There’s always that one teacher you remember from childhood. Whether it’s the one who helped inspire you to become the person you are today, or the one that went out of their way to help you understand the mind muddle that is algebra, or maybe it’s the one that helped bring Shakespeare to life, or it could even be the one that threw a chalk board rubber at a pupil and whose back office smelt like a mix between fermented cabbage and cheese (hmm just me then?!).
Back when I was at school I didn’t really think of my teachers as actual human beings, I mean yes they clearly looked like people but I certainly didn’t consider how they might be feeling, whether they’d had a good day and I definitely didn’t imagine them having a life outside of school, in fact I’m pretty sure I thought they never left the school building. But, here I am today, now a parent of two primary school aged children and suddenly teachers are a part of my life again.
I’m fortunate in that both my children go to fantastic schools with staffrooms packed full of inspirational, kind and incredibly hardworking teachers. And on the surface it all looks fine…the teachers are always smiling, the kids are happy and the school is getting great results.
However, everything is not always as it seems.
A lot of my friends are teachers and what is becoming strikingly more apparent to me is the extra time and effort they are having to put into their jobs, to the extent that it is leaving them feeling demoralised, tired, stressed and just downright fed up. There are a vast majority of people that have the misinformed view that teachers have it easy, that they only work part time hours, that they get long holidays and that they spend their days colouring and singing songs. What they don’t see is the endless paperwork and the planning and organising that has to be done after school hours and often means teachers are working late into the evenings. The education system is continually evolving and the expectations of what children should know and what levels they should be at by a certain age are now higher than ever, which puts increasing pressure on teachers.
The greater pressure for results driven learning has sadly created a bit of a crisis in the education sector, as more and more teachers are leaving the profession and newly qualified teachers are struggling to cope with the demands of the job.
One key thing we all must consider is that because teachers play such a vital role in our children’s education, wellbeing, care and development, then…
If our teachers aren’t happy, how can we expect our children to be?
Fortunately, steps are being taken to ensure teachers are reminded of the need to take care of themselves; the importance of remembering “to put on their own oxygen masks first” and inspired by the John Muir Trust, a conservation charity dedicated to protecting and enhancing wild spaces, as well as the New Economics Foundation Centre for Wellbeing, the #teacher5aday initiative aims to celebrate the role of teachers and encourage them to reconnect and fall in love with teaching again.
Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the launch of the #teacher5aday journal and handbook, which was co-created and edited by my teacher friend, Naomi Ward (you might remember Naomi from her article ‘5 Steps to Wellbeing‘ that she wrote for us at the beginning of the year). Now, I know how much time, effort, passion and, no doubt, tears Naomi has put into this project and when I think back to her brainstorming sessions, which involved big rolls of paper, brightly coloured pens and spider diagrams (well, she is a teacher!) and as I look at the beautiful journal that is in front of me today, I can’t help but feel immensely proud of her.
The #teacher5aday journal is designed to fit in around the school year and each month offers inspiring articles, beautiful photography, spaces to write goals and make notes as well as colouring pages and space to doodle. It is a truly gorgeous book and although aimed at teachers, I can see it being of equal benefit to a much wider audience, as we all struggle to find the right work/life balance in this crazy modern world we live in. As I flick through the pages of the journal I am utterly powerless to resist the smile that creeps across my face, such is the positive energy that emanates from it.
So, imagine what hope a book like this could bring to, say, the student teacher who returns to an empty home late at night, feeling lost, alone and demotivated about a profession they thought they would love. How great to have a book like this that reminds them there are others out there who feel the same, to allow them to empty their mind of negativity and to remind themselves of why it is they want to be a teacher. Or the teacher, who now has their own family to look after as well and is struggling with feelings of guilt that they spend more time with other peoples children than their own. What a relief to know they can dip into this journal for tips on how to create a happy work life balance and to allow them to fill their gratitude jar with all the positive things in their life. Or perhaps the teacher who has been teaching for more years than they can remember and having seen the changes within the teaching profession, they’re now left feeling demotivated and uninspired by the thing that once stirred up so much passion within them. This handbook gives them the opportunity to reconnect with teaching and remind them that it is never too late to learn or notice new things.
It’s about time we all started noticing our teachers and helping them to help themselves. Whether it’s as simple as asking them how their day is, thanking them if they have helped your child over and above what is expected of them, or thinking twice about going in to moan at them about the amount of homework your child brings home. We need to be mindful of the fact that ultimately teachers don’t set the rules. Yes they are the authority figure within the classroom and should be respected and listened to by the children, but they are by no means the ones enforcing that, for instance, children need to know their times tables by the time they leave infant school or that an hour of homework each night is more important than spending time outside. Like any job, they have strict guidelines to follow that not all of us, them included, agree on. So, rather than lay blame, let’s support and work with them to do the best we can for our children.
And as the summer holidays loom and parents start thinking about end of year gifts for their child’s teacher, I can honestly think of no better present than a simple thank you. OK, teachers love wine and chocolate, they’re only human after all, but surely the best reward is knowing they’re appreciated, that they’ve done their job well and that the children have been inspired to learn.
(Oh and if you really want to give them a present… a #teacher5aday journal is guaranteed to set them on the path to wellbeing and will hopefully see them returning to school in September feeling rested, recharged and full of positive energy for the teaching year ahead!)