What keeps me awake at night - Good examples of bad lifestyles

15th June 2012 at 01:00

Hey, You! Put that biscuit down, stop sipping that sugar-laden cup of coffee and listen. What I have to say is very important. Forget Ofsted. Forget phonics. I need your full attention. Teaching could be endangering your health. And your looks.

Don't dismiss me as a self-obsessed, image-conscious airhead (I may be all those things, but don't let that deter you from reading on). I was looking at one of the NQTs at my school today and remembered that she was very slim, well-presented and clear-skinned when she arrived in September. Now she has an expanding waistline, dishevelled hair and fine lines.

I'm not being mean. She is still attractive and, importantly, a fantastic teacher, but she has changed, and not for the better. Her appearance got me thinking that the teaching profession is not always conducive to a healthy lifestyle, but I needed further evidence.

I didn't have to go far ... just to the ladies' toilets. I looked in the mirror and examined my reflection. I am 30 years old, but I have dark circles under my eyes and a furrowed brow. Since I started working at this outstanding school (as recognised by Ofsted) the pressure has been on to perform.

It's not just the female staff who have been affected. A highly rigorous and scientific study (scanning the staffroom at lunchtime) informs me that the males could also do with a healthier lifestyle. Sure they play football on a Friday evening, but their good work is undone during the following hours in the pub.

Teachers rarely have an opportunity to sit down for a sustained period of time and eat. And drink. And relax. And digest. Instead, they are up and down out of their seats, hunched over their laptops, supervising detentions, doing break duty, running clubs and revision sessions, all the while trying to stuff biscuits into their mouths and get a caffeine fix.

"Boo hoo," you might say, especially if your name is Michael Wilshaw. "Stop moaning! At least you're not working down a pit for 12 hours a day." I don't want to write a sob story about poor teachers, but there is a legitimate point to be made. We teach our children the importance of work-life balance, stress management, healthy eating, the dangers of cigarette, alcohol and drug abuse and the benefits of regular exercise, yet we don't always adhere to our own advice.

After a long day at work, after-school meetings, a load of marking and few breaks, it is no wonder teachers can't be bothered going to the gym.

I know that teachers are not the only professionals to suffer stress and not prioritise their own health and well-being. And not all teachers are cake-eating, tequila-downing, chain-smoking messes. But we are supposed to be role models for the next generation, and we are not passing on good habits. If we are going to do our jobs well, we need, on occasion, to take our own health and well-being seriously. And I'll drink to that.

The writer is an SEN teacher from East London. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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