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Workmates were my lifeline

I began my new teacher year with great enthusiasm. I had spent the last two weeks of summer planning six weeks ahead, poring over seating plans for hours on end and learning exam arrangement documents verbatim. Looking back, I was prepared for anything: the expected, the slightly unexpected and, worst case scenario, an earthquake.

The first week went swimmingly. My classes had just the right amount of fear, mixed with a blind naivety of what lay ahead. Just the way I liked them - worrying about their own fear rather than smelling mine. Everything was perfect. I couldn't wait to get back on Monday morning and start the week all over again.

But I didn't return to work on Monday. That weekend, my mother died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. I went from being a 22-year-old new teacher whose biggest problem was money, to a vulnerable little girl with a dependent grandfather, an 18-year-old brother who lacked direction and a distant father.

Going back to work was the last thing on my mind, but at the same time it was all I could think about. I felt selfish as I worried constantly about my classes, whether I would be able to finish my new teacher year and if I was entitled to sick pay. My thoughts were simply a diversion from the situation, but at the time I was racked with guilt.

Three weeks after my mum died, I decided work would take my mind off things, yet I was terrified of going back. Fortunately, my school was nothing short of superhuman. The headteacher allowed me to return on a reduced timetable until half-term, with the offer of counselling and anything else I needed. My principal teacher was equally flexible and stood behind me from day one, attending my mum's funeral and offering help with anything from legal issues to gardening. Most importantly of all, the staff rallied round with tea and sympathy - and sometimes something stronger - but always with the offer of support.

Everybody always comments on my speedy return, attributing it to my personal strength, but the honest truth is I could never have gone back and completed my newly qualified teacher year without the unconditional support network which formed around me in the darkest days of my life Lauren Falconer is a new teacher in Moray, north Scotland

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