Don't let teaching make a monster out of you

The challenges of teaching can turn you into a bit of a monster – here are three bits of advice to keep the ogre at bay

Is teaching making a monster out of you? Here Jo Steer offers three pieces of advice to keep you human

As a teacher, you’re faced with a high level of pressure and tough situations every day – in the classroom, the staffroom, the meeting room, via email from the couch.

And these challenges can sometimes bring out the worst in you, make you behave as you would not normally behave (or like to behave), and turn you into a bit of a monster.

Perhaps some of these behaviours sound a little too familiar?

1. Deprioritising everything (and everyone) but work

When faced with a consistent and unreasonable amount of pressure at school, it’s all too easy to develop teacher tunnel vision, especially if you’re someone with people-pleasing and perfectionist tendencies.

Of course, there’ll always be moments when work takes centre stage, but if it’s becoming the "norm" to choose work over life, then there’s a problem.

I’m working on it by: reminding myself that the "life" in my life, and the people in it, are more valuable than my job; that there will always be more work to do, but I’ll never get back those moments, little and large, once missed.

2. Work-bragging

Is your go-to small talk a summary of how much work you’re expected to do? Mine is – and, boy, do I cringe when I hear myself doing it.

Aside from the fact that I know it just isn’t interesting to the listener, I’m increasingly aware that I’m using this martyr act to weirdly prop up my own ego – "Look how much I have to do because I’m so damn important"

If you’re struggling with work, talking it through with friends and asking for support is helpful. Telling every Tom, Dick and Henrietta how stressed you are probably isn’t.

I’m working on it by: noticing when I’m work-bragging, pausing for breath and saying, “Sorry – you didn’t ask!” before a change of subject. In general, too, I find it helps to ask and listen more, and speak less.

3. Being overly dramatic

As teachers, we know words matter – and yet, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of using emotive, sensationalist language in our daily thoughts and words.

We’re not just fine, we’re "surviving"; we’re not coping, we’re "stressed".

If you’re genuinely living these feelings day-to-day, that’s one thing. If you’re inadvertently feeding an unhelpful mindset, reinforcing habits such as catastrophising, black and white thinking and over-generalising to name a few, then that’s something quite different.

I’m working on it by: being a little more careful with the words that I use and the thoughts that I choose to really listen to. When big words come up – i.e., "I’ll never get this done!" "This is terrible!" – I strive to assess whether these words are accurate or appropriate. In my experience, they rarely are.

Jo Steer is a teacher and experienced leader of SEND interventions

 

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