workload in England has highlighted for me the extra time I do actually have here, and I made the conscious decision to not fill that time with more school work unless it is really, truly needed. My job is still just my job, and I’m not letting it take over my whole life again.
I have done a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, which has truly helped. I really think all teachers should do this course as part of their teacher training – I really do use it every day in the classroom and at home! I fell better able to look after my mental health now, so hopefully I will be better off overall moving forward.
I am changing schools to a private school next year, so I hope the workload doesn’t become unbearable again. I definitely don’t mind doing work, I am a hard worker anyway, so this time around with my new arsenal of self-preservation hopefully I don’t make the same mistakes again!
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.