New School Year Resolutions

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A guest post by @BrynShenkin

Many of us set new year resolutions in January, but those of us who work in schools have another opportunity to set goals: the start of a new school year. This year I’ve got various career-orientated goals, but what I want to talk about here are my wellbeing targets. This concept may be alien to many of you… but it shouldn’t be. You are a human being first, a teacher second.

As someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I perhaps focus on my mental health more than the average person. This culture needs to change. Everyone needs to focus on their mental health just as much as their physical health. Make time for yourself. Yes, get your work done, of course. But when you’ve done enough, treat yourself. Here’s a personal example from today: we had training after work and then I went back up to my lab and marked a set of books. It was half past 5 by the time I left. I came home and had a bath before having a cup of tea. Your “treats” don’t need to be extravagant, just all about you.

However, my physical health is actually the focus of one of my wellbeing goals. Since our wedding 18 months ago I have put on about a stone and a half; my goal is to lose this extra weight, and perhaps a teeny bit more. I’m being realistic, and that in itself is important. I am never going to be a size 10. When I started wearing adult clothes I was already a size 12-14. I have spent most of my adult life at size 20, and I am surprisingly fairly body confident. I was at my biggest after graduation – I spent several months revising in the library eating a lot of chocolate – when I was a size 24. I was size 20 when I got married, and I’m still a size 20 now. . I don’t want to lose loads of weight, firstly because I don’t want to buy a whole new wardrobe, but secondly because I’m fundamentally happy as I am, as is my husband.

So, my husband and I have started Joe Wicks’ Lean in 15 programme, and we’ve joined the gym. Luckily I didn’t have to pay as teachers from our school can use the neighbouring gym for free between the hours of 3.30 and 5.30. I normally aim to leave school by 5 so half an hour in the gym is perfect for me. As part of my induction I had a Bodytrax evaluation. I had to stand on a very technical scale which measured my fat and muscle % and all sorts of other wizardry, as well as my weight, of course. It wasn’t particularly pleasant reading, but I’ve found out that as well as having a high fat % – no surprise there – I also have a high muscle %, which means that my BMI score is a bit misleading as it implies I’m more overweight than perhaps I am. For anyone not into fitness, or science, BMI is actually fairly unreliable, despite being widely used by medical professionals, because muscle weighs more than fat. Therefore, muscly people get skewed results which suggest they’re overweight when in fact they’re perfectly healthy.

With regards to my mental wellbeing, my aim is simply to maintain a work-life balance. Some teachers I’ve spoken to don’t acknowledge this as a concept; I’m not going to try and persuade them. I think getting in to work at 7.45 and leaving at 5 is enough. Occasionally I will bring a box of books home to mark, but only if I’ve left early on a Friday, for example. Many teachers I follow on Twitter advocate leaving work early at least once a week – Friday is my chosen day. I also leave earlier on Wednesdays, but that’s to do tutoring so I’m not sure that really counts.

So far this term I am being much more productive in the 45 minutes I have in the morning before briefing, and I’m wasting less time in my free periods too. This has meant that I’m currently planned right up to and including Friday. I’m going to try and keep this far ahead as it makes me less stressed in the long term. It also means that I can spend my free time over the next couple of days doing marking instead of planning. I’m trying to do my marking little and often rather than leave it all until it needs to be done. Our school policy is to mark the books every 7th lesson but I’m doing it slightly earlier as it then only takes an hour to do a whole set. It also makes me feel better so it’s all to the good.

I’m determined not to do any work at the weekend – this doesn’t include Friday night. I firmly believe that we should try and keep our work within the working week. I appreciate that people with families may have different commitments in the evenings, and therefore have to work at weekends instead, but for me at the moment keeping weekends free from work is manageable. If/when I have children I may have to re-evaluate this, but for now it’s fine. We like to visit our families and friends at the weekends – many of them don’t live very close so we can’t just pop in at any time.

I’m also trying to organise what we’re up to in the holidays as far ahead as I can so that I’ve got something to look forward to. I don’t live for the holidays but obviously I enjoy them, as we all do. In October we might go to my parents’ place in Tenby for a few days, as well as see my best friends who both live in the West Country.  We celebrate our 2nd wedding anniversary during the Easter holidays and we’re thinking of going up to Edinburgh for a few days to celebrate. May half term will probably be spent in Tenby again, and then next summer we’re doing a Mediterranean cruise – can’t wait!

In short, focus on looking after yourself. Do things you enjoy in order to unwind. Plan things with your friends and family so that you’ve always got something to look forward to. Eat well but don’t skip the naughty stuff altogether. Do a bit of exercise a few times a week, even if it’s just a brisk walk.

Remember: you’re a human being first, a teacher second.

@BrynShenkin is a Science teacher from Surrey, and has bipolar disorder.