Wellbeing and Self-care for Newly Qualified Teachers
Sinéad Mc Brearty is CEO at Education Support. Her previous roles include Deputy Chief Executive at Social Enterprise London, and Director at award-winning social enterprise Women Like Us. Before joining Education Support, Sinéad was an organisational development consultant and a visiting lecturer at Imperial College London and The Royal College of Art. She is a trustee of The Kaleidoscope Trust, and a governor of a south London primary school. Education Support is the mental health and wellbeing charity for the education workforce across the UK. Here, Sinéad shares her tips for wellbeing and self-care for newly qualified teachers.
Entering teaching with a first career under your belt means that you are likely to have established your own habits for managing the pressures of work. You may already understand how important self-care is for sustaining you through difficult periods.
Teaching is a fantastically rewarding career. It is even more rewarding when you take care of yourself and make your wellbeing a priority from the outset. It's a profession that requires resilience, energy and stamina: you need to put in place the right routines and habits now so that you can proactively build a strong reserve to draw from throughout the year.
Here are four ways you can start.
- The importance of dealing with stress
Stress and long working hours are closely linked. Our latest annual Teacher Wellbeing Index found that 74% of education professionals say the inability to switch off and relax contributes to a poor work-life balance.
Our research has also shown that newly qualified teachers are most likely to struggle with this. A simple starting place is with your own routine. When in your week do you commit to being “off”? Write down and share this with family and friends so that they can help you to stick to the boundary. Build in regular downtime to allow yourself to recover from the demands of the week. Rest and recovery are proven to improve our overall performance, so you don’t need to feel guilty about it.
If you have had a stressful day, take a few moments to reflect and to consider how you are feeling. Tightness in the chest? Tiredness? Difficulty concentrating? There are many sensations associated with feeling anxious. It is useful to practice noticing your feelings – they give you data about how you are doing. When we notice our feelings, we give ourselves the opportunity to respond, and when we respond with some self-compassion, we give ourselves the best opportunity to stay well.
If you find that you are anxious about something, try to talk about it with someone you trust. You might also consider writing down your worries – this may help you begin to problem-solve, as well as to process your experience. Be sure to set a time boundary and once that time has come to an end, stop the activity and put it to one side. Now it’s time to try to relax for the evening!
Most newly qualified teachers are likely to say that they feel overwhelmed at some point. This is completely normal and you will do yourself a big favour by remembering that it is a normal response. You don’t need to feel ashamed or embarrassed, and it is ok to ask for advice or support.
We all know that breaks are an important aspect of both time management and wellbeing. Proper breaks can ensure we are better able to deliver our best work. Whilst it may be tempting at times, avoid regularly staying late at school to do marking or working through every break. Decide how many hours you will work and then prioritise what is most important to achieve during that time. Exhausting yourself each day will just leave a more depleted version of yourself to face the next day. Rest and recovery are essential, not nice-to-haves.
- Using your mentor effectively
Don’t be afraid to ask for help or feel you should have all the answers. Your mentor is there to support and guide you, so establishing a good relationship with them and having enough contact time can really help you deal with anything you’re concerned about. Don’t expect them to be able to mind-read though: be upfront in sharing what support you need.
- Staying healthy
It’s obvious, but we all do better when we prioritise eating well, getting fresh air, exercise and plenty of rest. As a newly qualified teacher your time is squeezed, but you will be better able to meet the demands if you build in a daily walk, cook quick healthy meals, get an early night and plan some relaxing weekends.
Make good sleep a priority. Research shows bad sleepers are twice as likely to suffer daytime fatigue and poor concentration at work and it’s an increasingly common problem. The NHS estimates that as many as one in three of us suffer from poor sleep. This can quickly have a knock-on effect on our health and ability to perform at our best. Tempting as it may be to get up and do a couple of hours work before school, only do that when you’ve had a really early night and know you will be rested.
Take time to relax before going to bed, even if it’s just half an hour. Try not to use screens: they are proven to disrupt the body’s natural sleep patterns. You could read a book, have a bath, listen to music or a favourite podcast. Reading fiction for just six minutes reduces stress!
If there are days when you find yourself struggling, remember that you are not on your own. Many of us have difficult days/weeks/months. That’s why our charity was set up by teachers, for teachers. Our free and confidential telephone helpline is run by trained and accredited counsellors. Open 24/7, it provides access to counselling and support. We are here for a conversation, not just a crisis.
Any trainee teacher who is feeling overwhelmed, fearful, worried, anxious or disinterested in life should call 08000 562 561. The service is available 24/7 to offer free, confidential support.