What a Day!

I got in at half past 9… don’t worry I wasn’t at school that long. I got home from school at 6, we went to the pub for dinner as a treat and then I went down the road as one of our neighbours would like a Science tutor for their son so we went to discuss what they’d like. I’m tired now though. Normally when I get in from work I get into my jim jams but I obviously couldn’t do that tonight so I haven’t really relaxed until now.

I had no free periods today either so I only really sat down at half past 4 after our departmental meeting. I wanted to get a bit of work done after the meeting but I spent most of it having a “heated discussion” with my sister-in-law which upset me as I normally get on well with her. I won’t go into details but, like many family disputes, it involves a will and some inheritance. I was only trying to stand up for my husband but she took it way too personally and ended up telling me I “wasn’t ready” for a baby. Regular readers will know that this is a very sensitive subject for me as I have been advised not to try for a baby because of my medication so this was a very low blow – she knows my meds situation, and she suffers from mental health issues herself so she really should’ve known better.

So I’m feeling a bit low. This is unusual for me as I normally tend towards the manic end of the bipolar spectrum. I’ve been feeling so positive about work but the baby issue is playing on my mind, yet again. It hurts so much more that this comment came from someone who knows me very well, someone I think of as the sister I never had, someone who I’ve sent flowers to when she’s had a depressive episode.

We’re meant to be visiting my in-laws at the weekend but I really don’t want to go now. I can’t face her at the moment. She won’t apologise either – she’s not the sort to back down. I might apologise for winding her up tomorrow – be the bigger person, but it wouldn’t be genuine. I’m not sorry for what I said but I am incredibly hurt by her words.

I’ll sleep on it.

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New School Year Resolutions

This post has also been published as a guest post on Schoolwell.

Many of us set new year resolutions in January, but those of us who work in schools have another opportunity to set goals: the start of a new school year. This year I’ve got various career-orientated goals, but what I want to talk about here are my wellbeing targets. This concept may be alien to many of you… but it shouldn’t be. You are a human being first, a teacher second.

As someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I perhaps focus on my mental health more than average person. This culture needs to change. Everyone needs to focus on their mental health just as much as their physical health. Make time for yourself. Yes, get your work done, of course. But when you’ve done enough, treat yourself. Here’s a personal example from today: we had training after work and then I went back up to my lab and marked a set of books. It was half past 5 by the time I left. I came home and had a bath before having a cup of tea. Your “treats” don’t need to be extravagant, just all about you.

However, my physical health is actually the focus of one of my wellbeing goals. Since our wedding 18 months ago I have put on about a stone and a half; my goal is to lose this extra weight, and perhaps a teeny bit more. I’m being realistic, and that in itself is important. I am never going to be a size 10. When I started wearing adult clothes I was already a size 12-14. I have spent most of my adult life at size 20, and I am surprisingly fairly body confident. I was at my biggest after graduation – I spent several months revising in the library eating a lot of chocolate – when I was a size 24. I was size 20 when I got married, and I’m still a size 20 now. Most of my weight is around the tummy, whereas most of my clothes are fitted around the bust, so going up and down a bit in weight doesn’t affect my dress size at all. I don’t want to lose loads of weight, firstly because I don’t want to buy a whole new wardrobe, but secondly because I’m fundamentally happy as I am, as is my husband.

So, my husband and I have started Joe Wicks’ Lean in 15 programme, and we’ve joined the gym. Luckily I didn’t have to pay as teachers from our school can use the neighbouring gym for free between the hours of 3.30 and 5.30. I normally aim to leave school by 5 so half an hour in the gym is perfect for me. As part of my induction I had a Bodytrax evaluation. I had to stand on a very technical scale which measured my fat and muscle % and all sorts of other wizardry, as well as my weight, of course. It wasn’t particularly pleasant reading, but I’ve found out that as well as having a high fat % – no surprise there – I also have a high muscle %, which means that my BMI score is a bit misleading as it implies I’m more overweight than perhaps I am. For anyone not into fitness, or science, BMI is actually fairly unreliable, despite being widely used by medical professionals, because muscle weighs more than fat. Therefore, muscly people get skewed results which suggest they’re overweight when in fact they’re perfectly healthy.

With regards to my mental wellbeing, my aim is simply to maintain a work-life balance. Some teachers I’ve spoken to don’t acknowledge this as a concept; I’m not going to try and persuade them. I think getting in to work at 7.45 and leaving at 5 is enough. Occasionally I will bring a box of books home to mark, but only if I’ve left early on a Friday, for example. Many teachers I follow on Twitter advocate leaving work early at least once a week – Friday is my chosen day. I also leave earlier on Wednesdays, but that’s to do tutoring so I’m not sure that really counts.

So far this term I am being much more productive in the 45 minutes I have in the morning before briefing, and I’m wasting less time in my free periods too. This has meant that I’m currently planned right up to and including Friday. I’m going to try and keep this far ahead as it makes me less stressed in the long term. It also means that I can spend my free time over the next couple of days doing marking instead of planning. I’m trying to do my marking little and often rather than leave it all until it needs to be done. Our school policy is to mark the books every 7th lesson but I’m doing it slightly earlier as it then only takes an hour to do a whole set. It also makes me feel better so it’s all to the good.

I’m determined not to do any work at the weekend – this doesn’t include Friday night. I firmly believe that we should try and keep our work within the working week. I appreciate that people with families may have different commitments in the evenings, and therefore have to work at weekends instead, but for me at the moment keeping weekends free from work is manageable. If/when I have children I may have to re-evaluate this, but for now it’s fine. We like to visit our families and friends at the weekends – many of them don’t live very close so we can’t just pop in at any time.

I’m also trying to organise what we’re up to in the holidays as far ahead as I can so that I’ve got something to look forward to. I don’t live for the holidays but obviously I enjoy them, as we all do. In October we might go to my parents’ place in Tenby for a few days, as well as see my best friends who both live in the West Country. I haven’t got any plans for Christmas yet, but it’s a lovely time of year so I don’t really mind what we do. We celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary during the Easter holidays and we’re thinking of going up to Edinburgh for a few days to celebrate. May half term will probably be spent in Tenby again, and then next summer we’re doing a Mediterranean cruise – can’t wait!

In short, focus on looking after yourself. Do things you enjoy in order to unwind. Plan things with your friends and family so that you’ve always got something to look forward to. Eat well but don’t skip the naughty stuff altogether. Do a bit of exercise a few times a week, even if it’s just a brisk walk. Remember: you’re a human being first, a teacher second.

First Week Done!

It’s Friday! The first week of teaching has come and gone – very quickly! I’ve only had two free periods all week, which I think is part of the reason why this week has flown by. It’s been really good: no major problems with any of my classes, most of the pupils have been really nice and eager to learn, and I’ve been keeping on top of my work. Tonight I marked a set of books, and I’m fully planned up to next Wednesday. So I can chill this weekend.

Having a work-free weekend was important for me this week as we’re off to the West Country to meet my friend’s new baby. We’re driving to Bristol first, and then going in one car to Bridgwater with my other best friend and her other half. I am so excited but I think my husband is dreading it a little bit as he knows it’ll set me off into broody mode once again.

I’m going to try to not get depressed about the fact we can’t start our own family yet – sorry, I know I’m repetitive! But it has been playing on my mind a lot recently as I know a few people who are either pregnant or have just given birth. I just have to keep telling myself that our time will come eventually.

Generally though I’m feeling pretty positive, especially at work funnily enough! Fingers crossed that this feeling endures for the rest of the term, and the year!

Feeling Optimistic

Term starts tomorrow, with two INSET days. I’ve prepared by going into work both today and yesterday to get my room ready, and get some admin tasks out of the way. I’m glad I did because it’s helped me feel more positive about the start of the new school year.

Another reason for me feeling optimistic is that one of my best friends gave birth yesterday to a gorgeous baby boy. I can’t wait to meet him in a couple of weeks’ time. It has, however, made me feel incredibly broody! It is so frustrating that we’re not in a position to start our own family yet.

I’m off now to give blood – I feel very privileged that I’m able to do this. I really could save a life! And that’s a great feeling.

Sorry for the short post; I’ll do a longer one once I’ve been back at work!

A New Term…

… means a fresh start. I always get nervous about the start of a new school year. What if my classes are horrible? What if I don’t stay on top of everything? What if I crumble when I’m observed? I’m trying to push all these thoughts to the back of my head and stay optimistic. I’m going to go into work on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week to make a start on my planning. Thursday and Friday are both INSET days so at least we’re going to be eased back in gently. The pupils return on the following Monday, starting with just Year 7 in the morning with the rest coming in at lunchtime.

I’ve got a new lab this term so it really will feel like a fresh start. I’m looking forward to making the room my own, although I might keep the display about Polish scientists as I have a Polish surname since getting married. I’m very keen to make a good impression this term in the hope that the headteacher might make me permanent sooner so that we can move house and start our family together.

As well as a new start at home we’re starting a new fitness regime at home too. We’ve just bought Joe Wicks’ Lean in 15 book and I’m looking into joining a new gym. I actually really enjoy working out in a gym but the cost puts me off. Whilst we were away on a cruise I went to the gym on most of the sea days and there was no extra cost. I do feel that a lot of people are put of having a healthier lifestyle because of the expense. We did the weekly shop today with some healthier lunch stuff for me, and we spent a fair amount more which will soon add up.

I don’t want to lose loads of weight – I’m actually comfortable being a bigger lady – but I’d like to lose what I’ve put on since our wedding, which is just over a stone. I still want all my clothes to fit – would be such a waste of all my lovely dresses if they became too big for me! Losing what I’ve gained in the last 18 months will mean I stay the same dress size but they’ll fit better and I’ll feel healthier.

So, to all you teachers coming to the end of the summer break – good luck! You’ll be brilliant 🙂

 

Mindfulness

This is one of those words that has become really popular fairly recently. Type it into google and this is what you get:

mindfulness
ˈmʌɪn(d)f(ʊ)lnəs/
noun
  1. 1.
    the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
    “their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
  2. 2.
    a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

It’s a buzz word used to describe the act of taking time out of one’s day not to worry about to stuff, but to instead do something relaxing and enjoyable. Adult colouring books have become incredibly popular over a relatively short space of time, and are seen as a mindfulness tool. I bought one of these books about a year ago but didn’t really use it until yesterday. Colouring isn’t really something that we, as adults, ever really get to do normally, even though it’s commonplace for children. I had forgotten how fulfilling it can be to finish a page in a colouring book. It’s so simple but quite therapeutic. No wonder these books have taken off.

Meditation, yoga, taking a walk, and trying new things are also examples of how you can be more mindful in your everyday life. I always feel a bit strange going for a walk without a dog but it’s something I’ve been trying to do more of recently so that I can shift a bit of weight. I will feel much better about going for a walk when we eventually get a dog.

Sometimes it can be so difficult to let go of the stresses and strains of life and just focus on the now, but it is so important that we do.

Summer: Time to Chillax

I’m writing this post from my parents’  holiday apartment in Tenby, Pembrokeshire. I’m here for a few days with my two best friends – also teachers – for some chill time. The weather may be a bit pants but having a change of scene, especially away from the South East, and by the sea, is just what I needed after an exhausting end of term at school. I am, however, missing my husband a bit but I’ll see him tomorrow evening, which I’m looking forward to.

I’ve got a busy weekend planned: I’m (bizarrely) taking part in a plus size beauty pageant on Saturday in Brighton – don’t ask! On Sunday we’re dog sitting which means we’ll be walking a lot- can’t wait as it’s a good substitute for not having a dog of our own full time.

Next week however I have nothing planned, apart from a trip to the doctors to discuss potentially reducing my meds. The long term plan is to wean myself off my meds before we try for a baby. My GP has said that the process will take at least 6 months; I don’t want to rush it so I’m aiming for it to take even longer than that just to reduce the risk of relapse as much as I can.

And then we’re off on a cruise with my parents to Iceland; I’ve done cruises for over a decade but this is a totally new destination so I’m even more excited than normal. 

After the cruise I’ll start getting back into work mode; I’m going on a 2-night Sutton Trust residential for Biosciences teachers at Cambridge and then it’ll be GCSE results day which I’ll go into school for. Then I’ll have one more week which I’ll use for preparing for the new term.

What are your plans for the summer break?

The Aftermath of the Education Act 2011

As well as being a teacher, I am Conservative town councillor and, because of my political allegiance, I do get a fair amount of stick at work because of the Education Act of 2011. I love a good political discussion so I don’t mind this. I even bought a copy of the Act signed by Gove in an auction at a Tory party dinner and posted the picture on Facebook much to the dismay of some of my colleagues.

 I think that our education system needed serious reform but, in hindsight, the changes could have been implemented more slowly. But, of course, with Government potentially changing every five years, I know that this is just not possible if MPs want to actually achieve anything.

My fear now is that, following the turmoil the Tory party are now in, they will lose the next General Election and a Labour government will change everything again. This is potentially up to 4 years away but I’m already worried!

I think revamping all the Schemes of Work has, overall, been an exciting task – they needed a refresh and the current Year 7s seem to have enjoyed their Science lessons more than in previous years. We are now finalising the first term of the new GCSE for the new Year 9; we are teaching it over 3 years to fit it all in. The new AS Biology spec was not much different, apart from the coursework being replaced by core practicals; the lack of an issue report has made the year less stressful overall for the staff and students!

But everyone at work is stressed to some degree… Some people thrive on it, others feel it like a weight pulling them down. School leaders need to try their best to make sure no one goes under in these pressured times.

The Final Countdown…

Under 7 weeks until the Summer holidays… (Not that I’m counting ;))

I hope that all my readers had a pleasant half term break; apart from coming into work to run a revision session for some Year 11s I did NO work! And I’m proud. I needed a proper break as exam season had clearly been taking its toll.

I spent the half term doing what I love: going to Wales, seeing Busted live, catching up with family and friends, getting my hair done… all finished off by celebrating my 27th birthday with my husband at the Harry Potter studio tour, and then with my parents in their garden followed by Cafe Rouge.

My new half term resolution is to do more of what I love: getting outside (weather-permitting!), swimming, seeing friends and playing Mariokart. I also, genuinely, love getting right into projects at work so I will actually enjoy writing the new Year 8 scheme of work that I’ve been asked to do during my gained time.

So, as we look forward to the summer hols, try to #domoreofwhatyoulove 🙂

Combat Stress

Summary of “Combat Stress” – article in the April/May ATL magazine, Report.

 

Consequences of stress

  • Headaches
  • Stomach upsets
  • Chest pain
  • Reduce in confidence
  • Impairment in decision-making
  • Significant impact on cognition

 

What happens to our brains when we get stressed?

  • “Every time we’re stressed, the emotional part of our brain is triggered and is on full alert. When it’s on full alert, it switches off the neocortex. This means you cannot learn, reason, understand or make decisions.”

 

Ways to bring down stressful feelings

  • Mindful breathing
  • Finding your own way to calm down, e.g. doing something you enjoy doing
  • Replace negative thoughts with “I can do this” or “I’ll focus on one thing at a time”
    • This is why I personally make lists – almost to the point of obsession!
    • Congratulate yourself when you tick something off
  • Get enough sleep
  • Cut down on sugar and eat as healthily as you can
    • But treat yourself to the odd chocolate/wine/etc. every so often
  • ATL has a number of courses about mindfulness and resilience
    • These traits are as valuable for staff as they are for students

 

Key message: “Small changes to work patterns can really make a difference to how members feel about their working lives”.