Talking shop

22nd December 2000 at 00:00
Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of the issues that concern you.

I have always wanted to teach. I am now in my second year and, although I am happy in my job, I don't know if I can keep going. I'm utterly exhausted and permanently tired.

It is beginning to affect my whole life. The journey to work starts early as I like to be in my classroom by 8.15 so that I can set out activities and make it welcoming for the children.

Tidying up and staff meetings mean that I arrive home at about 7pm when I just collapse into a heap and sleep for an hour. I work most evenings and then find I can't sleep till the early hours. I spend half the weekend sleeping and the other planning. I am also gaining weight.

I can't seem to find the right balance in life and feel that I am just surviving. What can I do?

ASurviving is the word. It sounds as if a barren lifestyle has developed because of the job's pressures and perhaps because of the high standards you have set for yourself. Quality living has been the casualty.

The situation you describe is certainly not confined to new teachers, but they are particularly susceptible. Many readers will identify with your predicament.

First, you need to accept that the job is about human relationships, so aiming for perfection is completely demotivating as you will always fail to attain it. Just settle for being good enough, with occasional periods of excellence.

Ask a colleague to act as a critical friend and examine the way you organise your work. I suspect that you might be doing too much for the pupils, so denying them the opportunity to learn how to prepare and tidy up. Decide whether you will work at school in the mornings or evenings and keep to it.

Cut out the nap on arriving home and go to bed earlier, so you can aim for about eight hours sleep in one go. The weight gain may be because you are eating sugary food to give quick energy boosts and not being physically active. With a little more time for yourself this will right itself.

Arrange one recreational activity each weekend. Get in touch with old friends and book get-togethers in your diary. The job does involve long hours but if you do these things, you will perform better and still have reserves of energy when they are needed, such as preparing for an inspection or for Christmas.

QMy sister is head of a large primary school in another part of town. I am a teacing assistant at another school. Until recently the relationship has not been an issue and never been cause for comment.

A few weeks ago, however, a new teacher joined us from my sister's school. At almost every break-time he lets everyone know how relieved he is to be away from "that tyrant" and has said some very derogatory things about her character and the way she manages the staff. He has even made fun of her looks.

I have not admitted that we are related and that I find his comments hurtful, although I know my sister is a very forceful character. The more it goes on the more embarrassed I am. How can I get him to stop?

AYou really ought to let the teacher know the facts and how his behaviour is making you feel, but if you can't, ask a close colleague to have a word with him on your behalf. I'm sure he will be more embarrassed than you and may well apologise. If he does, then accept it with good grace - but I suppose you would settle for the whole topic just to be quietly dropped.

Anyway, what on earth have your sister's looks to do with anything? Doesn't your colleague know that teaching is a very small world? You can sneeze in one school and someone will catch a cold in the next, as they say.

QAlmost every lunch-time I am called to remonstrate with a boy from my Year 5 class who spits food when he speaks at the dining table and digs forks into other pupils.

Of course, the sensible pupils will not sit with him any more but he attracts one or two who love to bait him into anti-social behaviour.

I have tried everything including cajoling, isolation and threats. I am at the point of recommending that he be excluded from school at lunch-times. What else can I do?

AOh just go mad for one last try. Set up a table in the head's office with white linen, flowers, beautiful cutlery, cut glass and fine china. Invite the child and a friend to dine with you and the head.

Engage in polite conversation about what each of you did at the weekend. If he can't use the cutlery, just show him how. Offer after-dinner mints as a reward. Say you would be proud to take them and their year to a restaurant to mark the end of Year 6.

In fact it would be a nice idea to hold formal lunches every week so everyone can be made to feel special.

I don't need to go on about making the dining environment less institutional or about actively developing an inclusive ethos do I?


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