I thought I was doing well. I thought about reducing my medication. It’s almost a year since I eventually succumbed to what everyone else could see and started to address my stress and anxiety. It’s almost five months since I could call myself a headteacher. I thought I was doing well. I had stopped looking on my old school’s website to see what was happening. I had stopped looking at their Twitter feeds on my personal account and, although I kept in touch with some members of staff, I have heard nothing for a while. I thought I was doing well and moving on.
What has happened to make me question my journey to wellness? I suppose it happens to many people. I found myself thinking about families from the school and wondering how they were coping in the lockdown. I started to feel worried for the children I knew were vulnerable or who would be struggling to survive. I started to be concerned for some of the parents who I knew had their own mental health issues. How were they doing? I thought about the staff, how were they adjusting to the new ways of working? I thought about the new headteacher who took over from me, running two schools in the MAT. I thought about the other leaders in the MAT and how they were doing.
I thought I was moving on.
In the end I had to make myself stop. There was nothing I could do to change the situation for any of these people. But then it got me thinking about the nature of teaching and what is happening to the profession I love. It seems that every day teachers and school staff are being criticised for not doing enough. There seems to be a whole host of “experts” who have never worked in a school but think that holding public office gives them a remit to comment on anything. In the news we are constantly hearing different dates proposed for when the schools are going to return. Any time concerns are raised about this another “expert” pops up with another opinion.
I know there has always been a certain amount of “teacher bashing” over the years. I know that the value of primary education, especially the early years is not always appreciated by government, we are just there to get the children “secondary ready.” As if education only happened at secondary schools. The main stick that has been used to beat primaries (SATS) has been cancelled at a stroke this year. Is that an indication of how much value they really add to a child’s education?
I could go on, I could rant about a multitude of things but I will restrain myself for the moment.
I suppose Twitter is to blame. I now follow 1875 people and I spend more time than I ought to reading their posts and their blogs. I read about how one headteacher has sent a letter out to parents of the school asking for help in providing food and essential items to vulnerable families. I read about the hours that people are spending trying to get FSM vouchers so that their children can have something to eat. Every day I read about people who are struggling, worryingly some of them are in the very early stages of their careers or are looking for their first job. I cheered at one person I followed who has a new job and can finally get out of their toxic school. I get outraged when a women I follow asks the Twitter community advice about blocking some offensive messages. I get upset when I read of the death of a loved one or colleague. I am inspired by the stories of support that our schools are giving our children at this time. I marvel at the way people who don’t know each other send messages of encouragement and help.
I am constantly amazed by the help, advice and support that is freely given. There is no hierarchy, no attempts to reach the top, no one guru who is the font of all knowledge. There is continual compassion, sustained care for others and an underlying determination to do right by the children in our schools. It is an amazing community and one I wish I’d been part of earlier. Everything is about real education for children. Not simply exam or test preparation, but a love of learning. Also it highlights the wider role that schools play in the community. When I trained we were not instructed about how to order food parcels, prepare online work, deliver packages of work to families, constantly ring children to check on them or, in some cases, put shopping bills on our own credit cards so that children could eat
In a way it reminds me of how I used to be. How I used to be before I started to become ill. I suppose that a part of me is wanting to be involved more, using the skills and enthusiasm I had when I was first a headteacher. But I can’t go back. I know that I couldn’t handle the stress.
Maybe I was thinking that the road to recovery was going to be fairly straightforward. Medication for a while, some counselling and that would be it. Wrong! I am starting to accept that I will have some days when I am not so good, although I do feel incredibly guilty about it. I am starting to accept that being okay is good enough.
Will I always worry about the children and the families I worked with? Yes, probably. I know that it is someone else’s responsibility now but it won’t stop their faces popping into my head from time to time. I thought I was doing well in trying to forget about my school and the community in which it stands. I thought that a measure of my improvement was the extent to which I stopped being concerned about the families and the children. I may be wrong. Maybe it’s not about letting go of the worry. Maybe it’s about letting go of the worry about worrying and accepting that it will happen from time to time.
Many others will be on the same journey as me. Remember, caring and compassion are strengths, not weaknesses. Stay true to yourself and honest with others. Reach out for support and accept that the road is winding with some diversions in place. Keep travelling along it.
Says me! Easier said than done.