You are not a Teacher!
It sounds odd, I have been teaching for almost 7 years, but this has been the best piece of advice I have ever been offered. It was offered to me recently. These words have changed my life.
I began my teaching career in September 2013 straight out of university, and it has been a rollercoaster since the beginning. Please do not misunderstand, I love my job, I love teaching, I love those light bulb moments, I love the fact that each day is different, and I could not imagine doing anything else. However, it appears that the stress from the teaching profession have taken its toll on my mental health, until recently that is. I hope!
Panic attacks and a racing heart began to consume my life and I knew I needed help. I am married, a homeowner, supported incredibly by family, a handsome dog and I have a career. In short, I have a brilliant life, but I was struggling. I now have no issue in admitting that I do take prescribed medication to help with the anxiety and get my life back; I am not even 30 years old and I was struggling to go out, see people, teach, walk the dog, my life was lacking quality and I wanted the change. I am a big believer that medication alone cannot ‘cure’ any mental health issues, it can help alleviate the symptoms. So, I found a therapist. Expensive but had a brilliant reputation and I wanted my life back. Whether there was a ‘cure’ or just coping strategies, I didn’t care.
The goal was to improve my life.
Obviously, I will not divulge what we discussed because that is pointless and irrelevant, however it became obvious extremely quickly that teaching had taken over my life. I used my teaching to validate my confidence, my level of intelligence and generally my overall worth. I am writing this because unfortunately I know that there are others who will also be in this situation. It felt that despite having responsibility and despite the many positive comments I received from students, parents and staff, I felt inferior in comparison to my work colleagues and the teaching community. I felt that they knew more than me and a few bad lessons felt like confirmation and that was it, I was sold on the idea that I was not worth being a teacher.
“If someone asked me what I am, I would say I am a human being. If someone asked me what I do? I practise psychotherapy,” he said. “You. You are not a teacher. You are a human being. You are a person who teaches. You are not a teacher. You are more than a teacher.”
It was like there was an explosion in my brain. I have always said that I must consider things, such as social media, because I am teacher and “I have to be careful”. In my head, for some reason, every aspect of my life related to my qualified teacher status. This had been the case since I began my undergraduate degree in education, and I accepted it. It may stem from my own views growing up or from society’s view of teaching, but it is unreasonable. Yes, teachers need to consider their standing within the community as we should have high standards of ourselves and others, but this should not become our life.
I do my job because I love it for all the reasons listed earlier and so many more. It has taken a long time to realise though that I will not be effective without my health, I must put myself first in order to put my students first which in turn means I need to allow myself space to have a life separate to teaching. I will still refer to myself as a teacher, but that is not all I am. I am still working out things I am good at and pursuing other interests, but I am also learning to switch off. I am learning to better myself by leaving work at work, and that is ok. In fact, that is more than ok. That is a necessity.