If you ARE coping, I salute you, I do, really. *commences Wayne's World bowing'
There are many factors which have lead me to this less than brilliant state of remaining on anti-depressants and being signed off by my doctor. I do not want to, and nor should I, discuss specifics of my school, which would be daft, foolish and idiotic. I will have to be more general, I hope you appreciate why.
1. The GCSE Results fiasco of 2012 chain of events.
- I had a gorgeous class of all girls and worked together like trojans, and the majority did get grades between A*-C, some didn't. This was due to the grade boundary shifts from the exam board. The department overall came off badly due to this grade boundary shift, thus leaving all of us with an overhelming sense of disappointment. It was crushing.
- This also had an affect on my progression to UPS2 (that's as much as I'm going to say about that).
- Our dip in results could be what triggered our Ofsted inspection around this time last year, where our school came out as a Category 4 'Serious Weaknesses'.
- I was observed during the inspection and eventually found out my lesson was Requires Improvement. My previous year's lesson observation was Outstanding - so the 'down grade' was crushing.
- Confidence crushed I struggled to get out of the RI grade for the rest of the academic year.
- Working in a Category 4 school is highly pressured for everyone. Staff are constantly looking over respective shoulders wondering when the next visit will be. That's just how it is.
- Working in a Category 4 school, in a department found wanting means increased level of scrutiny in many areas. This is common, I believe, in schools or departments in similar circumstances. Nevertheless, it is a difficult way in which to work, depression or not, it can create or feed paranoia in staff.
2. Those pesky, meddling politicians
- So, first body blow was the GCSE results fiasco of 2012
- Policitians using the Press and broadcast news to vent their negative political rhetoric about schools, exam results, teachers and teaching.
- Our pay-freeze and increase in pension contributions combined with the increased cost of living, which, for all of us, means a significant loss of income
- Constant meddling with the English GCSE - e.g. changes to 'worth' of Speaking and Listening part-way through the course for Yr 10s. It may have been necessary, but for it to occur part-way through the academic year was poor for pupils and a blow for teachers and their ability to do forward planning for the courses they teach.
- The move to performance related pay - pay does not motivate me as a teacher, but rather recognition of a job well done. I find this hugely demotivating, with the likely outcome being the Government getting an awful lot more work out of me, for much less money.
- The seemingly increased 'power' of Ofsted over schools, where the 'data is King' approach which, I think, leads to some morally suspect decision making over when pupils are entered for exams, the exam boards chosen in order to show 'X' levels of 'progress' in order to achieve the desired Ofsted grading. (This is a deliberate generalisation). Somewhere along the line, some humanity has got lost.
- League tables - they have been nothing short of poisonous to schools since they were introduced and are the root cause of many difficulties and difficult decisions that school leaders are forced to make.
3. Work/life balance
- I have been teaching English, a core subject, for 12 years. The last three years have been the most difficult that I can remember in those 12 years. I think has always been notoriously difficult for English teachers to gain work/life balance, mainly due to the marking load, as with Humanities or MFL teachers, I know we are not entirely alone on this.
- Despite trying to be stricter with myself with how much work I do outside of the classroom, as term progressed, I found myself working longer in the evenings, more hours on a Sunday and too exhausted to do anything enjoyable on a Saturday, my one day off work. On that Saturday, I had to do my 'domestic duties' but was also doing less and less of it as I was so utterly exhausted. My house was becoming more and more chaotic and hovel like.
- I was having no time to speak to my family, spend any time with my friends (oh how that must test their patience) or eat properly.
- I was too busy to keep up my exercise regime which is my No. 1 defence against the old Black Dog, combined with parents' evenings falling on one of my circuit class nights, knocking out one of my few times to exercise and socialise outside of school hours.
- For all those 12 years I have lived by myself and for much, (not all, but much) of that time I have been single. The 60-70 hour week and constant exhaustion has to be a factor here, I am not going with the 'I'm sub-normal' or 'unlovable' thing.
- The combination of the long hours of teaching, living alone and singleness, I have realised, is an unhealthy combination. I have tried to make this 'work' for 12 years, but it hasn't worked. I've been on and off anti-depressants since my dad passed away in 2005.
- Do I think this state of affairs is acceptable anymore? I don't think I do.
I used to have the constitution of an ox, however, as time has gone by during those 12 years, I have an increasing range of persistent minor illnesses, some maybe not so minor.
- An annual sinus infection, usually hitting me around November, if not then January or February. If you've never had one, just think yourself lucky!
- Recurring ear infections
- Eczema - this was particularly bad when I took the yr 11 girls group through legacy spec GCSE English and new Spec Lang/Lit in 2 years (3 courses in 2 years, yes!). I had constant allergic reactions on my skin over a period of 2-3 months leading me to eventually need a spell on steroids (I now know how The Hulk feels!) it now reccurs on my hand and legs and is tiggered by stress.
- Plantar Faciitis - which is tendon damage to my feet, meaning acute foot pain in the mornings and consistent foot pain during the day. This weas initially triggered by my running habit and my naturally flat feet. The cure is 'rest' so I no longer, run, don't run in my circuit class, but I spend most of the day on my feet, so, it doesn't really get better.
5. Personal, one could say 'catastrophic' events since being in this school (I concede, few of these will be unique to me, but the combination might be!)
- The psychopathic boyfriend - see my previous post 'In the presence of psychopathy'
- The death of a dear colleague from my first teaching school, Marg, our wonderful tea lady
- The sudden death of my friend Anthony Fairhurst in the same year as Marg going
- Falling for a fella big style, and it going pear shaped - sounds minor but god did I do some crying, my self-esteem was battered by this
- The burglary by my neighbours - meaning the Clogau Gold 'Cariad' ring my mum bought me when my dad died and my Clogau Cariad Cross my sister bought me from Aberaeron (dad's favourite place) were lost forever. I am still in mourning for them. I am still heartbroken about my 'dad ring' being lost forever. I had to live next door to these neighbours for another 6 months (could be longer) after this burglary. A hateful and immensely stressful experience.
- My grandmother, the last of my grandparents' died earlier this year. Now, this is terrible to confess to, but I can't remember the exact month. It was warm and sunny, so I think it could have been June or July. I am upset that I can't remember this.
- A short but painful period of being stalked and harrassed by a Polish man at the start of this academic year. In the 'stalker-o-meter' scale it was relatively minor, however, I was genuinely disturbed and frightened by it.
6. Family stuff
- My uncle got re-married in May 2012, I couldn't go because it was during the week in term time, down in Pembrokeshire - exam season -so I didn't even bother for asking for time off to attend.
- Three of my cousins have had children in the last 18 months, I have yet to meet my new family members due to work-load committments. I think this is rubbish, I'd grade myself at least as an RI family member due to this.
- Chronic insomnia
- Barely eating or not eating at all
- The monosyllabic communication and monotone voice
- Some erratic behaviour
- Not 'in control' of my emotions, sometimes in lessons
- The 'black thoughts' entering my head again
- Chronic exhaustion
- Crawling into my shell or 'building a chrysallis' - wanting to hide from life
- Sobbing in my classroom on my own at the end of a particularly awful day
- A general massive dip in confidence in the classroom and my self-esteem
- the extra pressure it puts on friends and colleagues back at school and the guilt that goes along with that
- how this affects the pupils in my class
- resentment that that could build up in colleagues and pupils
- my future employability, quality of references I may get
- how it will be when (or if) I manage to step back in a classroom
- I don't want this to be a recurring cycle - e.g in at 'full whack' - crack - signed off and continuing to take anti-depressents. This is not what I want my life to be like.
- I am actually sleeping; this is rather novel for a chronic insomniac
- I am doing an awful lot of reading
- not dwelling on the points above re. work
- making sure I am not alone for long spells
- Yes, using Twitter to keep in touch with fellow teacher friends in a similar position: @aknill, @LGolton, @bellale and @MrsRWood to name but a few. We check in on each other, bolster each other in low spells, hand out advice to each other, generally jolly each other along through the bleak moments
- still need to sort out healthier eating, eating patterns are still quite erratic and appetite is variable
I have to make some big scary decisions about my future as a teacher, mainly if I want to continue to do so or not? I have sobbed over this very thought many, many times, as I never thought this was a place I would ever be. 'Teacher' has run through me like Blackpool Rock for 12 years, is it going to continue, and should it, if this is the mental and physical effect it has on me is this?