Every teacher will ask the question “Why am I teaching?” because the going gets tough on a regular basis and our wellbeing takes a hammering.
Sometimes everything can seem stacked against us and we wonder whether it really is worth the heartache, stress and sleepless nights.
Well, I’ve had more than my fair share of those but I’ve never quit because it is the children that keep me going.
In fact, my mental health and outlook are deliberately yellow.
Be more yellow
Our mindset is all-important to teaching and sometimes we need to bolster our positivity with some physical reminders. This is what Casey Larosa describes doing in her chapter of the brilliant book Today I Made A Difference edited by Joseph W. Underwood.
Casey shares how she keeps a worn, yellow folder in her desk drawer that she gets out whenever she is having a bad day at the office. In this folder, she keeps notes and letters that have been given to her by her previous pupils. These are heartfelt expressions of gratitude that remind her that she has made a difference to lots of children and she can keep making a difference. They act to motivate, nourish the soul and spur on.
The idea of keeping a folder of thanks filled with success stories is a great way to keep us on track and tells us that we are doing the right thing even if the system seems bent out of shape. They are certainly worth keeping.
In the course of just one week, there will be plenty of examples that you can draw on to jot down and keep in your file to warm your heart. Casey provides the example of Trevor in her chapter which is well worth a read and deeply moving.
She reminds us that it is an honour and a privilege to teach young people and although there are moments when it can all seem a bit too much, getting that yellow folder out will let you know that you are needed.
As Casey says, “My reward lies inside the boundaries of the yellow file, where the words of former students, or their parents, tell me that I made a difference.”[Tweet “Every teacher needs a yellow file of success stories.”]
Water your turf
When school life all seems a bit too much and you are doubting your existence as a teacher then remind yourself why you are in the job. Yes, you might have lost your teaching mojo and your happiness has been compromised but go back to the many reasons why you decided to be a teacher. You are a good teacher, your kids tell you that even if you don’t hear it from your senior leaders.
So many wonderful teachers have left the profession, for a variety of reasons, many linked to mental health and wellbeing. Don’t quit! Step back first and seek support.
Supportive school systems that give wellbeing a high profile and actually value staff are great places to work. You might be a teacher in a great school but even if you aren’t, there is still something to be grateful for. If you think the grass is always greener on the other side, it might just be that you need to water the turf where you are.
Teacher mental health is everything to the wellbeing of the school. However, teachers shouldn’t wait for their schools to ‘do wellbeing’ on them and introduce lots of initiatives. We have to take wellbeing and wellness into our own hands and do it ourselves.
The educational value of practising gratitude is imperative.
A few of my colleagues keep diaries and they find that these help and work in a similar way to the Yellow Folders of Why. These aren’t secret diaries for publishing when the school is in special measures but gratitude diaries that record moments to be thankful for.
Gratitude diaries don’t work for everyone but, for lots of people, they do in the same way that mindfulness can work. They ‘work’ because they focus the mind on the positive aspects of teaching and life in general. Having a gratitude attitude can help us even in the toughest of situations and that includes working in toxic settings.
Keeping a gratitude diary doesn’t mean writing pages and pages each day. One way to use them is to write down 3 golden moments of the day. Share this with students too and help them focus on gratitude as a way of thinking and appreciating what we have rather than what we don’t. Teach them to appreciate and marvel at the simple things. Grateful students make happy students.
Giving thanks in a diary can serve as autobiography of gratitude and asking students to keep their own journals can help them complain less. A community of gratitude can, as Howells (2012) notes, act “as a source of energy, a catalyst for developing more harmonious relationships, and a wellspring for transforming negative events into positive moments for growth.”
Press ‘select’ for happiness
Being thankful and appreciating what we have is important so we don’t get sucked into a vortex of negativity along with the mood-hoovers, energy Vampires, dementors and storm clouds. Being thankful is a mindset choice in the same way we either choose or reject resilience.
Whether you adopt the Yellow Folder of Why or start a gratitude diary, remember that you do make a heck of a difference and there’s a lot of power in giving thanks.
If you want to find out your good mental health score then take this quick survey by the Mental Health Foundation and see how you’re doing compared to the national average.
By John Dabell
John Dabell is an experienced teacher, former school inspector for Ofsted, project manager, writer and editor: @John_Dabell