3 ways teachers can find control in trying times

Feeling in control during these testing times can be tough - but there are three fundamentals to school life all teachers can still keep on top of

Emily Rawes

Teachers should focus on what they can control

I have spent a good part of this year doing things to support my mental health.

I created a gratitude diary, exercised daily, focused on small achievements, built in things to look forward to every day, carefully regulated my exposure to social media and news outlets, found strength in meaningful friendships and, somewhat of a cliche, I started yoga.

Yoga especially became an opportunity to both develop my inner awareness and move my body around, which, after up to 10 hours sat in an uncomfortable desk chair and staring at a computer screen, was very much needed!

And it was from yoga that I started to develop a shift in my mindset that helped me reflect more deeply on the importance of accepting what we cannot control – and embracing what we can.

This led me to reflect upon three main factors that I think all teachers would do well to use.

1. Our mindsets

Throughout this year, I have tried to train my mind to keep things in perspective.

As noted, there is much that remains (and will remain) outside our control as teachers. Ultimately, however, what we do have control over is ourselves.

As my father always used to say to me: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference”.

Our thoughts shape our attitude and how we look at the world. Actively challenging negative thoughts is good practice and facilitates kindness and compassion.

Our actions and our attitudes as teachers directly impact those around us: our colleagues and the students in our care.

Controlling these puts us in charge – not the world around us.

2. Our curricula

I found myself with time to reflect on the curriculum content and we were able to focus on updating and developing our curriculum plans and lesson resources.

Away from the additional pressures of daily school life, we were able to tweak and adjust the curriculum with the aim of continuing to develop this when we resumed face-to-face teaching.

Having this wider purpose within the team enabled a sense of teamwork and a "we are all in this together" approach.

This focus on improvement gave an added sense of achievement to online department meetings – something we all greatly needed.

3. Our subjects 

This is something that, thankfully, will not change fundamentally and is the reason I became an English teacher in the first place.

I have the privilege every day of exploring through literature what makes us humans tick – arguably more relevant now more than ever.

Despite the circumstances, we continue to encourage students to develop key communication skills and empathy, and consider their response to the world around them.

We challenged students to write creatively about their experiences of lockdown, with the focus on finding silver linings – some of them deeply moving – and in our conversations, the power of reading as a means of escapism became increasingly important.

While teaching Carol Ann Duffy’s In Your Mind to my GCSE class we discussed the poignancy of the lines: "And in your mind you put aside your work and head for the airport with a credit card and a warm coat you will leave on the plane...For a moment you are there, in the other country, knowing its name. And then a desk. A newspaper. A window. English rain."

Not only did I find it immensely rewarding to share and discuss these ideas about the transportive nature of the imagination with my students but I also found it helpful personally in dealing with my own feelings of homesickness.

The power and beauty of English did not and will not change – this was a moment when remembering that gave me the strength to see I could still deliver the type of lessons that had inspired me to become a teacher in the first place.

This idea will be expressed differently in different subjects and those moments of insight will be achieved in different ways.

But if we retain the core purpose of what we teach and its power to change lives, we can continue to find the will to get through this tough times.

Emily Rawes is head of English at Shrewsbury International School Bangkok Riverside

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