In recent times it’s certainly been intense. There has been a relentless focus on performance, a packed and varied schedule, unexpected changes at the last minute and some shock results. No, I’m not talking about Euro 2020 (it’s never coming home, is it?!); I’m talking about the circumstances our teachers have had to endure for the last 18 months. A teacher will often tell you no two days are ever the same and it’s fair to say this year has given that phrase a wholly different dimension.
Amid a deadly pandemic with fluid government guidelines, the dedication of the teaching community has been unwavering. They have adapted to new ways of teaching online while risking their health to support those most vulnerable in our society.
A dedicated government budget has been set aside to ensure catch-up schemes and summer schools are in place to bridge the progress gap caused by Covid-19. It seems, however, that many schools will not be taking up this option. According to a study published in The Guardian in July 2021, fewer than one in five schools in England are planning a catch-up provision during the summer holidays.
The reason: Headteachers are worried about pupil and teacher wellbeing.
There looks to be a strong case to support this. Statistics clearly demonstrate how the unfailing dedication of educators is placing a distinct physical and psychological toll on their bodies.
So, it really is time to give it a rest. The summer break is nearly upon us and in this piece, we shall examine the best ways to detach from the rigours of the teaching world and how you can use the time effectively to feel rejuvenated for another academic year.
Before addressing best practice for teacher wellbeing over the summer months, we need to look at the numbers as to why this six-week holiday is so imperative for education professionals. A report published by Education Support in September 2020 assessing the impact of coronavirus within a school setting, highlighted that 52% of teachers felt their mental health had been affected detrimentally. Additionally, 48% of headteachers and other school staff reported a decline in their mental health.
Education Support is corroborated by a fantastic deep dive by FFT Education Datalab who have examined teacher wellbeing and medical conditions associated with the profession. While the patterns are mirrored in many other lines of work, they serve to highlight that mental health is now at the forefront of medical conditions that effect the education sector. While there is less of a stigma around diagnosing mental health conditions and people are thankfully more forthright in discussing their issues, which may be the reason for the increased figures, they are nonetheless alarming.
There are some positives, though. In examining teachers’ levels of anxiousness and unhappiness in their roles, the figures are dramatically lower when it comes to the summer months and understandably so. We are now going to look at some key practices to ensure these levels are reduced even further!
Reflection is a cathartic process and after this year, of all years, it should be exercised. The beauty of reflection is that it can be undertaken independently, with colleagues, with family members or even with pupils. It is important to assess, in a year of turbulence, the positives as well as the negatives. Understanding what has gone well and what needs to be improved will ultimately improve you as a practitioner, moving forward.
When reflecting, remember that you are only human. The Covid-19 crisis has turned everyone’s lives upside down and there are elements that need changing which are fundamentally beyond your control. Be it finding a complete cure for coronavirus or, more likely, wanting to fix the home circumstances for at-risk pupils, teachers cannot be the omnipresent, self-sacrificing beings who are there entirely for their students. Occasionally, you must put yourself before others to ensure that you are well looked after, and this is OK.
Though it may not be unique to teaching, there is a certain pride in working all hours possible. Many wear it like a badge of honour and this can often be a misguided practice. There is also the tired and age-old argument that ‘teachers get enough time off anyway’ but as we all know, through CPD, planning, tutoring, mentoring and summer programmes, educational practitioners sometimes barely allow themselves a chance to sit down.
So, take some time for you. There are many apps which help to facilitate relaxation, be it through mindfulness, prayer or even yoga. Alternatively, it could just be taking an extended bath, reading that book you’ve been meaning to get round to or just having a walk in the sunshine. The world won’t fall in on itself if you take some time over the summer holidays to focus on your mental wellbeing and your colleagues will more than likely notice a difference to your mindset upon return.
As a brief aside, make sure this self-care continues. Don’t think that a summer of mindfulness and tranquillity will suffice for the next ten or eleven months. Teacher mental health needs to be addressed all year round.
Though this may seem counter intuitive, ensuring that you are prepared for the next academic year can be a vital part of looking after your mental well-being. Many will have experienced the mad rush in the final weeks and days of the holiday to ensure they are ready for an influx of new students; this can cause undue stress and serve to undo all the good work you’ve done throughout the summer. Dedicate some time to putting together a routine where you can allot time to work on curriculum planning or even new displays in the classroom. Purposefully scheduling time will allow you to control outcomes and will leave you feeling both prepared and determined for the year ahead (not to mention a new shiny wall plastered with A Midsummer Night’s Dream quotes). The additional benefits of this routine will allow for the maintenance of a work life balance and prevent your summer turning into an amorphous blob of binge watching your favourite Netflix documentaries in pyjamas.
In summary, well done teachers. Once again, you’ve managed to deal with extreme adversity with the same verve and dignity that you always do. Go and enjoy yourself and prepare for the challenge of the next academic year, we know you can do it.