Maybe it’s because I’m a working mum, my religious background, my imposter syndrome, or maybe it’s just because of my age, but guilt is a frequently felt emotion in my life. Elizabeth Day’s column in You magazine this week hit me hard, and like her I wonder how much more productive my life would be if I let go of some of this guilt I carry around like a very heavy backpack. Certainly I know I’d sleep better, probably stop stress eating biscuits and maybe even live in the moment more. Elizabeth herself muses: “It makes me wonder: what could we achieve with all that energy wasted on unnecessary shame? The sock drawer might get organised. I might read War and Peace. Maybe – just maybe – I’d forgive myself. And then, perhaps, we could all allow ourselves to believe in our worth, just as we are.”
Sometimes the guilty feelings are fleeting, gone before it’s really felt. Other times, it’s like a punch to the stomach, or a wave of nausea across my body. I know in my rational mind I work hard, try my best, and am doing a good job, but maintaining the balance in my life and always wanting to be better means guilt is a constant presence, and I often think teaching exacerbates this. We are in a profession of perfectionism, of moral duty, and therefore can always do more and be better. As Rachel Mallon writes here, the performance pressure that teachers are still under can add to that fear of inadequacy, as well as the constant worry that we are doing “enough” for the staff and students that we teach, and lead. Our job is never “done” and whereas to an extent my husband can pack away his desk for the night and leave his job behind, my mind is constantly seeking ways to be better, to improve results and to give our students even better chances in life. Even though I might not physically be working, my mind is always ticking away, pre-empting what will need done next and what we can do better. Teaching is a job like no other; at times I find it all consuming – then feel guilty that this is unsustainable and worry I will burn out. Over recent years, reading books like Stop talking about Wellbeing by Kat Howard and High Challenge, Low Threat by Mary Myatt have helped me to put things in perspective, and start to achieve more balance, not just for myself but those I lead and am an example for. Mary’s mantra of “Done, not perfect” in particular has resonated, but the gnawing feeling of guilt about my job remains.
I feel guilty:
- I’m not a more inspirational teacher.
- I don’t always leap out of bed, ready for another day at work.
- I have 10gb of podcasts I NEED to listen to on my phone but I keep adding more.
- I leave home before my kids are up in the mornings.
- I had to look up the date of the Vienna summit this morning in my Y10 lesson.
- I didn’t love that book which everyone said was brilliant.
- I take some poor behaviour personally.
- I have a shelf of unread books but keep buying more.
- I count down to the holidays in my head.
- I spend too much time worrying about what others think of me.
- I find most museums really boring…
- …and feel double guilt because I’m a History teacher.
- I once fell asleep in a museum on a school trip (in my defence I had taken an anti sickness tablet!).
- I find Teaching History magazine inspirational but hard to absorb.
- I sometimes have to look up education acronyms.
- When the Head calls me into his office I always wonder what I’ve done wrong first.
- I missed bedtime twice last week…
- …but I felt relieved not to have to have to do bathtime.
- I spent anytime at all teaching through information hunts and playdough.
- Sometimes I have to have difficult conversations with people I’d really rather not have.
- I never work on a Sunday evening…..
- ..but checked Twitter while pushing my daughter on the swing this weekend.
- Sometimes I forget to say “What questions do you have?” rather than “Any questions?”
- I often get tongue tied and wish I was more articulate.
- Sometimes I get so passionate, I forget to see other points of view.
- My husband says I’m a different person during the holidays.
- I desperately want school culture to change more quickly than it does.
- I missed bus duty.
- I don’t see my friends enough…
- ..but I hate talking on the phone.
- Sometimes I rush jobs and make mistakes I wouldn’t have made if I’d been more careful.
- I find holidays hard with no sense of purpose and still set myself jobs on a ticklist.
- I went back to work full-time when my babies were only 7 months old.
- The thought of speaking at some virtual conferences this month makes me feel a bit sick.
- Some of my Year 11 grades weren’t as good as they could have and should have been.
- I don’t make as many positive phone calls home as I know I should.
- I feel exhausted just thinking about another 25 years of teaching…
- ….but I don’t teach anywhere near a full timetable.
- If I call in sick I’m causing others more work.
- I’m not kinder to myself.
I could quite easily have added more to this list, and I know it’s something I need to work on, but perhaps by being more public about our guilt we can start to be kinder to ourselves. I wouldn’t dream of judging a friend so harshly and so my aim going forward is more compassion, recognising the impossible standards I’m holding myself up to and accepting that I try my best. And that’s all that any of us can do, right?