Teacher wellbeing: 3 tips to help you start a new year

Teachers starting a new year must look after their wellbeing and not put extra pressure on themselves, says Susan Ward

Susan Ward

At the start of a new school year, teachers need to concentrate on looking after their wellbeing, says depute headteacher Susan Ward

The start of term, as most teachers will tell you, can be hard going. Of course, it is exciting to be back, well-rested and ready for the new session. But it can be very tiring and overwhelming, too. An ever-expanding to-do list, combined with children and teachers who are sizing each other up, readjusting to the rhythm of school life and settling in the new pupils, can equal overtiredness very quickly, whatever the benefits of the long summer.

A major symptom for me of all this busyness is the dreaded earworm: a song stuck on constant repeat inside my head. In August it is always the same song: Welcome Everybody by Fischy Music. Even thinking momentarily about it is enough to set the earworm burying, and I know I am in for days of absently humming along to this primary school assembly staple.

But what other messages are stuck on repeat in your head? What are the earworms providing the background music to your day in school? Do any of these sound familiar?

“I have to get this done now.”

“That new boy is going to be trouble.”

“If I were a better teacher/more efficient/better organised, I would be coping.”

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We all have our own earworms, whispering their little messages in our heads, so a good shoogle is exactly what we need sometimes. It is easy to get entrenched into a particular mindset, however long you have been teaching – to accept a particular message and hold true to it, even when it is doing us harm.

Protecting teacher wellbeing

So, here’s how to kick those unhelpful earworms into touch this session and play a new song:

1. Stop trying to do everything at once

The problem with the start of term is you can see all the jobs that need to get done, but you just can’t seem to get them all done quickly enough. Give yourself a break – it doesn’t all need doing today, tomorrow or even by the end of September. Only do what is manageable and concentrate on one bit at a time. It takes courage to step off the hamster wheel before you burn out, but if you don’t pace yourself that is exactly what will happen.

2. Be kind, rewind

Deciding what a child or colleague is like before you properly know them is worryingly easy to do, but it does both of you a terrible injustice. Think back to when you were at school or new into teaching. Think about who helped you and who got the best from you. Trying to be that person for others helps you get past your initial feelings and make a connection that might just turn out to be pure magic.

3. Get lighter the more it gets dark

OK, it might be a Coldplay lyric, but it’s still true: the tougher things get around you, the more you need to lift your chin, breathe through it and keep talking. Ask for help when you need it, and helps others see a way through the dark when they’re struggling. Be good to yourself and don’t talk yourself down. Life is a balancing act and, with everything you are juggling, it’s OK to drop a ball every now and again. So stop giving yourself such a hard time.

In short, put together a new mental playlist – we teachers don’t always need to keep marching to the same old tunes.

Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30

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