‘You’ve had a good day?’ said the nice lady in Caffe Nero.
‘No, it’s been a bit shit, actually,’ I replied. ‘I’m off sick from work with stress and anxiety. I bounce around the house all day trying to distract myself from myself. Then some guy turns up to paint the house without the letting agent telling me. He’s on a ladder, repainting all the window fascias, and I’m freaked out trying to work out which rooms he can see into. I did laundry and felt spied on all fucking morning. Then, I finally push myself out of the house for a drink and some writing time and I have to pretend I’m all perky and happy. I’m not. I feel a total useless mess. But thanks for asking.’
‘Cream on the hot chocolate?’
‘Yes. Hell, yes.’
This is what the voice in my head said, anyway. My exterior self forced a smile and said yes, I’ve had a nice day, thanks – though I feel sure I was the most unconvincing perky person ever.
I’ve been off sick for four whole weeks. It feels so strange. I wake up each morning and can’t quite believe that this is real. I try desperately to convince myself that actually, work wasn’t as bad as I’ve built it up to be in my anxious, anxious head. I should just go back, face the music, and get over myself.
Then I have a little cry and remember that actually it was that bad.
I spoke with my teaching union today. I explained my situation to a very kind man who agreed that the amount of crap I’ve had to put up with is pretty dire. It’s not all in my head (although my head is certainly a bit of a mess – see my previous post, Dark Days). In the six short months of my current job, I’ve faced the worst student behaviour I’ve ever encountered, I’ve been through two inspections, and I’ve been given a promotion (a.k.a. extra stress and responsibility) for no additional pay. Although my department are nice, they are quite obviously drowning with work and very easily slip into their own diatribes about the pressures of our thankless job. My passion for language and literature hasn’t been enough to see me through the day: students behave so badly that I can only manage them, rather than teach – or they question my teaching methods. Why aren’t we getting the same grades as Mrs X’s class, Miss? Why haven’t we finished X text yet? Miss, you still haven’t marked my coursework… Jeez, I wish I can the confidence of these kids.
So what have I been doing with myself for the last four weeks? Well, lots of laundry. I find ironing and neatly organised drawers supremely therapeutic. My husband does not iron his stuff, and I normally just let him walk around like a creased rag doll – but in the last week I have ironed ALL OF HIS STUFF. I’ve matched all his socks (he usually wears odd ones). I’ve watched a hell of a lot of films – mostly chirpy rom-coms of a Richard Curtis ilk. And oh, the podcasts. I cannot download enough podcasts.
I draw. I paint. I read. I write stories and I blog. I basically do all the things I did when I hid away in my teenage bedroom, in those years before university and boys and becoming a teacher. I think I might have regressed. Or maybe I’m just being my true self.
I’ve spent a few days with family – walking the dog and making soup with my Mum, chatting with my grandmother, watching films with my Dad. I visited my in-laws and played with my 15-month-old niece (who in her little life has swiftly become one of my favourite people). It felt pretty good to visit family without even considering getting out my marking or my teacher planner. It was relaxing. It gave me a glimpse of my life post-teaching, which has the potential to be pretty great.
I still feel sad. It’s going to be a long time before I get rid of the guilt all teachers feel when you put yourself before your students. Sometimes I think I’m feeling pretty good, and then I remember those sweet sixth form girls I’ve abandoned, the stuff I didn’t get around to teaching them and the half-finished coursework I can’t grade. I think of the naughty girl in my tutor group who was a complete pain in the arse, but was beginning to finally listen to me. Who’s going to wish her a good day each morning? Who’s going to smother her with kindness, even when she’s been rude – even when she’s shouting?
Ugh. THE GUILT.
I have to tell myself that I’m not the only teacher in that school who can be there for those children. But I am the only one who can fix myself.