I don’t know about you, but I have struggled to balance my mental health and my teaching job over the years.
At times I can manage the pressure and competing demands of management and my students - but at others, I have found it very difficult.
Often when we feel like this it is easy to identify the likely causes:
- The behaviour of the students
- Managements’ belittling of the job we do
- The workload we are expected to carry like some kind of super hero
- Rates of pay which don’t come close to compensating us fairly for what we do
It’s not difficult to make an argument that the job causes mental health problems in those who feel forced to continue doing it.
I challenge many 'ordinary people' to enjoy life on the treadmill with us - having to run at an unsustainable speed just to reach the holidays when we finally get a rest.
A life spent repeating this, exerts a pressure like nothing else I have experienced.
So we look for solutions to fit more in to our time. We try to do more at work. We work harder at home. And we search the jobs pages for something better.
Too many teachers live their lives like this for years - trapped in a job they don’t feel able to escape from.
Check out this post with quotes from teachers I talked to recently about their impossible jobs - if you feel like this you are not alone.
I want to point out 2 truths about living like this (the first of which is unlikely to make teachers in this situation feel any better).
1. There is not much you can do to change the job
I can only assume that school leaders and the politicians who have been creating education policy in the past 2 decades, have created a broken job on purpose.
It’s not by accident that they have increased workload, pressure, and accountability for assessment results - and at the same time let our salaries fall in real terms.
But teachers seeking to improve their working conditions, quickly find complications in doing so.
I don’t know what the situation is like in other countries, but in the UK the culture is toxic in many schools.
Any sign of disagreement with the non-negotiable strategies and targets forced upon us - or even positive discussion about how best to deliver the required results for our students .. is often met with hostility and threats.
Unions have had their power dramatically reduced.
And successive governments seem intent on continuing down the path of over-testing, accountability and lower effective rates of pay.
The first uncomfortable truth is that it is extremely difficult to change the job from within.
The second truth is more liberating, although it might not seem that way at first.
Because you have more control over how your job affects you, than you probably realise.
2. Good teacher mental health is easier to maintain than many people realise
I explain the '10 characteristics of a mentally healthy teacher' in a post you can read here. This explains how you can measure your own level of mental health, and actions you can take to better balance your life.
This is important, because your best solution is to gain greater control of your reactions to the stress of your job.
Doing this doesn’t fix the problem - but it can dramatically decrease the effect it has on your life and mental health.
I was surprised by how much this helped me following my own case of burnout a few years ago.
And although it doesn’t fix the job .. it gives you more space to enjoy a life alongside it - and in a much better mental state to seek an alternative.
Let me be clear about this - I am NOT saying that the problem is YOU .. or that you need to fix your broken job by trying to squeeze a little more out of yourself through better emotional management.
Far from it.
I am saying that there is real power in recognising that how you feel is a product of your REACTIONS to the situation you are in.
An uncomfortable fact in education today, is that if we want to work our way out of a job which leaves us with little time for our own children or family life - the first step is to fix ourselves.
When I started meditating a few years ago I was surprised that I felt better almost immediately. I worried much less .. and was less affected by my ridiculous job.
I started valuing myself again, and feeling like I could fight a battle with the unrealistic demands of management.
And I felt much more able to look for other work with renewed confidence in my own abilities.
Too many teachers find an unhappy school job impossible to leave - often because their self image gets so damaged by their job that they can't imagine escaping it.
It is easier than you think to get so dragged down by the job, that you can’t imagine anything better for yourself.
The one piece of training I think every teacher should have, is available below. It's an eBook I wrote to help teachers who know their jobs put them at risk of suffering mental health issues.
I wrote it to explain my own journey out of the mental prison I felt in - and the surprising solution I discovered.
Download my eBook below - I think it will surprise you too:
5 Days to Change Your Mind
- Discover why meditation works better than many forms of medication to treat depression and beat stress.
- Reveals the secret to rebuilding your confidence and capacity to do a stressful job.
- Get a step by step 5 day plan to apply this in your life.