It might seem strange to start a blog on happiness with one of the most unhappy times in my life, but that is where I’ll start.
7 years ago, I was desperately unhappy. I had been unhappy for a while and it was beginning to cause me to be depressed and have anxiety attacks. I had taken the big step to becoming a head teacher a year or so earlier and to be honest I had found it incredibly challenging. That won’t surprise anyone who is a head teacher themselves, it is a very challenging job, and I’m not going to go into too much detail about my experiences, if you want to read more I have described it in my blog post here: Toxic Schools.
I learnt a lot about myself in that time and in the time that followed. The biggest thing I think I have learnt from it is that ‘happiness is more important than money.’ I was in a well paid job; I had high status but I wasn’t happy. Eventually, I made the decision to leave my headship and return to teaching.
It was a scary thing to do because when I resigned, I didn’t have a job to go to, but I also knew that resigning was the right thing to do for me because the job was making me ill. Luckily, I managed to find myself a teaching position fairly quickly and I started my teaching job straight after leaving my headship. It was a strange feeling, I can tell you, to be starting a teaching job on a Monday when on the previous Friday I had been responsible for a whole school with 400 children and nearly 50 staff.
I was grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with something I love: teaching. When I started teaching again I was a bit of a mess to be honest. My confidence in myself had been shattered. One of the things that made me leave my headship was the creeping doubt that I had forgotten to teach-the longer I was out of the classroom, the worse it got. I felt that I couldn’t be seen as credible by my staff-how could I advise them on teaching when I probably couldn’t do it myself? At that point, I hadn’t heard of ‘imposter syndrome’ but I now realise that this was something I was suffering with through a lot of my headship and it crippled my confidence and hindered my decision making.
It took me a while to find my feet as a teacher again; being a head is incredibly demanding mentally, but I found being a classroom teacher even more demanding on me physically. As a head I was mostly in control of my own timetable and could be flexible about when I stopped for breaks; as a teacher I had a lot less control over my time. But gradually I got used to the new routines and got used to the disciplined time management you need to survive as a full time class teacher.
Doing a job that I loved saved me. Spending each day with children who made me laugh and smile saved me. Slowly and surely my anxiety and depression started to fade. I became a nicer person to be around, I was able to enjoy quality time with my family again, without my mind being constantly elsewhere. A weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Over the last 7 years I have slowly recovered to being a person that I am happy with again. I like myself now; during the darkest moments of my past, I didn’t. I have been cautious of leadership over the last 7 years and have been reluctant to put myself forward. I have been part of the senior leadership team during that time and I have led in various areas. One of my happiest moments was when I was part of the steering group setting up a program of support for the NQT’s in our hub; I love helping people and have always enjoyed mentoring NQT’s and students. But mostly, as a leader I have hidden myself away; I haven’t pushed myself forward with the enthusiasm I used to have; I haven't pushed myself out of my comfort zone. I have kept my head down and quietly got on with my job, helping people in the background and only giving my opinion to SLT when it has been asked for.
At home I have found myself again. I have returned to being the happy, laid back person who is a bit silly and generally causes his teenage children to roll their eyes at him. My relationship with my wife is as strong as ever, and I love her as much as the day I first fell in love with her. I take more time for myself, to play music and read and I have learnt how to have a good work life balance.
Mostly, what has come back to me is the ability to think positively. For most of my life I have been a positive person. I have never had much confidence in myself, I am an introvert and I am prone to overthinking and self doubt but I have generally been good at finding the positives in life. Whilst I was at my lowest ebb I had gotten into a very negative cycle of self recrimination and generally being pessimistic about life. Now, I am back to being an optimist.
My view is, it’s best not to stress about things that you have no control over. Look for what you can control and do something about that, no matter how small it is. When things look bad remind yourself of what is good in your life, there is good in everyone’s life, you just need to take the time to notice. When I am feeling low now, I try and do this and remind myself of the things that I have accomplished in my life. It is always important to learn lessons from things that have gone wrong, but it isn’t helpful to beat yourself up about it; what’s done is done, the past is something you can move on from. Reframing the past I think this is called.
And now 7 years on, I finally feel like I have found myself again. I have the lockdown and twitter to thank for a lot of that. I have been happy as a teacher but I have been living within myself as a professional. Becoming more engaged in twitter, and making connections with the brilliant people I have got to know in the edutwitter world has encouraged me to be braver again, to start challenging myself again. I am no longer sitting quietly as a passive observer; I am starting to push myself forward and volunteer for things. I am challenging myself; I am sharing my views; I am backing myself and believing that I have worth, what I have to say and share matters and is useful.
I feel so happy with who I am at the moment; despite being stuck in my house for nearly 3 months, I have looked for the positives and found them in abundance. This morning I was contacted by someone on twitter who asked me to take part in something that will push me even further out of my comfort zone. A few months ago, I would have said no; a few months ago I wouldn’t have been asked, I never spoke on twitter and had no connections, no PLN. Now, it’s a different story.
And in September, I start a new adventure. I start at a new school. I have loved my time at my current school and I am forever grateful for them taking a chance on me and helping me to recover my passion for teaching. But I have always been a wanderer, I have always needed challenges to truly make me happy, so I decided to move on, move out of my comfort zone.
Admittedly I will be doing a very similar job to my current one, I will be teaching y5/6 and leading maths, but it is a school that has a lot further to go on its journey to being a good school, so there will be plenty to challenge me. Also, I will be starting my new school as a slightly different person to the one they employed; I’m a braver person, a person who volunteers and has the ambition to try something a little bit bigger than before.
Happiness is crucial in life, and happiness comes down to how you think. My advice to anyone is to always look for the positives, surround yourself with positive people, learn from your failures and take the positives in the lessons it teaches you. The positives I take from my unhappiest time are that I am a better human being for the experience, I know myself more and I know what matters to me in life more. The people who love me were there for me in my darkest moments and I am blessed to have them in my life.