I am no longer a secondary school teacher and it feels SO good, despite the large slap in the face of our finances and ignoring the fact that we are overspending on nursery fees as a result. The feeling of freedom, liberation and flexibility is a solace for years of stress, undeniable anxiety and depression under the institutionalised profession of classroom teaching. People often say that you struggle to see a situation clearly until you're standing on the outside looking in and I feel that I've had enough time away to be able take a look inside.
Looking in as an outsider, there is mainly one concern that I have for those left in the teaching profession, and it's one that I never fully understood or appreciated until I was free.
I feel human again.
But, what does it mean to feel human? In simple terms, for me, it's being able to feel at all.
As teachers we are taught not to feel, not to encourage natural feelings of annoyance, frustration, despair, sadness, upset; we are performers. We spend most of our days putting on a show to engage and educate our students in the ways we have been told to; we are pushed and pushed over the brink of despair day in, day out and yet, we are not supposed to let our feelings show. We are supposed to be pillars of composure, of tolerance, strength and resilience; we are supposed to be robots, even when under the persistent fire of management, parents and children themselves. We are not to shout or scream, or walk away or ignore or protest or refuse, or cry, we are supposed to give up our much-needed breaks and mental recuperation time to give away yet more and more of ourselves and we drag our weary selves home at the end of each day knowing that tomorrow, we will have to do the same again.
How much more can we possibly give to this profession?
As humans, we all have limits. But, what happens when those limits are tested and pushed every single day? What happens when we deny ourselves these intense, unruly, disobedient and very normal, natural feelings which we find ourselves frantically forcing down our throats like disgusting lumps of venomous poison?
We become numb; exhaustion happens, along with anxiety and depression and probably a range of other mental and physical illnesses. How is this healthy for a human being? Since when did the basic, human needs of our teachers become washed aside in some crooked old ship which we're steering to God only knows where?
We are persistently directed to differentiate our lessons, to know that Every Child Matters and to incorporate them in our Schemes of Work and Lesson Plans, but somebody forgot to point out that Every Teacher Matters too. They matter because at some point in their lives, there is a strong possibility that a teacher once experienced a yearning to educate, to help and develop people of the future. That they once had a passion and found an outlet for their passion in teaching, but our teachers are becoming institutionalised under a bureaucratic system, which is burning them out.
If Every Child Matters, your teachers need to matter too.
The amount of mental strain placed on the heads of teachers nowadays is unbearable; I do not understand how one person is supposed to retain the sheer degree of knowledge and to-do lists that a teacher is required to. In fact I am sure that equivalent physical labour would be illegal and these duties come aside from the mental drain of controlling a classroom full of children each and everyday.
I have seen many teachers give up hobbies and personal pursuits for the sake of teaching, because they just didn't have the headspace for anything else. It's an unhealthy profession which undoubtedly impacts on the health of our teachers in many ways both physically and mentally. After the birth of my child, I was treated for PND and several healthcare professionals informed me that they see more teachers at the hands of PND than any other profession; why is that?
I argue that it is the dehumanisation of teachers adding to such high levels of mental illness within the profession and that unless we begin to treat our teachers as human, then we can no longer serve as role models to your children.