Guest Blog by Lorna McFindlow.
This September I will not be backing boards, printing off tray labels or decorating my reading corner. I will not be carefully selecting texts, typing up lesson plans or creating new resources. I will not be lovingly preparing and furnishing my classroom for a new batch of little learners.
There is no new class list for me to look over and contemplate the individual personality that lies behind each name. I won’t be exchanging summer tales with my colleagues over a cup of coffee in the staff room.
I won’t be facing any first day jitters, or nervous parents entrusting their children to me for the first time. There will be no stickers given out, no crying children to comfort as they say goodbye to their parents for the day. No songs to sing, no games to play and no little characters to begin to get to know.
I had to give all of that up in 2017 when I was diagnosed with M.E. After two years of pushing through crippling pain and increasingly debilitating fatigue, I finally got a diagnosis and was advised to stop working.
I was initially told it would take six months to get back on my feet and I clung to this idea, truly believing I would be back in my classroom in the New Year.
After six months came and went with no sign of improvement, I was then told to give it a year. I’m now three years down the line, and the prospect of ever getting back to my career as a Primary School Teacher feels further away than ever.
It took me a little while longer than most of my peers to decide on a career path but once I discovered how much I loved being in a classroom, I worked my socks off to become a teacher.
Doing my PGCE, whilst still holding down my full-time job as a Teaching Assistant and planning my wedding was not the easiest route to take by any means. It was one of the hardest years of my life, in truth, but I did it.
There was actual blood, so much sweat and more tears than I care to mention but I never felt prouder of myself. I had finally found a career that I loved.
Of course, like any job, there were hard days – working with children is truly not for the faint hearted – but the rewards outweigh all of that.
What a joy and a privilege it was to spend my days getting to know my lovely children, learning what made them tick and watching them grow and learn every day.
I don’t know of many other jobs that bring so much laughter and fun. There really is never a dull moment in a classroom full of five-year olds.
Who am I now?
I always considered teaching to be a large part of who I was as a person.
So, in a society that seems to value what we do over who we are, where does that leave me, now that I’m unemployed and housebound?
What do I tell new people I meet who inevitably ask, “so what do you do?” I used to feel such pride when telling people, I was teacher. Now, I dread being asked this question.
I have to fight the sense of shame that rises from the pit of my stomach when I tell people that I don’t work. I want to crawl inside myself to avoid the look of judgement on people’s faces.
Perhaps worse than the judgement, however, is the way that the conversation often stops dead after this. I have seen people struggle to know what to say or ask next, or many simply lose interest. It’s as if my lack of career or my status as ‘sick person’ means that I simply have nothing of interest to contribute.
Am I not still a fully realised person without my career? Because I no longer work, does that somehow mean that I now hold less value? Who am I, now that I am no longer a teacher?
These are the types of questions that I’ve struggled with over the last few years, and I’ve had to work hard to unpick all of this self-doubt and concentrate on all the things that still make me who I am, despite what has been lost.
There’s more to me than my career
It’s so important to remember that there is so much more to us than what we do.
I may no longer be a teacher, but I am still so many other things. I am a nature lover, an overly enthusiastic cat mum, a music fan with a penchant for 80’s power ballads and bad dancing.
I am kind and I am generous. I love to laugh and to make others laugh too. I make really good mud pies and I love cuddles with my niece.
I’m interested in politics and current affairs. I love films, books and art, and I may very well be the world’s most dedicated Strictly fan.
And, although I may not be going into a classroom every day, I am, in my own small way, still teaching.
Through my online advocacy work I am educating people about the realities of M.E and working hard to undo some of the stigma that still surrounds this life-changing illness.
By writing about and sharing my experiences, I am hoping to change perceptions and have a positive, lasting impact. That is, after all, one of the best things we can hope for as teachers.
Lorna has a personal blog that we highly recommend:
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The ME Association greatly appreciates anyone who comes forward to offer us their stories and to share their experiences. We are always on the look out for more especially from those able to send photos as well.
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