If you can't beat it, run for your life

28th January 2000 at 00:00
YOU HAVE toiled through most of January. That final chunk of Christmas cake you crammed into your mouth just to save it from going to waste is a distant memory. When you arrive chez vous, wearied from teaching, you partake of purified water and a slice of fat-free fruit loaf. A home-made bean casserole murmurs away in the slow cooker and, naturally, you relax during 40 minutes of yoga followed up by many lengths at your nearest swimming pool.

Not a scenario you are familiar with? You throw yourself in the door, kicking your shoes off as you reach for the gin bottle. You languish on the sofa while watching rubbishy chat shows. Two hours later, fortified with alcohol, you struggle to pour boiling water on your pot noodles. You sad person.

Okay, the first scenario is you. The feather in your cap is actually quite vivid because you are looking after your health. The stresses of teaching are blown away as you exercise and eat your ultra-healthy dinner, having already swallowed your five portions of fruit for the day. And if you have a glass of wine it will just be one and, of course, it will be red because you know it helps your poor old cardiovascular system.

This is a serious matter. How healthy is the teaching workforce? Very rough consultation with friends and colleagues in several schools indicates that we are not, generally, in the full blush of health. Quite apart from those of us who take ill and die in service, an alarming number, once retired, seem to be summoned fairly swiftly to the big blue yonder.

But is the job really so stressful? It certainly seems so but we have to consult an objective authority on that one because, let's face it, we can be a bunch of moaning whingers. A recent conversation with a GP confirmed that teaching is right up there with the airline pilots and prison officers. In fact, he told me that he was treating a substantial number of teachersfor stress. This, in itself, may not surprise you but I was intrigued by his observation that most of these stressed teachers are not actually off work. Treatment? Well, that included a range from medication to counselling. But the most novel was the prescription for three sessions a week at a local gym.

Groan, groan. So that's where it's all leading - good old-fashioned physical jerks. Yes, but I'm not just flying a kite: I'm speaking from experience.

Several years ago I taught the class from hell - you would recognise them - on a Monday afternoon. I would arrive home in a state of unmitigated frustration like a coiled jack-in-a-box who wants someone - anyone - to open his lid. A visit to my doctor at 4.30pm one day proved to be extremely worrying. My blood pressure was through the roof.

Beta-blockers were prescribed to slow down my pulse and my doctor suggested I should take care of my health. I don't mind admitting I was really scared I might drop dead from a stroke or a heart attack. A bad family history seemed to stack further odds against me.

So I took to pounding the streets - and how I ran on Monday evenings after That Terrible Class. Tension and adrenaline gave me the wings of Pegasus but, most wonderful of all, it eventually became apparent that there was a direct correlation between a healthier lifestyle and blood pressure. And, before you start remonstrating with ifs and buts, let me tell you scientists that my diastolic blood pressure reached a risky high of 130 - normal is 80 - in the weeks before I became a born-again health fanatic.

Without boring you with my medical history, I no longer take medication for blood pressure and haven't done so for more than two years. I have just one piece of advice. If you are feeling stressed go to see your doctor. You might salvage more than just your sanity. See you in the streets; running for your life.

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