Last year, I wrote an article for Tes about my own journey “with my mind”. It focused very much on the professional; challenges and difficulties I have faced. And it chimed with so many others with similar experiences. However, one thing I didn’t really explore is how teaching has also positively supported my mental health over the past 10 years. It really has kept me going at times. So to make up for that omission, here are some of the ways...
A creative outlet
For me, one of the biggest benefits of teaching has been in that it has offered me an outlet to create, which has been important for my state of mind. Whether that be in creating a resource or a way of teaching something, supporting a student in their own creative process or more recently writing about my teaching and learning experiences, all have allowed me to express myself: this can be both fulfilling and engaging to a busy mind.
And, of course, others taking pleasure in such creativity can lead to a sense of wellbeing, whether that be in feedback from students or fellow teachers or in the tangible results of such endeavours.
Keeping you busy
It’s obvious, but the nature of teaching means that there’s little time, during the day at least, to bury yourself in your own thoughts and feelings. I mentioned in a previous blog for Tes that during a particularly tough period a number of years ago, the fact that I couldn't just “switch off” in the classroom for even a minute was a double-edged sword in mental health terms. Yes, it can drain you and cause you anxiety but on the flip side, it can also force you to concentrate and focus on what’s in front of you: the children. This can offer an escape from uncomfortable feelings and the routine can also be important, too, in providing some stability in a time of potential turmoil.
It’s important this is mixed with a time for reflection, too, but, ultimately, teaching's capacity to engage the mind can be more of a salve than a hindrance. Staring at a clock on the wall for half the working day, which many other jobs can entail, doesn’t help anyone’s mental state.
Lots of people I know who think deeply about life (perhaps too deeply) are also searching for meaning. In the right setting, teaching can provide this meaning in abundance. Every day, there are opportunities to, without sounding too coy, “change lives”. When something good happens in school, it really can be a euphoric moment – for example, when something clicks for a student in their learning. As a teacher, you can contribute to the prevention of bullying, be a sounding board for teenagers as they go through the turmoil or offer them a route towards finding their passion in life. This can all be deeply fulfilling and rewarding.
Being part of a wider community
Schools have become much more splintered in recent times with less communal areas, particularly staffrooms. However, despite this cultural shift, schools, particularly those operating in more challenging areas, often boast a community of staff that sticks together through thick and thin, supports each other on issues of behaviour and is there for each other, whether it be in the car park, the corridor or the classroom.
This sense of “belonging” may not ultimately translate into deep and meaningful friendships between staff (although it sometimes does) but it can definitely give a person a sense of grounding within a community – an anchor if you like. Although subtle and rarely acknowledged, this can be incredibly reassuring to someone who doesn’t feel like they have that outside of “work”.
Teaching has highs and lows, of course, but there have been times when it's really been there for me.
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