It’s been quite a while since I’ve been on Twitter for any length of time or blogged. I thought I would write about why that is. This probably won’t be the best written thing I’ve ever produced
I decided to write about my mental health because I have worked with colleagues over the years that have suffered from problems and been afraid to say anything or ask for help. It remains difficult for many teachers to admit that they are not coping. Some believe it will be used against them in some way or that they will be judged. I have seen this clearly through my union work over the years and it’s as much the case today as it has ever been. I would argue more so.
So what brought on my depression?
Having too much on my plate is the simple answer.
One of my kids was critically ill for weeks when they were newborn. They had to be fed through a nasal-gastric tube for over a year. On one occasion they stopped breathing for 5 minutes and had to be rushed to hospital. We spent a lot of time in hospitals worrying but we managed somehow. The school was very supportive at that time. I was enjoying my teaching and I thought I was doing a good job.The school seemed to agree. It was around this time that my partner (who suffers from anxiety anyway) went through a period of crippling anxiety that is ongoing. It results in very controlling behaviour and frequent angry or upset outbursts.
The results that year both in the department as a whole and my Year 11 class specifically were not what the school wanted. I had been given an under performing middle ability group and while they had made good progress that did not make enough to get the C grades we were looking for.
OFSTED came in and criticised the department (somewhat harshly in my opinion. 76% A-C is hardly a disaster). As a result we had a horrible year of constant observations, scrutiny, changes in policy and increased workload. I felt that the school had a low opinion of me and my teaching during this time. I felt that I was blamed unfairly for the results of the class when they had been hugely underachieving when I started teaching them.
Learning walks became more critical and more focused on compliance with things I view as trivial and not relating to learning. During this period my youngests health improved but multiple special needs started becoming more apparent. Global delay, language delay, behaviour problems, ongoing feeding problems and more. We managed to get through that year with enormous difficulty. The combination of my partners anxiety issues and the special needs was and remains extremely challenging. My inability to make this situation better led to my thinking I was a bad parent and/or a bad partner. I started to blame myself for not being able to solve the problems we faced.
The results were much improved though and I thought things would look up. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed my teaching. All of my classes were great. Sadly the learning walks got worse. The feedback more critical and negative. I didn’t and don’t understand some aspects of the marking policy. I don’t feel that I can do it properly because I don’t understand it. Towards the end of last year I was informed that because the school was not happy with my learning walk feedback I would not be teaching the key class I had been given and in fact would not be teaching year 11 at all this year. Nor am I teaching year 12. This is the 4th time in the last few years the school has decided, having given me something to do, that the something is too important for me to do and thus should be done by someone else.
I spent the whole summer wondering if they were right. Wondering how I had become a bad teacher that can’t be trusted to do anything important. Wondering if my inability to understand and follow certain policies meant I should do something else instead of teaching. Wondering what that might be.
During most of this time twitter and facebook were my escape. That ceased to be the case when Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. You see I know Jeremy Corbyn. I know him well. He was my MP growing up. My parents were very politically active and he supported every cause we were involved in when I was growing up. I would say he became a friend of the family. I found the personal attacks and vitriol towards him taking up a huge percentage of my timelines intolerable so I largely stopped going on twitter and facebook. I didn’t mind the reasoned arguments why someone else would be a more effective leader. I found the abuse flying around in all directions depressing. This is especially true because the people hurling abuse my way are going to expect me to support and/or make common cause with them when the dust settles after Corbyn is gone. Whereas before I had ignored things I didn’t like I started taking denunciations of “Corbynistas” quite personally. That’s when I stopped engaging with twitter.
The good news is all of my exam classes got fantastic results. The school has repeatedly assured me that I am a valued member of staff. My teaching is going well this year. I still don’t understand several of the school’s policies and I’m pretty sure I’m not doing them properly but I no longer doubt my ability to do a decent job.
Things are going better at home now. We are working towards getting a full diagnosis and an EHCP so the much need support will be there in reception. We have had several referrals and have a much better idea of what to do and how. I feel much better. Life is still very hard but I feel more able to deal with the ups and downs and more importantly I feel like things are going well and looking up.
What was interesting to me was that I have worked in much worse schools and situations before without becoming depressed. I’ve faced far worse criticism without becoming depressed. I’ve faced down bullying for a number of years without becoming depressed. I went through capability without becoming depressed (and without doubting for a second that I am a good teacher). I think I was tougher back then. I didn’t take everything so personally back then. All of the stuff I’ve had to deal with at home has made me very thin skinned so I’m going to have to work on that.