The Well Teacher Podcast

09 Mar 2020

Five years ago I had a complete breakdown, which left me with bed bound for weeks and emotionally and physically drained. I was living life at a relentless pace, working ridiculous hours and juggling lots of early responsibility in management in a school in central London. I did eventually return to that employment, but at the end of that school year I moved schools, back to the classroom and half way across the country to escape what was in reality a very toxic environment.

I spent a year after that initial burnout really struggling: I was waking up at four every morning with feelings of complete panic, then spending the day experiencing huge amounts of anxiety. I really struggled to get back confidence in what I was doing in the classroom, and felt myself getting more and more frustrated. My wife eventually persuaded me to go and receive professional help, which was definitely an important step in feeling healthy and well again. I am very conscious now that lots of people don’t have access to the wonderful support I was lucky enough to receive – and feel that sharing some of the strategies that have worked for me is an important way of giving something back.

Much of my writing and work over the past four years has been trying to make sense of that experience, and looking at trying to channel it more positively. Initially this blog was called teacher gratitude, which I set up in an attempt to try and find the joy and passion for teaching again. I knew that my experiences in the employment that led to burnout had left me with a distorted view of teaching, and had very much drained much of my real passion for education. Heightened stress for sustained periods of time can do real damage, and we have to be so careful about what we put our minds and bodies through.

I then wrote ‘Slow Teaching’ to look at the ways in which all teachers would benefit from taking a slower pace to life in education. I wanted to keep learning and reflecting on these issues, so completed a masters in education, writing the dissertation on retention and motivation of teachers in their first five years.

My latest book ‘A Quiet Education’ was also a part of this process: reflecting on how quieter children and more introverted teachers can thrive and reach their potential in the school environment.

Towards the end of last year, however, I could feel myself slipping back into old habits. I knew I was struggling with more intense feelings of anxiety and stress and had far too much on. I had started a doctorate in August, looking at how to support teacher learning and it is my first year getting to grips with the Scottish curriculum.

Trying to combine that with full time teaching and the joys of a small toddler running around was just far too much. I also wan’t convinced I was making the right choice, and that I wanted to spend the hours required working on a doctorate over a long period of time. Deep down I felt that perhaps my rationale for doing it was rather egotistical, and not going to offer the impact or support to teachers that I wanted it to.

So I decided in January to leave the course, and spend more time getting the balance right between family and work.

Supporting teachers and teacher wellbeing is what I am really passionate about, so I am looking into various ways to achieve this. The first is setting up this new podcast: ‘The Well Teacher.’ I want to unpick and explore what it means to be ‘well’ for teachers. My own experience has taught me how utterly vital this dialogue is in the school environment: when emotionally fragile standing up in front of young people is nearly impossible. We are also role models and under scrutiny every day, young people need to see from us how to manage feelings of stress and anxiety.

Well-being is, of course, hugely complex and unique for each individual. The purpose of the podcast is not to look at quick fix solutions, but rather to offer a space for teachers to reflect and develop. For me, this concept of a ‘well teacher’ encompasses a huge range of things: mental and physical wellbeing; creating the conditions to improve and learn; relationships in the school environment and work life balance would only begin to scratch the surface.

The fortnightly podcast will feature interviews with a range of voices in education. It might be people who have experienced their own challenges, or those who have written books on any of the above topics – we will see how it evolves.

What is also very important to me is that it is a podcast designed to raise awareness and support mental health charities. Since January I have been volunteering with two charities in Edinburgh. Vintage Vibes is a charity that supports older people who are lonely in the community, with volunteers visiting elderly people once a week. Health in Mind  is a charity that supports people with anxiety and depression in Edinburgh. I facilitate an anxiety and depression drop in group session once a fortnight, which aims to provide a space for people to share their experiences.

I have already secured funding from some publishers who are keen to support the podcast, and hope to raise lots of money for the amazing work these charities do. If you are keen to support the podcast, please do get in touch.

I would love to hear from people who would like to come on to the podcast, or for ideas for future episodes. The first episode will be out next Monday. Kat Howard, the author of the brilliant new book ‘Stop Talking about Wellbeing’, will be on the talking about what wellbeing really should mean in education. Please do get in touch and let me know how I can improve the podcast moving forward.

Thank you for reading!

 

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Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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