Taking responsibility for our well-being


Alan White

It’s that time of year in schools all over the country. Teachers and students this can be a very difficult time. The pressure of the looming leaving and junior cert exams, the end of a long year of teaching and learning, the tension of summer exams for other year groups. It can be a time when relationships are tested. Colleague’s clash with each other, students test the limits with teachers and teachers increase the workload and pressure on their students. To be honest the end of the school year can’t come fast enough at this point. Like many I am feeling tired and a little stressed at the moment.

Anyone who has never taught in a school will tell me to stop complaining, that we have great holidays and we should be grateful for that. The fact is I am very grateful for the long holidays we get as teachers as without them I believe that a teaching career would last no longer than 5 years.

What does this have to do with taking responsibility for our well-being? I believe that to be in a place, both physically and mentally to help my students I need to take responsibility for my own well-being. I need to take care of my body by exercising and eating sensibly. And I must take care of my mind. For me this means exercise, again, spending time with friends and family and also spending some time alone to recharge my batteries. I know that if I don’t do this I will burn out during the extremely busy school year and my responsibilities to my students as a teacher will not be met.

So, if I know that I need to do these things that I need space to unplug my mind and recharge, why would I continuously put more and more pressure on my students to do more and more at a time when they are also feeling overwhelmed? To me it doesn’t make sense. I agree that students need to continue working hard at this time of year to do the best that they can in their exams. However they also need time away from school and studies.

But why would students feel that they need to do this if the adults in their lives are always giving them the opposite message. What I see happening when this happens is either students over stressing about exams and working too hard, or simply becoming overwhelmed by their workload and deciding it’s too much and giving up altogether.

By developing a culture of balance in school, both for students and teachers, I believe that we will create more positive and successful learning environments. Such a process must include parents as they need to be included in any change in culture in a school environment. If we teach ourselves and our young people the importance of balance in our lives, we will see a generation flourish and become confident and competent rather than burnt out and bitter.

A quote I always try to keep in mind during stressful times is

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you” – Anne Lamott

Remember to be gentle with yourself during stressful times and if it feels like you are becoming overwhelmed often the answer is to take some time away for yourself, trust me it will all seem clearer when you come back to it.

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