Teacher wellbeing stories: Kimberley Evans

Kimberley's story is all about boundaries, the importance of having them, sticking to them and what happens if you don't or can't.

Kimberley Evans

Kimberley Evans Wellbeing story image

I’m a trained primary school teacher and worked across the key stages before leaving to have children. When they were at primary school I went back to work initially as a TA and then an HLTA to give me more time for my family while still using my skills. I'm now a supply teacher, heritage educator and run my own business, Nourish the Workplace, helping schools to prioritise and improve staff wellbeing.  

The most stressful time in my teaching career was when I worked as an HLTA covering PPA every afternoon. Going back to work in this role was meant to be easier on me, but at times it really wasn’t. 

I’m not ashamed to say that I'm a control freak, although I don’t like that ‘freak’ bit at the end, as I know I'm far from in the minority with this! But in this role I really didn’t have much control over my workload.  

At the start of the year teachers were very good at emailing me the plans at the beginning of the week or giving me instructions in the morning of cover time. But as the term went on this slipped and I was spending my lunch times walking round the school trying to find them to see what they wanted me to do.  

The major issue with this was I needed to eat! I get hangry if I don’t eat by a certain time in the day and after a busy morning running interventions I really needed to sit down and eat my lunch, not walk laps of the school trying to find the teachers I was covering! I also needed to decompress from the morning – which was, at times, very stressful dealing with behaviour issues – and process what had happened. 

There were a fair few times that I spent all lunch time in ‘hand over’ mode discussing with the teacher whose class I was covering. Although I therefore knew what I was doing and had a full plan for the teaching, the afternoon was a disaster as I hadn't had a break.  

Now most people reading this will not be HLTAs or PPA cover teachers, but I know that most of you will be able to identify with running around all lunchtime and not feeling your best because you haven’t eaten. So, what do you do about it? How did I solve this issue? 

The answer isn’t to find something quicker or easier to eat - to have a Cup a Soup, Pot Noodle, protein bar or biscuits on the run. This won’t do anything for your health or ability to cope with high levels of stress. Neither does it give you the time to rest. 

So what is the answer? I put boundaries in place not just to protect my own wellbeing but also to protect my professional standards.  

I know I'm a better teacher when I've had a rest and recharge at lunchtime. I know I'm a better teacher when I have eaten a proper, healthy lunch. I realised that the schools’ biggest asset in that classroom that afternoon was me, at my best. And I had to prioritise and protect that. 

The boundaries I put in place were bespoke to me and my situation, yours might need to be different to suit your circumstances. I spoke to SLT and discussed what was happening, agreed that teachers needed to give me plans in advance and if they wanted to ‘hand over’ then they needed to be available for me. If they couldn’t they needed to write it down. 

This freed me up to have a proper break at lunchtime, to sit in the staffroom and eat my lunch, to process what had happened in the morning and get mentally ready for the afternoon ahead. I was a better teacher for it. I dealt with behaviour issues well, I came with my A game every afternoon, I was enthusiastic and full of energy for whatever we were doing. 

Lunchtimes are a contentious issue, schools are reducing their length and increasing responsibilities so staff across the board are more stretched than ever. You may not feel you have any control over this, but you do. You can, and must, set your boundaries.

Work out what will help you to be at your best in the afternoon and do that. Say no to meetings at lunchtime, vocalise that you can’t do lunchtime duties and still do your job well in the afternoon, normalise putting your needs before others. Whatever your role in the school YOU are the best resource. YOU are the difference to a pupil achieving or not. YOU and your needs therefore need prioritising.  

Just as you'd get resources ready for the afternoon; worksheets printed and trimmed, PowerPoint uploaded, equipment out and ready, technology checked and charged, YOU need to be ready too! And that involves having a proper break and a healthy lunch.  

Kimberly Evans is a trained primary teacher, heritage educator and runs her own business, Nourish the Workplace, helping schools to prioritise and improve staff wellbeing.  

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