The darker mornings are setting in, which is the perfect metaphor for the feelings of many teachers now. We are no longer daydream believers: the six o’clock alarm is certainly ringing, accompanied by that sinking feeling when you climb out from under the warmth and comfort of your duvet.
Except that this feeling seems to have arrived early this year. Normally it has the decency to wait until at least November to show up.
Yet here we are, in early October, the long stretch until Christmas still in front of us, and what seems like an eternity since September behind us. A start of term like no other has taken its toll on the most resilient of us. The fear of the unknown is like being an NQT all over again – but without the mentor to support you along the way. Experience somehow just does not cut it any longer.
Coronavirus: The pressure on teachers
How many of us, when interviewing for teacher training, said: “Because every day is different,” in answer to the ubiquitous question: “So, why do you want to become a teacher?” Oh, how we look back to our charming naivety, not knowing then just how different every single day of this year would be.
The uncertainty of late is making every part of the day more tiring. People – colleagues, students, parents – are all more anxious than normal. Which is entirely understandable. Will there be any colleagues missing? Which students are self-isolating? Will I have time to upload work to the online platform? And, as we approach the school gates, many of us finding ourselves thinking: how on Earth am I going to deal with it all?
But this is what we do as teachers, isn’t it? Deal with it. We face every challenge, every change and all the uncertainty. We walk into school, paint our professional faces on, and perform. Riding on a wave of caffeine, cortisol and a pinch of creativity, we do it. Despite the odds.
But which of these additional pressure or uncertainties will be our swan song?
Reaching breaking point
You see, for some, that day has arrived when the alarm chimes, the weather is cold and bleak, and their professional face has finally slipped. We all have that breaking point when we cannot pretend any longer. And this is when we listen to our bodies, pay attention to our symptoms – whether they are real, psychosomatic or just a wish we are deviantly hoping will come true.
That cough you put down to a few rogue crumbs? Actually, it’s a bit more persistent now. Did someone put the heating on? No, it is definitely a temperature. Was my oral hygiene a little too rigorous last night? It wasn’t: my sense of taste has disappeared.
Fighting guilt, tiredness, anxiety and a sense of defeat, your mind is whirring with plans, protocols and persistent doubt. Should I ring in? Is my mind playing tricks? Do I just need a few days to recover from it all?
Lying there, wrapped in the duvet and a turmoil of diabolical emotions, you know that at least one of these symptoms is enough to consign you to the house. For a while at least, you’ll be at home. And, maybe, that is just what you need.
Louise Lewis is a research lead and deputy head of science in a Yorkshire secondary school. She tweets @MissLLewis