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'The best place for an ill teacher to be is at home'

Colleges have the infrastructure to manage staff illness - so make sure you take time to recover, writes Sarah Simons

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I had a long period of clinical depression during my twenties. It was hard going but, thanks to medication and years of work with a cognitive behavioural therapist, I gathered the tools to combat my own particular anxieties. Like everyone else, I still have the odd down day, but it’s just that. I don’t worry about depression sneaking back and I’ve been off the happy pills since the 1990s.

Because of those dark years, I’ve been interested in the power of being present in my own life, long before corporate shysters started flogging us tuppenny tat with the word “mindfulness” printed on. Having a bit of focused quietness to reflect on thoughts and feelings, especially when things are hectic, is a valuable time investment.

I know that cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness have crossover elements, and both are objectively valuable. The thing is, I have a low tolerance for anything floaty or “lifestyle”, which mindfulness is regularly (and inappropriately) rebranded as. So I’ve had to change the concept into language that satisfies my own needs. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to launch “get-a-grip-fulness”, “stop-faffing-and-have-a-sit-down-fulness” and, my most commonly used therapy tool, “chill-the-fuck-out-fulness”. The final one is so well-established in my house that it’s reduced to the acronym CTFO.

Teacher wellbeing is a thing nowadays, but it only seems to stretch as far as mental and emotional health. For years, I’ve seen colleagues force themselves to turn up, coughing and sweating away the working day in a state of health that they’d never allow a student or a child of their own to suffer through. No, colleagues. NO! Go home. Put your feet up and get better. Colleges have the infrastructure to manage staff illness. Yours won’t descend into mayhem because you take a couple of days to wade through your river of snot.

I’ve been as guilty of germ-fuelled presenteeism as the next person. But since last year, never again – I’d felt rough for ages and ignored it until turned into pneumonia and I had to take a whole month off. As someone who earns a living in a mainly freelance capacity, that was a significant worry. But guess what…the FE sector didn’t collapse because I lay on the sofa watching QVC for four weeks.

We have to take responsibility for looking after our whole selves and shed the guilt surrounding it. Guilt, like worry, is a waste of time. Both can be self-indulgent and unproductive. If you have the power to do the thing that solves the problem, then do it. That thing might be to take a day off when you’re too ill to work, so that you get better quicker.

I won’t feel guilty about taking a rare but necessary day to get well if I feel too ill to work – I’d urge you to do the same. Think of it as mindfulness, but for your body, and CTFO.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands

This is an article from the 11 Match edition of TES. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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