One term in

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Moving from a well-paid position on a top fashion magazine to the somewhat less glamorous confines of the staffroom was not a career change I ever imagined making. But after three years working in the shamelessly chic environment of manicures and models, I left deflated. Literally unable to keep up appearances, I wasn't cut out for a life in high fashion.

Time spent assisting in a wonderful primary school convinced me to apply for a PGCE. Coming from a family of teachers, I was well aware of the stresses implicit in the job. So, I was unsurprised that a medical questionnaire forming part of my PGCE registration asked me about my "state of mental health".

Ticking any box would be tantamount to admitting to almost anything from mild depression to serious psychopathic tendencies. Having suffered from the former, I was worried that I would be written-off immediately. In the end I ticked the box that best described me. I have since spoken to others on my course who hadn't mentioned even chronic depression. A college doctor said my case was so minor that I could have left the section blank.

Nothing buoys flagging morale better than the community spirit fostered by a shared sense of frustration - whether at workloads, occasionally diabolical behaviour in children or curriculum changes. To an extent, a degree of frustration seems to be implicit in good teaching. This is truly a job that never stops. Not at home at the end of the day, nor at weekends. There is always so much more that could be done.

Perfectionists seem destined for stressful disappointment; with rounds of marking and planning to complete whilst simultaneously concocting endless creative, engaging introductions to lessons. Something has to give. Is it any wonder that the something is so often the teacher?

Numerous people have been forced out of the profession through stress-related ill-health and yet here I was volunteering to join up. Yet I have also witnessed in teaching a strong in-built support network, one that I have appreciated for myself in the "gallows humour" of my tutors and fellow trainees.

At college, I noticed a poster for the Samaritans pasted inside a toilet door had been amended to list, presumably in ascending order of desperation, "Lonely? Depressed? Suicidal? School Experience?" All very ominous.

Fortunately, my first teaching practice last term was great. The teacher I was placed with was brilliantly supportive and, having just returned from maternity leave, was a great source of advice on balancing home and school life.

Yes, I've been tired, stressed and baffled by paperwork and I know it's just the beginning. So far though, I have been more motivated than in any other job I've had.

Some remnants of my former life remain - I still have nicer shoes than most in the staffroom. Nowadays though, I no longer work with people who spend the equivalent of my monthly salary on their next pair. My priorities are the same as my colleagues, and although I expect I'll be exhausted for much of my career, I truly believe in what I am doing.

That is an incredibly cheering thought on a Monday morning.

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