The darkness that nearly ended my career as a teacher – Poppy Gibson
I want to share a story with you, and there are two messages I want you to take away from it, but I won’t tell you what they are just yet; see if you can guess.
I had just taken on a teacher role in a new school. I was excited to get to know my class and the staff and immerse myself in this new school community. However, things could have gone better after working there for the first half term. I loved my class, and when I was in my classroom with them, everything was great; but other factors outside the room, such as the behaviour policy that involved systems I disagreed with and management styles that didn’t fit my own, were starting to grind me down.
As an experienced educator who thrived on challenges, I was determined to do my best and didn’t want to give up. But it got to the point where I was so stressed; I was working through my breaktimes, working through my lunchtimes, and having to stay late as it was frowned upon to be seen to be one of the first staff to leave (it almost became a strange competition who could stay latest), which meant often missing dinner with my children and rushing home just in time to tuck them into their beds.
During the school day, I fell into an unhealthy pattern of constant work without properly eating or drinking, and my mood was incredibly low. Returning to the school after the half term, things didn’t improve, and despite trying my best, I felt like a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t seem to fit the school, and the school didn’t fit me. The only thing that kept me going was the 30 brilliant pupils in my class, but I started to feel like I was burning out.
The darkness that nearly ended my career as a teacher
The pivotal point came when it was bonfire night, and I had tickets with my family to take my children to a big fireworks display with family and friends. But the marking load was so large, and the tension so strict, that I decided I would need to stay home to finish marking my maths book. I felt compelled to choose maths marking over family time from the pressure and worry about repercussions. I started to question leaving teaching.
The kindness that saved me (and my career!)
The next day, my friend Sarah demanded I meet her after school. I drove to a local park, and as soon as I saw her, she hugged me, and I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe how sad and low I felt, like a failure. Sarah took me to her car and got out the largest box I had ever seen, filled with cereal bars, snack bars, crisps, and drinks. She told me to keep it in my classroom and ensure I ate one thing at break and one at lunch. It meant so much that she had brought this for me; she had spotted me struggling and got this kindness package. But bigger than that, talking to her made me reflect that I had to be brave and make a change. This job wasn’t sustainable.
So the next day, I resigned. Yes, it was scary, and I felt sad to leave my class. But I couldn’t be my best teacher self for them, and I knew, in my heart, things wouldn’t have improved. I got a job in a different school that fit like a glove and didn’t leave teaching! (Well, a few years later, but that’s another story!)
So the two messages to take away? 1. Look out for those red flags in others and think what your kindness package can look like; this doesn’t necessarily mean a giant box of snacks- but even just a hug or a coffee, or a text or call to listen can mean the world. And 2. There are so many schools out there; teachers don’t settle. If you and your school aren’t compatible, think of it like a date; go out there and find one that makes you happy.
Dr Poppy Gibson
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