You don’t need me to tell you that teachers are the most valuable resource in education.
More than books, computers, the latest state-of-the-art interactive whiteboards and high-tech teaching studios, you know that without you, schools are nothing more than a transit lounge for young people.
Education goes far beyond the provision of knowledge. The world of information is at every child’s fingertips. Whether a child is inspired to pick up those learning tools; whether they are inspired to actively learn and do something that will contribute to our society, well that’s often down to your influence. This is the difference between passive learning and inspired discovery.
Teachers have one of the most privileged jobs in the world – to inspire a hungry mind – or if you are teaching 9E, to inspire a disaffected, bored and lethargic mind.
Either way, it is your dynamic presence in the classroom, your enthusiasm for your subject, your humour and compassion for your students that lights up your classroom and energises the hearts and minds of your learners.
Teaching requires courage, dare I say balls. I can honestly say after teaching in a high security prison for over three years, I felt safer teaching hardened criminals than I did in at least one of the boys schools I had the providence to teach at.
There was a lot less volatile behaviour in her majesty’s prison than in the local “failing” comp. Teenage boys have a lot more to prove than men with life sentences.
In school I didn’t have an officer outside my classroom so that if there was a problem I could call him to remove the offending tutee. I didn’t have three or four alarm buttons strategically placed around my classroom in case of emergency if something or someone kicked off.
In one particular school, where the police were in pretty much every day, I was isolated in a design technology block (teaching art I might add) down a corridor where only one member of staff was available if any trouble occurred.
I was lucky; by the time I worked in this school I had learnt many of the emotional resilience techniques I now train teachers with today. So fortunately harmony was the predominant energy in my classroom – after the delightful bedding in period where I had to inject some “fierce love” guidelines into the learning environment, and of course I had to prove myself worthy of their respect.
For sure they would take the mickey – “alright Miss, chill – peace and love right...” – but hey, no towering “well ‘ard” boy ever threatened me or threw a chair at me, as was the penchant for some of the lads.
On the contrary, there was a protective nature toward me after I had earned my stripes and this was compliment indeed.
This is not to say I didn’t leave that school every day for the first term, almost without exception, exhausted and tearful. Sad to say, the stress wasn’t solely due to the behaviour of my students. School support mechanisms were unhealthy, I felt isolated and deserted by the education structure.
You may think that teaching in what I endearingly termed “The Borstal” was the trigger for writing Every Teacher Matters. It was indeed a contributory factor, but actually my desire to make a difference in the lives of young people was and still is the fierce driving motivation behind the book.
My story is not uncommon – although maybe a little more dramatic than most. I had been developing and delivering art and drama workshops in theatres, dance schools and community arenas for several years when I was invited to train as a licensed teacher at my old school on the recommendation of my previous head of art and head of English.
Just like any NQT I dived in head-first and set about inspiring my students, helping the SEN lunchtime club, directing and stage-managing the school productions and of course evidencing every breath I took along the way!
I loved it and felt deeply fulfilled believing that I was making a difference to the self-esteem, confidence and knowledge base of my students.
But not long into my first term, I was feeling pretty pooped. By the end of the second term I was really struggling with fatigue, and by the end of the year I was so ill I missed that prized reward of six sensational weeks of sunshine and frivolity – my summer holiday was wasted. I was hospitalised, underwent major surgery and spent the following half-term slowly recuperating.
As you can imagine, I had many painful hours to ponder what I had done to myself. More importantly I had time to reflect on how I needed to do things differently if I wanted to remain a teacher, or rather if I wanted to be a healthy and happy teacher.
And so began my pursuit for balance. It did not happen overnight. I still had a very strong drive to be the best teacher I could be and therefore the insistence on perfection was still harmfully out of kilter.
It took me a very long time to recognise I simply could not do everything and I could not help every young person that needed support. So I learnt to meditate. I learnt techniques to help me listen to and take heed of my body wisdom and later qualified as a therapeutic practitioner. I created workshops to help students Get in the Right State for Learning.
However, every time I went in to train students, teachers looked pleadingly at me and asked “what about us?” – so I developed programmes to specifically support teachers.
Did you know that nearly 40 per cent of NQTs quit after three years? Did you know that stress-related illness is the number one reason for visiting the GP? Did you know that teaching is now the number one profession for suicide, having increased by 80 per cent between 2008 and 2009?
How many teachers have to die before wellbeing is genuinely addressed in schools? I am not talking about ticking a box for Ofsted. I am talking about whole-school wellbeing as the number one priority in every school in the world. There’s no point having the latest high-tech equipment if staff are too stressed to use it and students too anxious about failing to listen.
There are so many obvious actions you can take to ensure you are fit-for-purpose. The simplest premise to adopt is that you must take the oxygen first – you are no good to your students if you have been up marking or prepping till 3am.
Ensure you take care of your body, your mind and most importantly your heart. Take time to do what you love. Feed your heart. Fill up your love tank.
How crazy is it, that the two things I loved to do most in the world were to paint and go to the theatre and as a teacher I rarely found time to do either – unless I was helping a student or on a school trip!
Give yourself permission to stop. Give yourself time to breathe. Treat yourself as you would your students. Be kind. Be gentle. Be compassionate and most importantly serve your heart first.
Kathryn Lovewell is a former teacher and author of Every Teacher Matters. She now specialises in training for emotional resilience.
Free best practice download for NQTs This article has been published as part of SecEd's autumn 2012 NQT special focus, which comprises a range of best practice and advisory articles aimed at new teachers as they approach the end of their first term at the chalkface. The special focus has been supported by the NASUWT and you can download a free PDF containing all the articles from the Supplements section of this website by clicking here.
Every Teacher Matters Every Teacher Matters is published by Ecademy Press Ltd and is priced £14.99. (ISBN: 978-1908746368).