I battled on… where’s my medal?


Today’s Wednesday – the study/research day that I’m lucky to have as a part-time middle leader. But I’m not really up to much, and may just need to give in to being unproductive.

I tell everyone I don’t really succumb to germs these days. I think I just have a short memory and tend to blank it out. On Sunday, I succumbed to a stomach bug and will never touch a chicken nugget again. Karma got me…Screenshot 2016-03-09 09.35.16

I’ll be grown-up enough to spare the details, but being more than 30 seconds from a toilet is still not an option. My husband has been away, in Turkey, with refugees, reminding us all of our priorities (do watch and share), and the busy-busy routine continued.

Taking Monday off was Not An Option, as I stubbornly told my Mum and eight year old. My job is Too Important. So I battled my way in (grateful that the toilet is just next to my classroom), half-apologised and half-snapped at Year 8 (but at least we got the next two chapters of Oliver Twist understood), and thanked my lucky stars for strong PGCE students who allowed for regular dashes out of the room. I managed a Year 11 data analysis and a departmental bulletin before my Line Manager suggested I perhaps was a bit too grey and bit too germ-ridden to be in, and gave me permission to give in and go home around lunchtime. We all know what a pain in the bum last-minute cover is, so I was lucky to get stern sympathy from the office.

Tuesday off? Not an Option. I had dreams of Year 8 stepping up and being responsible and sympathetic, but they were their exuberant selves, and god help the child who dared to chew in the classroom… ‘I’m feeling ropey’ may work with emotionally intelligent Year 10s, but in this case, forget it. Watch me roar – I managed a whole day, including Year 11 intervention.

At lunchtime, I saw our NQT, who said she was feeling rotten, but felt she couldn’t take time off. I concurred that the children do seem to ‘punish us’ – especially the more vulnerable ones – when we’re off, and it can take a couple of days to get them back to where we want them, before telling her I was ill too and muttering sympathy and empathy.

Anyway, I MADE IT to the end of the day. My friend looks after my children on a Tuesday, and Tuesday evening is a customary world-to-rights session – and of all times, she could do with some putting to rights, after the Week from Hell of her own. By the time I got to her, keeping my head upright was a struggle, let alone conversation. I was distracted and (still) grumpy. (Some people treat illness as a minor inconvenience – for my, the physiological is all tied up with the psychological and it DRIVES ME NUTS.) I packed up the children and dragged myself home to do what any reasonable person would do and TAKE IT ALL OUT ON MY HUSBAND, who had the audacity to be tired of a weekend in Greece on a refugee camp. Pah. I managed to pick a fight over a piece of chicken and Netflix (fertile ground for argument-picking, if you haven’t yet explored it) before settling myself alone in a corner to Eat Worms.

Later last night, I got a text from my NQT to say she was feeling worse, but planned to be in today. As leaders, we talk about ‘modelling’ behaviours, and I suddenly realised that I’d modelled to her that she really had to forge on regardless. I hastily texted back to acknowledge that the example I’d set hadn’t been the best at all, that her health is more important than anything, that I knew her Mum would agree with me and that she MUST get better.

But my actions clearly had more of an impact that my text, and she dragged herself in this morning. Cue: an 8.30 phone call. ‘I’m too ill – I can’t do it’, she said. Cue: last-minute cover and stern orderings to get back to bed and not worry about anything.

I don’t know the answer to this one. Would my students have suffered more in my absence than with my grumpy self? Possibly, yes, though we have an army of excellent cover supervisors. If I’d taken the day off, would I have spent it compulsively checking my work email and feeling guilty? Undoubtedly. Would I have had the energy for more than a hasty story before ‘BED! NOW!’ with kids? Yes. Would I have been a bit kinder to my husband? Undoubtedly.

But I Forged On. I’m still waiting for the fanfare and the medal, though I’m not sure who wins here, really.

With The Book in progress (sort of), people are constantly sending me articles about teachers bailing out altogether. At which point do you pause in order to prevent yourself from one day stopping altogether? At which point as a line-manager do you model that you truly value your colleagues wellbeing? No easy answers. As ever, just a series of questions.

I had a Big List of Things to Do today. I won’t achieve much, but actually, moments like this are worth capturing, because feeling wrung-out and vulnerable is perhaps when the best research for a book on teacher resilience take place…

haggard teacher



5 thoughts on “I battled on… where’s my medal?

  1. Hope you’re soon feeling much better, Emma. I don’t know the answer either (and I am also working and dealing with a stomach bug at the same time this week – spooky…) but have just watched Rav’s video and, yes, it does help to put everything into perspective.

    We can’t sacrifice our health and sanity on the altar of our professionalism, and yet…

  2. This is a good example and there are many other similar issues: the equipment purchases, the overtime that ‘comes with the job’. A few years back my company had a similar attitude (although overtime was more exceptional). When we ran an intern programme, HR wisely pointed out that, if those individuals were to stay late, then the company would fall foul of Minimum Wage requirements. This led to a few of us reconsidering priorities and a significant reduction in staying late.

  3. Surely going to school with a stomach bug was just irresponsible? Having just been off work with a stomach bug, along with several members of staff and around a third of the children, I am inclined to think that if one person at one point had stayed home, we would not all be ill now. While I am all for soldiering on, and do frequently, we are oftentimes perpetuating the cycle! Yes my children are probably getting ‘less’ from a supply than they would have from me but it would not be fair to them or myself to have been teaching when I clearly wasn’t fit. In teaching we seem to think that it is our life, not our career. It’s not and should not ever be. There is also frequent pressure from absence policies to go in even when you should not because ‘you had those two days off last term so this means you meet a threshold’ therefore leadership modelling that you should be in when you’re ill is the worst kind of example. There are not many teachers who I know that take sick days willy-nilly. It is stressful not being at work which is quite often why we end up going in, so sickness should be taken seriously. It’s not a desk job, if you are fit for entertaining 30 children 5 or 6 lessons a day then it is ok to be off sick. Rant over!

  4. The problem teachers always face is not a desk that can await your return, but a class or several classes of children who need a teacher to be present, responsible and able and willing to teach them something. We’ve all been there, many times, dragging ourselves through days that office folk would simply avoid.
    We do model resilience& grit, but also empathy and care for colleagues, and often are grateful when it’s reciprocal and they tell us to go home, recognising our frailty. That’s the collegiality of a school. Covering for each other.
    I worry that some are not in collegiate situations, have unsympathetic colleagues, so only ever feel they have no choice. That way can lie the serious illness, collapse and decisions to leave the profession.
    We are passing through a period of top down dictat and decision making, which is putting pressure on successive layers of command, each seeking to prove their effectiveness. That, to me, is the unexplored area; the impact of the burgeoning middle leader group.
    Get well soon.😉

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