Thursday, 19 March 2015

What my days are like now

After my physical collapse last year, and my subsequent ME diagnosis, things at work had to change. I've learnt a lot, and if even one person makes a tiny change to their day that helps them keep going, then it has been worth writing this.

I still arrive at work by 7.45am and I still grab a coffee and drop my stuff off. I'm fortunate that my partner works at the same school as me, so now I don't drive to work. It saves a bit of energy, surprisingly, and we've started listening to Radio 3 rather than shouting at the Today programme on Radio 4. It's a more relaxing journey for me - can you lift share with someone and give yourself a break early on in the day?

I am less frenzied in the morning, perhaps because I am getting more things prepared in advance. I always used to, and then I'd forget which class those worksheets were for, or I'd put them down somewhere and forget where.  I've reorganised how I store the class sets of books, and I put their worksheets on top of their books as soon as I collect them from copying.  A really simple trick is to write the class name on the top corner of the worksheet before it's copied - that's helping me a lot.

My form have been moved to my teaching lab and that makes a huge difference. I wander over there ten minutes before they are due to arrive and get set up for the first lesson, a little starter activity ready to go on the board, books out and on the right bench. Then I sit down. I stop. I close my eyes and take ten deep breaths. I relax my face, my hands, my shoulders. All that tension saps energy so it's important for me to check I'm relaxed before the first pupil meeting of the day.

My little year 7 form are still crazy, but now I get them to come to me with their planners, rather than me going to them. I sit.

The first class of the day arrive. I've stuck my "start of lesson" routine to the outside of the door ready, it seems to help them arrive more calmly. I can open the door to them, smile and greet them all as they arrive. It's a slicker start, and I can have a gentle lean on the door whilst they arrive.

At break I sit down in my room, close my eyes and have another tension check. I'll wander back to the office and chat to colleagues, but I won't check my emails or indulge in negativity.

Again, at lunch I try and stop somewhere. If my lab is being used then I've found myself sat in the staff toilets to get some deep breaths! At lunch I don't work. I'll leave the office ten minutes or so before the final lesson of the day and get back into my teaching lab if I can, ready to set up for the lesson.

At the end of the day, if there are no meetings, I stay where I am and check my classes books from that day. Often it's as quick as stamping "lesson objective met" whilst I can still remember what it was or putting a prompt on about how to improve - this gives me a ready made starter for the next lesson.  I only mark in half hour bursts, setting a timer to make sure I stop. A quick 2 minute break and I can carry on. Sometimes I have to take marking home but I am working with a member of the SLT to plan a marking timetable so I don't get swamped.

Once home I spend time with the Stop, Breathe, Think app. It gives me ten minutes or so of calm time where I can empty my head. I'm a scientist so I'm cynical of deep breathing and meditation as a cure all, however I wouldn't be without it now.

I'm not doing anything that the rest of the teaching world couldn't do, and yet I've managed to increase my resilience, get out of the latest ME dip and reduce my stress. My teaching has improved, my classes are happier.

If you do nothing else with your teaching, please look after yourself. Take 30 seconds to relax between lessons, it can't hurt.

What do you do all day?

Over the last few months I've had to change the way I work because of my diagnosis, and it's been a challenge. I started thinking about how my teaching day used to be and wondered how many other teachers do the same thing.

I used to arrive at work between 7.30am and 7.45am, and make a quick stop in the science office to grab a cup of coffee and offload my coat and bag. Then it was across the school to my main teaching lab to set up for the day, or logging into a computer in the office to do some last minute preparation/printing or read the emails that had arrived since the previous afternoon. On many days there was a meeting around 8am - a staff briefing, a departmental briefing or a year group meeting. My form would arrive at 8.15, to a room at the other side of the school from my teaching lab. I'd register them, deal with planners, missing pens, detentions, exam timetables before waving them off for the day and dashing over to my teaching lab, often being beaten to it by the first class of the day. I'd have to log in again to the computer, because someone else might have used the lab for their form, and try and get the lesson off to a start. It'd waste ten minutes and there was never a smooth start to the lesson, which could lead to some behaviour issues.

I'd come up for air at 10.30, usually finding my coffee sat where I'd left it two and a half hours earlier (I recommend Tervex mugs!) Break was supposedly 15 minutes, it never was. I'd shove a banana in and probably teach another two lessons, making it to lunch at 12.50. Forty minutes for lunch.... usually spent trying to answer the urgent emails that had arrived during the morning, sort out planning for the next week, catch up with colleagues to talk about shared classes, then one more lesson before teaching ended at 2.30.  

One afternoon a week there is a department meeting or school CPD session that usually ran until 4. Six times a year there are twilight ones that go on for an hour after that. As exam season approaches there are more and more pupils who want help after school - that can easily take up every spare evening. Plus detention duty once a half term.

Of course there were PPA hours scattered around my timetable. They were clumped together at the start of the week, making Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday the ultimate test of endurance.

Once home, there was always marking to do, based around a format that seemed to require triple marking a lot of the time.

It's no wonder I was exhausted. Worse, I see my colleagues still doing this. I read emails where the ICT support have delayed the evening back up until 11pm so that staff can still work up until that point.

Is this you? Can you get out of this pattern? You need to.