Monday, 27 October 2014

Twelve Ways for teachers to reconnect with themselves in the holiday

It's a long-held belief of mine that teachers work bloody hard. Too hard, very often. Twenty years of practice at chalkface (now the digital interface of course), bags under the eyes and an alarming number of wrinkles I swear never used to be there can help me attest to this fact from personal experience. Whether all of this work is always efficient, effective, or indeed has ANY effect on my students' learning may well be a matter for debate, but not in this post.

In this half-term post, I want to come back to an idea I've out out a while ago, namely how teachers can remain healthy. As part of our appraisal systems this year, we've been asked to write down the number of days of absence we had last year, and I found that these stats had all been pre-compiled for me. The nice surprise in this otherwise fairly worrying surveillance trend was to find out that this year marks 5 years (and here I am currently touching enough wood to reconstitute an entire forest!) without illness. In a secondary school as full of snot and lack of hygiene as any teen-dominated environment, I was pretty impressed by this statistic.

I try to take care of myself. I try to devote time to myself, my physical and mental well-being, and I will take on anyone who thinks you have to be "pragmatic" about these matters. "Sometimes you've just got to get your nose to the grindstone and get it done Mike, and things like exercise go out of the window for a bit", I'm told. As far as I'm concerned, that's the thin end of the wedge. If you're going to work ridiculous numbers of hours and devote your life to teaching, at the expense often of family and friends, then you'd better be fit enough to do this for the duration, otherwise you WILL drop. I've seen this happen to too many good teachers to doubt my convictions on this one.

So half-term has come around again, I have shedloads to do, but I've started the half-term on a positive footing. Every day of this half-term, I will do something for me, something for my family, and something for my spirit. Only I couldn't think of anything. Hence, the quest began to think of activities to get myself off the work treadmill, or rather fit the work around, and between us, my daughter and I have come up with some good ones. I share them here in the hope that
a) You will get some inspiration to look after your own health;
b) You'll pass on your own recommendations for me: A virtuous circle if you like.

Anyway, here goes...

Twelve ways to reconnect with yourself this half-term...

1. Watch a good film that inspires you: For this half-term, I've chosen John Favreau's fab performance in Chef: One man's journey from Michelin-starred chef de cuisine to taco-van owner as he rediscovers the roots of his passion for cooking. Don't watch on an empty stomach.

2. Try t'ai chi or yoga. It might be new, it might feel a bit hippy, but try it. I've been doing this since the day I started teacher training, and trust me, it works. Disengage your brain, take time for yourself, take stock of where your body is at. It will thank you later, possibly in old age, possibly by making sure that you're still around to have one!

3. Play cards, or board games: Let's face it, the cards are just an excuse for a good conversation with the whole family, a drink, some nibbles. Play Top Trumps if you like. Nobody cares. Just enjoy each other's company, and laugh.

4. Read something for pleasure, not work. Read something to give you a new perspective. My personal recommendation at the moment is The Kite Runner - Great book about Afghanistan, which will help you see that country and culture in a new light.

5. Cook a meal with or for someone you love: Take care over it. Get it perfect. Enjoy the process of making, tasting, rolling, kneading. The eating isn't the only sensual part of the meal.

6. Get to know your own area as you've never quite seen it before by trying geocaching: Free membership, and millions of ready-made treasure hunts around your area.

7. Switch the heating on. Go out for a walk in the dark and the wind. Come home. Relax in the warm under a duvet. Reconnect with nature, and then appreciate the modern comforts which seclude you from being at its mercy all the time.

8. Seeing as it's October half-term (I promise I will try and update these every time we have a holiday so that all advice is guaranteed seasonal and organic!), go see a firework display with friends and children. Make an occasion of it. Take some flasks of mulled wine, roast chestnuts etc to share. Better still, make your own bonfire, and learn how to light it without matches. Get those neighbours you never have time to speak to properly round, and enjoy each other's company.

9. Switch off all your electronic devices for 24 hours: Phones, ipads, laptops, TV, the lot. Spend the time listening, to yourself, to your friends, and to your family. See what type of day you had compared to normal. If you're a digital addict like I am, you'll be amazed at how you feel after this one, once the initial frustrations wear off!

10. Get in touch with your creative side: Now that the nights have drawn in, go outside and light paint. You need a camera with a long exposure setting, then take a torch or any light source, and draw 

11. Do a taste test. Indulge your palette and reconnect to your senses. Wine, chocolate, smoothies, doesn't matter. Make loads, invite people round, and enjoy talking about your senses, including what they make of your weirder concoctions...

12. Go to an independent cinema. Watch an independent film. Watch a British film. Pride is my recommendation this month: A great (true) story about the support the LGBT community gave the striking miners during the mid-80s, and a chance to see Dominic West as a true Dancing Queen.
Hope this gives you some ideas for starters: Please leave me yours in the comments.

Happy half-term!