Recently I’ve been wondering why I always feel so tired after a day at work. After all, if I arrive at the last minute in the morning as the bell for registration sounds, and leave a few hours later when the final bell rings, I’m only at work for fewer than seven hours: far less than many other workers in this country. Even after a week off for half term, I was still ready for another holiday after being back for a week. So why the weak constitution? And it’s not just me: drawn faces in the staffroom attest to the same thing.
Last week I started to approach this question logically by looking at what happened each day to tire me out. Firstly, I don’t sleep well. So much happens during the day that it takes a long time for it all to stop shuffling around in my mind of an evening, and much of it must still be seeping out as my head touches my pillow. Very often I wake up in the early hours having suddenly remembered something like a pupil telling me they were being bullied and I forgot to see the head of year, or that I need to take in a resource for the next day that I haven’t yet packed but I’m too sleepy to get up and find it at 3am.
My alarm goes off early. Schools generally start early and I usually have some preparation to carry out before the official start of the school day. Truth be told, it’s probably things I could have done if I had stayed for an hour after school the evening before, but come that final bell after a day of aggravation, I usually can’t wait to leave and shake off the stresses of the day.
So by the time I arrive at school I’ve already been up a few hours after a bad night’s sleep. There is usually ten minutes of peace in my classroom before the first pupils start drifting in… and then there’s no moment to draw a deep breath until seven hours later. The day is filled with tiresome parrot-type repetition as I snap the usual lines of “coats off, gum in the bin” and then try to avoid engaging in debate about school uniform; quick interactions with other flustered staff; giving out numerous notices and doing admin during fifteen minutes of registration; having thirty seconds to switch gear between an A level class and a Year Seven special needs group; deflecting arguments; running lunchtime meetings or detentions; doing duties; sorting broken computers and printers whilst retaining eyes in the back of my head; absorbing hormonal stresses of angsty teenagers; filling in paperwork about being sworn at or confiscating cigarettes; chasing photocopies and updating whiteboard resources; and overall, trying to teach and ensure that all pupils in the room are learning something in that lesson. There is rarely time to stop and pause for a moment.
Above all, it can be so emotional. However much of a hard edge you develop – and it doesn’t take long – the incessant chipping away at your patience can make you snap. The nagging from a discordant chorus for over five hours at a time sets your nerves on edge. Absorbing or deflecting verbal abuse and stroppy rudeness… there is no let-up, no escape, no sneaking off to the toilets with a newspaper for ten minutes to cool down.
Seeing ineffective policies in practice only adds to the stress: if I refer on a pupil for bad behaviour, nothing really gets done about it but I have to find that ten minutes from somewhere to fill in the paperwork or track down the head of year. Having a pile of paperwork thrust at me first thing from a member of senior management which requires my immediate attention when I have a class of hyperactive 15 year olds to register and organise also adds to the stress. Like an octopus I grab things thrown my way: homework, coursework, paperwork… no wonder my desk erupts by the end of each day.
So it might be not quite 4pm by the time I leave work, but I often feel like I’ve lived three days in one. And that must be the reason why I feel so exhausted all the time.