'How was I brave? I admitted I was working too much'

Three teachers share personal stories inspired by the theme of Children's Mental Health Week: 'find your brave'

Andrew Weir, Eleanor Lennen and Carolyn Bendall

Too many plates spinning: being brave means admitting you're working too hard

Inspired by the theme of bravery for this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week, three teachers at different stages in their careers recall a time when they had to be brave.

‘It takes bravery to be honest with yourself and others when times get tough'

As a student teacher, you're faced with a huge workload in a daunting new environment, in which you can often feel pressured or judged by those around you. It's easy to feel overwhelmed, lose confidence and question your own ability when everything is so new. At times like this, it's important to be honest not only with others but also with yourself.

I recently went through a time where I was taking on far too much work because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I instinctively said "Yes" to everything because I wanted to make a good impression. This wasn’t healthy, and it was only after a long period of struggling, juggling and worrying that I was able to finally be honest with myself: “I can’t keep this up.”

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This was my first brave act. Admitting to myself that I was overwhelmed allowed me to see clearly and helped to improve my wellbeing. After opening up to myself, I finally felt able to open up to others. This took courage because being vocal and honest about your struggles is often hard.

But once I had found the words and said them aloud, I realised there was nothing to be afraid of. Things quickly got better. I was able to share the load, both literally and metaphorically, with those around me, and I noticed an improvement in my health almost immediately.

Andrew Weir is at the University of Edinburgh studying to be a teacher

‘I had to push my worries aside as I made the brave decision to work overseas when I was 17’ 

When I was 17, I decided that I wanted to go to France to improve my French. I got a job as an au pair, looking after a little girl, but I had to travel all the way there by myself. I was terrified but also excited. Lots of feelings and questions were swirling around my head: what if something went wrong? What if I got lost? What if the mother wasn’t there to meet me? What if the family wasn’t very nice?

It was my mum’s motto that gave me strength: "Feel the fear, and do it anyway."

I knew that this adventure would be a good thing and make me a stronger person, so I took the plunge.

The first step was to travel to London on my own. I then had to get the train, ferry, then train again, to be met by the stranger (with my name on a sign) who I’d be staying with for a month.

But the mother was lovely and treated me like a member of her family. We did loads of lovely things together: I saw the Palace of Versailles, experienced a different culture and had my mind broadened.

I was so proud of myself and relieved that I had managed to do it – and I didn’t need my parents to go with me.

I am still proud to this day, and pass this message on to my two teenagers and the pupils in my class: sometimes you’ve got to be brave and feel the fear.

Eleanor Lennen is a P3 teacher at Craigroyston Primary School in Edinburgh

‘I had to find ways to overcome my nerves so I could present in front of my colleagues‘

I have a fear of public speaking, so when I had to deliver a presentation on additional support needs in front of my colleagues, I was petrified. The thought – even though it was only a 10-minute slot – made my stomach do somersaults. I had sleepless nights and bad dreams. I hadn't realised my heart could race that fast.

I recalled the advice my music teacher had given me when I learned to play the flute: “practice makes perfect”. I had experience of performing in front of people when I was younger, so I looked at the presentation like it was a performance.

After the presentation was over, I felt totally relieved. While I got lovely feedback from colleagues, I knew they could sense my nerves and I didn’t want to think about it for a few days.

It's OK to be nervous – it’s a sign that what you are doing is important to you. But with rehearsal and practice, I know my nerves won’t take over on the day.

Carolyn Bendall is support for learning leader at St Thomas of Aquin’s High School in Edinburgh

This year's Children’s Mental Health Week took place from 3-9 February. Resources are available on the Place2Be website to help children and teachers explore what it means to be brave

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