I'm not a big pub-goer, but last night I met up with a school friend at the pub we frequented as teens. It's changed somewhat - no longer the rough biker pub where we hung out thinking we were really cool, but a respectable pub/hotel with a quiet dining area serving good quality food.
As I looked around to see if my friend Kate had arrived, I noticed an unnerving scene in the restaurant area. Hidden under a pile of year nine exercise books was a very tired looking lady wading her way through English marking. It was 7.30 at night. I watched as her dinner plate was taken away and then approached her to say hello and give her some supporting words of encouragement.
What she proceeded to tell me made my heart sink and genuinely saddened me.
"If I don't come here straight after school and get my marking done, it's gone 9pm before I can even start and I'm just too tired to by then. So my husband picks my children up from nursery and puts them to bed so I can keep working."
What an existence. She has a two year old and four year old. But, in order to stay on top of things at school, she chooses not to go home and spend time with her young children, read them a bedtime story or even kiss them goodnight.
I fully sympathise with the dilemma: I found myself in a similar situation when my children were not much older - having to return to school even though I wanted to be with them full time. Circumstances are often complex, and it is too easy to fall in to the trap of generalisation, but don't we all need to ask ourselves: what am I prioritising? What are my highest values?
Is working like this a choice, or is this an inevitable way of life for families in the 21st Century? What is the point of it all if the most precious people in our world don't take priority? Some would argue that we are working to make our children's lives more comfortable and safeguard their futures. But at what cost, if the cycle of work and provide, work and provide means we miss the magic moments in their and our lives?
Teachers in particular are often weighed down by the burden of workload and take on bucket loads of guilt if they do not have everything prepared and ready. Many teachers not only take work home, they also struggle to leave their students at school - worrying about how best to support them, what strategies to employ to engage and inspire them, especially if they are struggling academically or have behavioural difficulties.
Rarely do teachers say "Stop! Enough! I've reached capacity". In a school system where accountability is reaching punitive levels and Ofsted casts a fearsome, Big Brother-like shadow, it is inevitable that teachers and senior leaders are loathe to admit they are overwhelmed and stressed for fear of retribution or being judged weak or incapable. Viv Grant, former Head Teacher and Director of Integrity Coaching, recently described the isolation Head Teachers feel in a brilliant article in The Guardian.
It is a risky decision to admit feeling stressed even when you have good reason. I have been supporting a young teacher who was recently assaulted by a student only to be informed that she must now go on a home visit to re-establish the teacher-student relationship, when she is still terrified about even having him back in the classroom. Is it right that she must put his welfare before her own?
I am a big believer in the teacher being in the right state to teach and the student being in the right state to learn. But, in today's schools, I wonder if there are many in either camp who are truly present in the classroom; truly fit and well to teach or learn; genuinely capable of meeting their own needs and the needs of others in such a demanding, and stressful environment.
So where does your wellbeing fit into this equation? Where does being human, having your physical, mental and emotional needs met rank in your infinite to-do list? How do we create a structure where these are prioritised? Who should come first?
There are no easy answers. But a good first step is to ask yourself those questions. Take a moment to reflect that your concentration, efficiency and productivity are all significantly decreased when you are tired and stressed and will seriously impact your relationships at home and at work.
Life is short, so live today, do what makes your heart sing and above all, be mindful - breathe in deeply the richness of life, don't let it slip by; be fully present in the present moment.