• Nicola Owen

Practice what you preach!

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

“Practice what you preach.”

“Put your money where your mouth is.”

“Walk the walk and talk the talk.”

Little proverbial sayings that often get bantered about to suggest hypocrisy occurring, of some sort.

As a teacher, I often reminded my children to make sure they were drinking enough water and I’d build stretching activities into my lesson to “wake them up.” I’d give them time to refocus on activities, go on at them, if they had forgotten their PE kit, of the importance of exercise on their ever growing bodies and creating positive habits for future life. Yet I’d forget to drink water throughout the day, take those stretch breaks and make yet another excuse to skip the gym that day . I was too busy.

I’d be the teacher who would have conversations about their lunch, asking why they hadn’t eaten it all, rushed it or why they chose something that they didn’t like. I would remind them that they needed food to replenish their energy so they would stay alert throughout the day, ready to learn. Yet I would grab part of my sandwich, or worse still-skip lunch because I didn’t have time.

I’d be the teacher questioning the amount of sleep they were getting. Pressing the importance of having a good sleep routine each night, going to bed at a decent time in order to fulfil the amount of time their bodies would need to process their day, rest and regenerate cells and fight off any signs of being poorly. Yet I’d function on 5 hours of broken sleep per night.

I’d be the teacher encouraging them to stay off devices and getting embroiled in “nasty chat” online. Encouraging them to choose a more creative or restful activity instead. Yet my phone would be glued to my hand straight after work until going to bed.

I’d be the teacher who reminded them that SATS were nothing to worry about as long as they tried their best. I’d be the teacher who would help them organise their homework diaries and priorities. I’d be the teacher reassuring them that getting full marks in their spelling rest is not the end of the world. That failure is another way of learning. Yet I’d work a good 3-4 hours after work each night and stress over observations and deadlines.

I’d be the teacher who would ask about their interests outside of school. Who would appreciate and understand , with compassion, the often difficult home life situations they faced and support accordingly. Yet I never did much outside school for myself and my family never really got to see me. I was always working.

I’d be the teacher who would help them recognise their emotions, help them acknowledge why they were feeling that way and coach them into exploring how to deal with them. Often through talking. I’d help them navigate conflict and encourage them to treat others with respect. Yet I would snap at my family through stress and tiredness and be disgruntled at colleagues who appeared to be shirking their work.

When I look at our wonderful teaching profession I often wonder how many teachers were just like me. I know lots and suspect I’d see such nurturing practice in abundance across our nation of schools.

I also wonder how many of our teachers actually do all of the above for themselves?

The best way of teaching such self-care skills is through modelling positive behaviour. This was something I learnt when I almost hit burnout. I was teaching my children what to do but failing to do it myself. What a hypocrite.

How many teachers: drink enough water and eat regular, healthy meals? How many take regular breaks and create healthy, exercise habits? How many teachers get enough sleep and have a good sleep routine? How many stress over government imposed assessment targets?

How many worry over their performance in the classroom so much that the anxiety prevents them from sleeping and the sense of dread fills them up so much that they get themselves worked up? How many struggle with prioritising their workload- home life balance…scared to say no? How many teachers don’t have a life outside work?

I work with and speak with many professionals in the education system. Time and expectations are the two major excuses that arrive in discussions around staff wellbeing.

It is time that teachers start to look after themselves the way in which they encourage their pupils to look after themselves.

It’s time for them to practice what they preach.

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