How I survived the first few years

We’ve all felt like this – but what can we do to minimise it?

Notoriously I’ve not been the most resilient or emotionally stable of personalities. I had a tough time at school, have often suffered from low self-esteem and at university I had full on melt downs when deadlines came about.

Starting my teaching journey was scary, I had lots of people telling me it was going to be the hardest few years of my life due to the ridiculous workload coupled with the emotionally draining aspects of the job: meeting pupils with the most horrendous life circumstances, being verbally abused on a regular basis, to name just a few. I spent the few months leading up to starting TeachFirst wondering whether I’d made a really stupid decision given my tendency to be emotionally volatile.

Over the holidays, while I was, for the first summer since starting teaching, properly relaxing (cocktail by the pool style) I was thinking about the last few years and it was the first time I properly realised that I have been – wait for it – ABSOLUTELY FINE. Looking at the circumstances, it does feel like a bit of a miracle. Over 3 years I have been required to change and teach in 3 different and very challenging schools, write PGCE assignments while teaching full time, fulfil the notorious NQT year and change my teaching subject.

Ok, being absolutely fine might be an exaggeration. Don’t get me wrong, there have been tears, stress and a lot of challenges, but at no point has it spiralled out of control and left me wondering what on earth I am doing with my life. Considering past life events that have caused such crisis – I must have changed something in the way I manage my life. When I look at other new teachers around me, I do think that I have fared better over the first few years than average and my mental wellbeing has a lot to thank for it.

The next step of this realisation was to formalise what it is I have been doing to look after my mental wellbeing to ensure I continue to do my job as well as possible while living and loving my life outside the classroom.

So here it is, my methods for staying sane:

1. Exercise
I’ve never really been sporty but I try to fit physical activity into my daily routine wherever I can. If I can factor it into my commute in order to leave as much time to keep on top of workload/myself then that is ideal but no matter what – I try to do something about 4 times a week. There are lots of studies which show how beneficial exercise is, not just to our physical but, with more and more evidence, our mental health as well. Studies suggest that physical activity can reduce depressive symptoms (see study), protect against depressive episodes (see study) and therefore almost definitely helps to reduce reoccurrence.


2. Sleep
I always try to get at least 8 hours 30 every night and I try to keep bedtimes regular. On the days where this has meant leaving a lesson unfinished then so be it – you will manage. Turning up to teach on 4 hours kip is much harder than winging a lesson.


3. I am now the most organised person ever
I started my teacher training as I meant to go on. I always plan in advance, sometimes I am a week ahead of myself, this means that every night I go to bed knowing that my lessons for the next day are ready and I can sleep easy. Asking me how I keep on top of this is a more difficult question to answer, I’ve not always been so organised, it is definitely something you can learn and cultivate. Take a bit of time to think about how you are going to set yourself goals and hold yourself accountable. It might help to work out how many lessons you need to plan each day or ask your head of department/mentor to check your lesson planning progression and support you in meeting your targets.

4. To begin I would work one day at the weekend
There is a lot of work when you start teaching, it does get easier but to begin with you need to manage and accept it. Embrace the fact that you will be planning at the weekend but that it is in order to make your life considerably easier during the week and you will reap the benefits.

I have spent a while trying to decide whether this was beneficial or not. On the one hand, there was a lot of teacher talk and it was difficult to switch off, but on the other, we were all going through the same experience. It is much easier to work at the weekends when your house mates are as well, you always have someone understanding to rant to and you have people to ask for inspiration when your creativity has run dry.

So there we have it, my top tips for staying sane through teacher training. Now I have identified them, I am going to make sure that I myself keep sticking to them. Teacher stress, anxiety and workload is a big issue that dominates the education news feeds. I am optimistic that it is an area that will be addressed, slowly but surely. In the meantime however, if we love the job, we need to do what we to manage the issue individually.