'Teaching will never be easy, but it has brought out resilience and confidence that I never knew I had'

One recently qualified teacher describes how the pressure of the job took a toll on her mental health – but honest advice from a colleague saved her from leaving the profession

Pamela Mardle

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I was told that my teacher-training year would be the hardest of my life. I knew this meant keeping my head down, but that there was a light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of a promising career (and the six-week summer holidays).

However, those warnings quickly lengthened to include the NQT year, too. But it wasn’t until April that my assurers decided to break rank and admit that, in fact, the NQT year was the hardest there was. I laughed it off; nothing could be more time-sapping than the incessant assignments, portfolio checks and observations.

It turned out that I was blissfully ignorant and disastrously naïve. I sailed through my first qualified half term, grateful to be free of the ever-watchful eye of the external mentor and students’ questions about whether I was a “real” teacher. And then the marking load landed alongside the increased planning and the enhanced accountability. This was the first time I really knew what saying goodbye to my social life was like.

Unfortunately, I very nearly kissed goodbye to my sanity, too. Christmas came and the honeymoon period died with the sunshine. As soon as I fell an inch behind my regimented schedule, the knock-on effect on my workload was enormous. I went through the stages of grief for my previous life: anger at my newfound loneliness; depression at my perceived ineptitude; plus the guilt I felt towards the students I thought I was letting down. Worst of all was my stubborn denial of the impact this was having on my mental wellbeing.

Don't suffer in silence

Once I finally decided to sound off about the struggles I was having, I realised how important it is to have a supportive department around you. I was lucky enough to have a mentor who cared not just about my professional development but also my mental health, too. I spoke to her about my feelings of incapability and the blows teaching had dealt to my self-esteem.

It turned out she’d had similar doubts at the beginning of her career and still felt the insatiable urge to escape when times got tough. The honesty she gave me was so much more valuable than those ill-conceived but well-meant pieces of advice that I had previously received. What struck a chord the most was the fact that I owed it to myself not to give up. I had gone through two hard years and it would all have been for nothing.

Now, on the other side of my NQT year, I have found my rhythm and know to brace myself for the tough times and allow myself to breathe during the quieter months. Best of all, rather than berating myself, I am proud of myself. This job will never be easy, but it has brought out resilience and confidence that I never knew I had. That’s the best thing about this profession: it’s not only the students who are constantly learning and adapting to new challenges, but also the teacher, too.

Pamela Mardle is a teacher in Suffolk

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Pamela Mardle

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