Back to work anxiety… Are you ok?

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Reading Twitter this morning there is a massive swathe of people with that nagging dread of returning to work on Monday.

I have spent many Sundays, following holidays, or just the weekend, feeling this exact same dread, and from time to time I still do, depending where I am in the year, my life, or just how I feel about myself. So, it got me thinking, where does this dread come from?

  • Not having done enough work?
  • That pile of marking you gladly left with that promise of working through it during half-term?
  • ‘That class’ who are testing every ounce of your teacher self?
  • Not feeling good enough, the classic ‘imposter syndrome’?
  • Knowing you won’t be ‘there’ enough for your family?
  • Knowing you won’t be ‘there’ enough for yourself?

Now, I don’t profess to be a counsellor, I have had no training, but what I can do is offer some practical advice that has served me well so far.

this too shall pass.jpg

How likely is it to happen?

A while back I had a course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), for me the biggest take away was three questions:

  1. What are you worried about?
  2. How likely is that event going to happen?
  3. What is the likely outcome?

Now, full disclosure, in a really anxious state, I have found myself asking these questions and replying:

  1. What are you worried about? Everything
  2. How likely is that event going to happen? Really likely
  3. What is the likely outcome? Absolutely terrible

But given time, normally a piece of paper (to actually articulate what I am thinking) and a chance to reflect, I can mostly distil those thoughts down to specific events. This means that they are tangible, manageable and most importantly, something can be done to to manage the feelings around them.

Again, I’m no professional, but this is the best advice I have been given.

So I can now do the following, as a very basic example:

  1. What are you worried about? Top set year 9 continually misbehaving, not being silent when I’m talking and not staying focused on a task.
  2. How likely is that event going to happen? Potentially, quite likely, so I will line them up in silence outside the room, stand them behind their stools, and reiterate school rules, plus my expectations. I will do this positively, assertively and with a real emphasis on the benefits to their learning. 
  3. What is the likely outcome? A positive outcome, most of the the class will be silent, and on task. I’ll  keep in mind that it is not the whole class, but a few that have not yet learned to follow the rules. If they make this choice, I will adhere to school policy and remove them from the environment for the sake of everyone (including them, they need to learn rules too). 

Successes

Every single person has had successes at work. These can be the small, everyday things you do without thinking about them, but you’ve had a positive impact for someone, yourself, a colleague, a student. Then, there are the bigger things, when you know you’ve done something great, someone congratulates you, you get a thank you card (I keep all of mine pinned up on my office wall, not to be a humble bragger, but just to remind me I’ve done something right, that, most of the time, I’m actually OK at what I do, even if it doesn’t feel that way at that moment).

My amazing friend Jo Jukes tweeted this recently, and this is a great strategy:Jo tweet.PNG

Answering the questions:

Not having done enough work?

One of my biggest woes was that my lessons wouldn’t be good enough, I hadn’t prepared enough and that, somehow, I would get caught out for the fraud I was. I’ve since realised a few things:

  • Even the most expert teachers feel like this, a lot of the time. This is pretty self explanatory, but if you don’t believe me, ask your most respected colleague, the best teacher you can think of, or the one on twitter who has it all together. I would bet whatever is in my purse (don’t get excited, I just counted, it’s £4.76, a Boots £3 off No7 voucher and an old parking ticket) that they would tell you they doubt themselves at times.
  • Not to listen to what my brain is telling me, it chats a lot of s*%t. See above as a prime example. We talk ourselves down, it’s often human nature, so get someone to talk you up. A friend, a relative, and in the absence of someone to do it for you, see above for counting your successes, right here, right now, name 3 things that you are great at at work. It might be hard, but you can do it.
  • Planning the best lesson doesn’t give you any guarantees: “The best laid plans of mice and men”… (Robert Burns.. just showing off now). But, in all seriousness, you can put your heart and soul into a lesson plan, with every eventuality accounted for, and lessons can go off on a tangent, they don’t get it, there’s a wasp in the room, or a really well timed fire drill.
  • Sharing is caring. There are a wealth of very generous people who will share resources on twitter, within your departments or a personal learning network. If you don’t know who these people are, or think they don’t exist, I assure you they are out there and they do. Give a planning shout out on twitter. Tweaking for your class is much easier than reinventing the wheel.

Caveat: Points 3 & 4: I am not saying not to worry about planning per se, or that it is unimportant, it is so important, but if it is causing you worry, whether it’s because you’ve not done it (no judgement, we’ve all been there) or because you can’t get your head around it (teaching some stuff is just hard, no matter how many times you’ve done it, and sometimes, it’s hard knowing how to pitch it), then stop. I know that is easier said then done. You being present in your lesson, with all of your knowledge, expertise, skills and training, is better than anything. So have faith in that, and think about your future planning when you are less worried.

That pile of marking you gladly left with that promise of working through it during half-term?

The ‘marking’ can wait. I am not advocating disapplying yourself from your school’s policies, but if you are marking for marking’s sake, then there are questions you need to ask. If the only time you have to do it is in extended periods in the holidays or evenings, then that is simply unsustainable. In the long term, I would suggest speaking to someone who can effect change and discuss a more manageable policy. A tired work force is an ineffective one. Change is needed.

In the short term (or advocate for long term if possible) use a whole class feedback template: Scan the books, essays, work, whatever it is, and find out what you need to know.

  • What have they learned?
  • what haven’t they learned?
  • what are their misconceptions?
  • What do I need to do it about it?
  • what do they need to do about it?

In a fraction of the time it takes to mark a set of work, you can find out the same information, give them the same level of feedback and inform your teaching. Not wasting the whole of your last day off being a slave to the red pen.

Here are two templates I have used, I cannot claim it is an original idea, but ones that I have adapted. I cannot remember where I saw the originals, so sorry to whoever you are, I’m not intentionally leaving you without credit, quite the opposite, I owe you a debt of gratitude! Update: It was Jo Tiplady @MissJoT

That class’ who are testing every ounce of your teacher self?

I once remember having the exact class I described in the ‘How likely is it to happen?’ section above. They were the bane of my life, and a huge cause of return to work anxiety. In one moment I am not very proud of, the class (and it felt like all of them, on reflection, it was about 6 of them) were being disruptive, it almost felt like they were ganging up on me, and I screamed “You will not defeat me”, now that loss of control aside, I stuck to it, they didn’t defeat me, and I used the questioning strategy explained in the section above to ensure I didn’t scream at them (or any other class) again. I wonder why I have written that, my lack of pride and all, and then I think, I bet someone else has a reincarnation of this class, somewhere, and that’s a rubbish feeling for everyone, the teacher, the kids in the class who want to learn, and the ones who don’t know how to yet. Anyway, I digress from the more general point of the blog.

But, if this is a more systemic problem and not just your top set year 9s, then speaking to a colleague might help. If they have the same class, are they having the same problems? If other teachers aren’t having the same problems with the class, be open to asking for their strategies. But, most importantly, stick to your school behaviour policy. If that is not effective, then I would suggest the issue is greater than you. If so, and if it is an option, speak to your SLT. If that’s not a possibility, to be blunt, I would find myself questioning whether that is the school for you. You don’t have to settle for feeling this way.

Not feeling good enough, the classic ‘imposter syndrome’?

I have eluded to this throughout this blog and it is something I think as a profession, we are uniquely susceptible to. I blogged about it previously (here) as something I think we can turn into an advantage, and that’s something I have tried to do.

Knowing you won’t be ‘there’ enough for your family?

This is endemic in our profession. Everyone else’s children are taken care of at the expense of your own. Every call is answered, email responded to, except the ones from your family and friends, because, for some reason, society tells us that our ‘vocation’ is all consuming and means that you give all of yourself.

Nope! Stop it Now!

We can be dedicated to our job, care for the children in our school, be a supportive colleague and a valuable employee, but you must set boundaries. Decide on a cut off time for work (either when you will leave school, shut the laptop off at home etc), but you absolutely have a right to a personal and social life, without any feelings of guilt. And again, I will return to workload, if your workload is so overwhelming that this does not feel possible then:

  • Ask for help (colleagues, twitter, PLN)
  • Try to find efficient ways of achieving the same results (eg, Whole class feedback)
  • Consider – do you need to change your work pattern or does your school need to change?

You have a finite amount of time in a day, just the same as everyone else, it is inhumane for a place of work to demand the majority of that time, without sufficient respite. Something has to give, either your work pattern, need for perfectionism, the workload from your school, or the school itself. What can you control?

Knowing you won’t be ‘there’ enough for yourself?

See above! You should be a priority to yourself, you can’t pour from an empty cup, so decide, what time will you dedicate to yourself this week? To read for pleasure, to take a long bath, to listen to your favourite album, to go for a run? Whatever your bag, do something just for you. Everyone gets to benefit from that.

Is it more than that?

I have committed so many sins in this blog, that I would probably scream at myself for. I don’t profess to know all of the answers, I know that a cheesy quote will not make everything better, and sometimes it can feel like there is nothing in your control to make it better. This is not a silver bullet, and I am most probably teaching many of you to suck eggs. But, if knowing someone else ‘gets it’, that you’re not alone in that feeling and that there some options, then I absolve myself!

When we feel that back to work dread there are positive, proactive steps we can take, however, if it is more than just the dread of a weekend or holiday coming to an end don’t feel like you need to go that alone. In Cassie Young’s blog she gives some really solid advice and links to professional services who can help: http://moderncassie.blogspot.com/2019/09/feel-good-hit-of-summer.html

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