Hi, you fabulous teacher you!
It’s my turn to have my two cents worth about teacher wellbeing. So, WHO AM I to share my thoughts and what can I tell you about teacher wellbeing that you haven’t already read? Stay with me while I tell you a little about myself.
I am the woman who married young (at 21 after my first year of uni, to Glenn, who was also studying teaching), qualified as a teacher and did other jobs because it was during the Kennett era of closing schools and sacked teachers. “Here’s your degree, now go and wipe bottoms for a while until we have work for you.” I wasn’t even allowed to CRT, and it was four years after graduating that I was allowed to apply for a graduate teaching position.
Six hundred applications and ten interviews for one position… but I made it.
I am the woman who is on a twelve month ‘graduate’ contract, works 48 hour weekend shifts in residential care with children with autism, has a toddler at home (I had to do something while I wasn’t able to teach) and… surprise! A baby in my belly! Towards the end of the year the doctors are growling; something has to give. Being on contract there is no family leave, so at the end of the year it’s just farewell and good luck from my first school.
Tough…but I made it.
I am the stay at home mum, and after two years of Wiggles, Hi Five, playgroup and the odd CRT day, I need more stimulation to maintain my sanity. I know many women who adored being home with their little ones, but this brain needed more than the biggest decision of the day being peanut butter or vegemite! No one ever notices or compliments you when you’re performing daily chores…”Hey, great job on that clothes line today!” I am slowly going nuts, and our bank account is in a similar state, so when a school I am CRT-ing at offers me a contract, I jump at it!
It was a really hard time…but I made it.
I am the full time teacher in my second contract, with the mental and physical exhaustion that goes with it, along with the agonising guilt of having two gorgeous children in family day care. I spend two contracted years at this school, only to find out that my job isn’t being renewed with four days left until the end of the year. There are six of us in the same stinking boat. Devastating. Santa is sweating it out on the layby at Target and I don’t have a bloody job. My husband (who is on contract at another school) and I spend the weekend typing and printing out applications (it is well before the online lodgement days). Shit! We’re out of ink! Ever done a Kmart run at 2am? My husband did! He drops my application at a school at 8am, and at 8.30am I get a call from the Principal saying he read my application and wants to offer me a contract. So, with three days of term left, I have a job at the school I am still working for 18 years later.
It was a really shit time…but I made it.
It was definitely made worse by the fact that I was dealing with the non-teaching stressors that add to mental fatigue…my mother had died a few weeks beforehand in the middle of report writing and job applying season(devastating - my beautiful grandfather was to pass away also just after Christmas.) Oh, and my son, who was about to start school, broke his arm Christmas Eve, and good old Santa had a sporty Christmas planned. When all of this was added to the stress of just being a teacher at that time of year…finishing reports, finishing contracts, starting at a new school…
Well, my mental state was pushed to the limit…but I made it.
I am a teacher, with a Prep of my own and a three year old at kinder and crèche. I am ‘Daaarling’, the wife, ‘Muummyy’, the mother, ‘Mrs Sowwwter’, the teacher…and somewhere in amongst all of that, is me, just Sharon, who has forgotten that she even exists. Had I access to the emotional wellbeing support available these days, I might have been able to keep tabs on her; stop her from vanishing into last place on the To Do list. It’s almost as though for the next ten years, I would be everything to everyone, except for me. Don’t get me wrong, there are great friends and attempts at regaining some sanity (think guided meditation, la la music, burning oils…) but they never last more than a few weeks before being set aside for more pressing things (work, work, mum stuff, work.)
I lost who I was, but I made it. And now, after six years of contracts…
I am the ongoing full time working mum. I teach, I go to meetings, I come home and listen to readers and help with homework, cook, clean…all that stuff. Sound familiar? Personally, I am still dealing with everything that happens in life. I have a full hysterectomy for endometriosis (it’s ok, I’ll just stick a heat pack down my pants to get me through to recess), my son has been diagnosed with a chronic disease at just 13 years old (it’s ok, I’ll write reports from beside his hospital bed), you know, life and all that stuff. And, the more experience I gain at work, the greater responsibilities I gain.
I am now pretty much spellbound by the world of Student Wellbeing and my soon to be retiring Principal (mentor, amazing woman) is training me to take over the Program for Students with Disabilities. I teach Prep, grades 1, 2, 3, 4 and composites of these, and train in Reading Recovery. I am doing post grad studies in TESOL thanks to a scholarship I receive at Deakin and I am cruising career wise. It’s go, go, go…until I have no choice but to stop. I suffer a stroke at the age of 43. Something has to give…one day I’ll go back to my studies.
I faced my mortality in a big way…but I made it.
I’m the teacher running the PSD and whole school Student Wellbeing and Welfare and I’m loving my job. I hold this role for four years, leading the introduction of wellbeing initiatives at my school (KidsMatter et al) and spend endless hours undertaking PD in student wellbeing. Teacher wellbeing…what’s that? The opportunity to work on our own mental wellbeing or to discover strategies that can make our lives as hard working professionals who also want a life outside of school… where’s that? It’s ok, I love my job, and I can fit everything else in, besides, finally, the role is being advertised as a Leading Teacher. I apply, of course I apply, it is the job I have done for four years and here is the chance to be recognised and paid as a school leader… hoo-bloody-ray! Only I don’t get it. The job, MY job, goes to someone who had held the role elsewhere as an Assistant Principal.
Shattered. I am now the teacher who missed out on her dream job and it felt really shit…but I made it.
So now I am the teacher who is feeling bitter and at serious risk of falling into the role of ‘grumpy old cow’ who resents everyone, resists change, and sits up the back at staff meetings bitching about the school and her job. I resist… but it is hard. I simply make the conscious decision to get my shit together and focus on building a relationship with my grade 1 class, as I adjust back into my role as a classroom teacher once again.
It was hard…but I made it.
I am ‘back in the saddle’; back at the chalkface and thrown into the deep end of new practice, new programs and methods that feel like they’re hitting me on the head all at once. Full on, and yet I yearn for more. So I am now throwing my extra energy into the Victorian branch of the AEU; activating my activism if you like. The call went out for a Koorie member who could attend meetings on the union’s behalf. Why not? I’ll fly to Sydney and Cairns for training and conferences. Participate in federal AEU meetings as the Victorian representative on the national ATSI board, participate in activism training with like-minded women who have the power to really affect change. I’m outside the Women’s Hospital, loud haler in hand, calling for the Government to change their planned funding cuts…I’m at Trades Hall Council telling the story of my Aboriginal background and my grandmother being raised away from the culture that is rightfully hers. I am speaking to an audience of two hundred women at a National Women’s Conference…yes, I have the power to affect change, but perhaps not the energy? And as my mental and physical health once again starts to give me a clear message that something has to give, I decide that I don’t really want another stroke.
I found myself completely overwhelmed, again…but I made it.
So now, after everything that has taken place personally and professionally, the pretty fabulous and the pretty rotten, I am the teacher who, even after 25 years, still loves to do what I do.
In my time, I have experienced many challenges as a teacher…career disappointments and broken dreams, workplace bullying, staff and student bereavements, teacher friendships that have lasted and become precious, other teacher friendships made but lost, changes in curriculum and pedagogy that have been difficult to adjust to, changes…and yet more changes… I have also been a wife of nearly 30 years, and a proud mum who has raised two wonderful young people. I am a sister, an aunty, a friend and a colleague, and a proud Aboriginal woman who is becoming more active in local community. And somewhere in there, I have started to remember, largely thanks to fabulous wellbeing mobs like Smile Teachers, who I am…that I exist, in amongst it all.
Who am I to write about teacher wellbeing? I am a teacher just like you, who has made it and continues to do so with a passion for the kids with whom I get to spend my days. A passion for the wellbeing of my colleagues and yes, even myself these days. A mum who managed to work and live to tell the tale – it’s possible, who knew?
Maybe you can relate to my story and recognise some elements in your own life? Or maybe you’re just starting out, starting to question whether this is the game for you after all? Well, I hope to draw on my own experiences and offer my two cents worth with my blog. Aren’t I lucky to have this forum to do just that? Aren’t I lucky to be going to Bali for the Teachers Retreat!
Hope to see you there, Sharon…who made it.