In the Harry Potter books, "Dementors" are described as being foul, wraith-like creatures that suck the happiness and hope out of the very air around them.
In fact, Professor Lupin warns, “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”
Sound familiar? It should – because very few schools are without them.
In fact, in the current climate of work-life misbalance and a veritable stress epidemic, their numbers are growing rapidly.
Beware the Dementors
And while they’re frequently better looking than the ghouls in Harry Potter, they’re just as effective in the whole soul-sucking arena.
Real-life Dementors are often much sneakier than their fictitious counterparts. They masquerade as comrades and friends, drawing you in to an innocent grumble at the end of the school day. Before you know it, it’s half past five, you haven’t marked a single book, and you feel like you’re drowning in an abyss of darkness.
What starts out as "letting off steam" and co-working bonding, can very quickly lead to all-out hatred towards the school/government/profession as a whole. Ultimately, it can lead to thoughts of being hopelessly trapped in a job that you despise.
I speak from experience, having both worked with Dementors and, admittedly, being one myself.
Of course, I didn’t know it at the time – Dementors are rarely self-aware. But looking back, I can see that I made myself and my colleagues utterly miserable with my incessant complaining. I was literally sucking the life out of them each day, reducing them to my own miserable state.
Ironically too, though lack of work-life-balance was my biggest complaint, I wasted precious time each day in this fruitless pursuit.
Now fully rehabilitated, to the point of being at times "overly-enthusiastic", I’m nowadays much more aware of the way the words that I use impact myself and those around me.
While it’s true that a good rant is healthy and necessary every now and then, if it becomes part of your daily routine, well…just stop.
Half an hour of complaining Monday to Friday is two and a half hours – that’s your entire PPA time!
Instead, you could be rattling off some work and getting home a bit earlier to spend time with your family; or pounding out some endorphins at the gym; or having a mindful moment with a cup of tea.
If you really are desperately unhappy, you could spend that time looking for another job. Essentially, you could do something that makes you feel better, not worse.
I know that this is easier said than done, especially considering that we often like moaning and gossiping with our co-conspirators. But this is your life; your well-being; your health. And theirs, too.
If your school routine leaves you open to Dementor-attacks, change it. Close your classroom door on a morning, mark books in a different place, get some fresh air at lunchtime.
If it’s you, not them, enlist friends in helping you to recover. Maybe they can tap you knowingly when you begin chuntering, or even shout something silly to disrupt the mood.
Perhaps you can set aside one day after school when you get together and have a good old moan. Do whatever it takes to increase your daily happiness.
No one can deny that in the current climate, teachers are up against it. But with so many teachers leaving the profession, the ones who are staying need to take steps to protect themselves in any way that they can…even when it’s from themselves.
Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions and wellbeing strategies
If you are struggling with stress or anxiety, the Samaritans offer help 24 hours a day, seven days a week