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On Caring a Little Less

  • Leadership
  • Teachers
  • Wellbeing
Emma Kell 07 September, 2018

On caring a little less.

The approach of September is rife with resolutions. I’m suspicious of the very concept of such things, having on numerous occasions fallen for the January fad of being a better and healthier person and inevitably cracking open the chocolate by the 3rd.

However, this period is a valuable chance for reflection on how we might – not overhaul our practice – but tweak it a little based on the learning of the previous year. Because, yes, after 21 years, the learning never ends. This is invigorating but also sometimes exhausting (she types, as she sits feeling physically sick about the impending GCSE results… again). I’ve learned thousands of lessons this year, but this one has perhaps been the most significant: perhaps I need to care a little less; or care a little differently.

I remember hearing a colleague speak about 15 years ago now at his retirement. ‘It’s a job,’ he said. ‘It’s a wonderful job, but never forget that it IS just a job.’ I was in my work-hard-play-hard heyday at the time, but his words have stuck. This, despite the fact that I am, annoyingly, frustratingly, crippled with anxiety about my students’ exam results…

I pride myself on being approachable, empathetic and sympathetic in my head of department role. I strive to be kind and honest and to act with integrity. I try to ensure that my door is open when it needs to be and that I can take bitter truths to my face. I am human and never pretend otherwise. I apologise when I’m forgetful and have never denied that I have to work hard on being as organised and as tidy as I’d like to be.

I’ve also been a worrier since I was a child. I’ve developed several thicker skins over the years, but it still bothers me if others are disgruntled with me. My instinct is to make it better. This does, however, mean that the eve of results day finds me snapping at my family. It means that my car journeys may be filled with preoccupation over an unhappy colleague. It sometimes means I give too much to my work – and not enough to my life outside it.

So, when I return in September, my door will remain open and I will remain compassionate to the daily stresses and strains of teaching in the UK in 2018, as well as to the numerous challenges which simply bringing human brings to my colleagues. But I will also accept that sometimes I annoy people and frustrate them. Sometimes they will need to grumble behind closed doors, and I will give them the space to do this without speculating as to their issues or trying to make it better. I will make it very clear that where there are issues, I will listen, but I will also expect people to come along with proposed solutions as well as problems. I will stay reflective and continue to do my job as best I can, as passionately committed teacher – and as a flawed human. I will continue to apologise when (not if) I make mistakes, but I will not apologise because someone else is disgruntled by something that was outside my control. I will never make excuses, but I will emphasise that every decision is about balance, about consultation, and ultimately about getting on with it.

I will have difficult conversations promptly – if someone is struggling, I want to know why. I will do what I can to fix it. I won’t try do what I simply can’t, within my role and as a human with my own set of priorities and my own loved-ones at home. And I will expect others to have difficult conversations with me – promptly and honestly, and not to wait months before grumbling about a typo in an email or a changed appointment.

We are paid to do a job and it is our professional and moral duty to do it well. I won’t pretend this year will be all roses – no year has been. The students will always come first. I’m not sorry about this. I never will be.