‘HAPPINESS LESSONS’ IN SCHOOLS

I first realised that something wasn’t ‘quite right’ in terms of my emotional health when I was in my early teens.

Sure, like all teens my hormones were all over the place and combined with the fact that I was a frightfully sensitive young woman, it just meant that I was a sucker for punishment. Certainly, the hypersensitivity that I experienced was nothing new, but by the time I was around 14 years old I felt as though I had slipped down a rabbit hole.

As much as I had some wonderful friends, I didn’t feel as though I could confide in them about what I was experiencing. I suppose to some extent I believed that either everyone was going through the same thing or nobody was. But either way, I wasn’t prepared to find out, I felt far too insecure. My parents also had busy working lives and apart from over the dinner table we rarely sat down as a family ‘to talk,’ or if we did, it felt disjointed and false. So I certainly wasn’t going to bring up personal issues with them.

Back at school the only guidance we had about issues related to mental health linked to exam stress. An important area but I didn’t fully understand or couldn’t even yet articulate to a large extent my own thoughts about how I was feeling and why, but I knew that what I was experiencing wasn’t solely down to exam stress.

I felt that there was and still is a level of stigma associated with simply taking the first step in asking for help. During my teens and even up until relatively recently as an adult, I felt that if I did speak out about what I was experiencing I was effectively branding myself as ‘different’, something that would surely cause me much embarrassment and even more anxiety.

So I read with interest recently that the government is planning on trialling ‘happiness lessons’ to eight-year-old children as part of the government’s wider support for mental health services. The lessons will utilise mindfulness techniques with the aim of helping students to “self-regulate their own behaviour.” It is a step in a good direction and especially trialling the scheme with younger students especially as it will hopefully instil them with tools that they can come back to when necessary. However, at the same time I am cautious, can you really ‘teach happiness?’

Right today everyone, we are going to be learning about happiness. Here are the lesson objectives…

  • Know what happiness is
  • Apply this to your own life
  • Evaluate your own levels of happiness

And that is what concerns me, in all subject areas, a student’s progress is measured by a predicted level/grade of some sort. This then allows a school to compare this data to other students and schools. I would hope, that if the trial is successful, it doesn’t result in a data crunching and comparison exercise where the original purpose of the research is lost. In one school where I previously worked, even in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education), a curriculum that focuses on life skills such as careers advice, sex and drug education, and health and wellbeing, students were given termly assessments to check their progress.

I would also hope, that any scheme, this one and others with a similar ambition, focus on the breadth of emotions that we can experience. Yes, teaching happiness is all well and good, but even that has a range of emotions attached to it from ecstatic joy to a more sedate level of contentment. Although I have come to live with bouts of depression and varying degrees of anxiety, it has taken me years to accept and come to terms with these aspects of myself. But, if schemes like this can help young people recognise the emotions that they experience from an early age and it helps them articulate them then I am all for it.

Advertisements

PULL UP A CHAIR

The challenge posed by the fourth day of WordPress Blogging University 101 regarding ‘Identifying Your Reader’ initially stumped me. I imagine that the people who read my blog are varied and full of wonderful contradictions, much like the wide variety of blogs that I follow. So, taking inspiration from a careers course I took last year, I have decided to address this a little differently…

About Me

I am…

  • Creative. Yeah, I can do things the way they are ‘supposed’ to be. But, I like creating new things, new ideas – I want to see things in a different way as sometimes they are better that way.
  • Supportive. I am able to see the need for a supportive ear, whether it’s for advice or constructive feedback.
  • Sometimes pessimistic. So not every day is sunny and rosy. Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I’ll try my best to keep things friendly, but sometimes allow me some space to grumble. Although in some circumstances this may result in some space away from blogging.
  • A warm person. Ok, so sometimes I can be pessimistic, shit happens! But generally, certainly at least 75% of the time I am warm and a good person to be around.

I am not…

  • Stupid. I implore you to treat me like someone who has a few brain cells in her head.
  • Always ‘sensitive’ or ‘emotional’ because I am female. Though sometimes I may well be. I am human and full of contradictions but don’t use my gender to predetermine what I can and cannot do.

About You

I hope you…

  • Enjoy my writing. I write about a number of different things so drop me a line if there is something that you enjoy!
  • Have some compassion. It takes courage for anyone to put content ‘out there’ in whatever format so if you are going to comment on my work, please be constructive with any criticism. I am sensitive at heart.
  • Share and share alike. I write about a number of things including education, politics, psychology and mental health, but I don’t want to stick necessarily within these parameters, so if there is something that you think I would like please feel free to share it with me. And I will do the same.

Want to see the original inspiration for this post?

Check out: Reverse Job Application by Andrew Horner

SO I DIDN’T GET THE JOB, WHAT NEXT?

Following my last post about an unsuccessful application and subsequent interview at an international school, it got me thinking about my next steps. Well, I have to really… a job isn’t going to find me and beat me round the head until I accept after all.

And what I found myself really focusing upon was, what next? Where do I go from here? So I felt that the next logical step was to break my thinking down:

  • ASK FOR FEEDBACK

As soon as I had overcome some of the feelings of rejection, I emailed the school and asked for some feedback. I am still waiting for a response but I would like to know, and subsequently examine, their impressions of both my application and how I interviewed. Warts and all. Whether I stay in teaching or not, this information will be valuable for my own professional development in any field. In a broader sense, it also demonstrates that a candidate wasn’t necessarily just applying for a job on a whim, they genuinely want to understand the application process.

  • ASSESS MY REASONS FOR APPLYING FOR THE JOB IN THE FIRST PLACE

This was one of the first questions that I was asked in the interview, ‘Why do you want to work at this school?’ And in all honestly, I was completely thrown by it. Nerves had kicked in and my mind went blank, why did I want to work at the school? At the time, I recall rambling something about the school’s ethos but can remember little else. I was, and still am a little embarrassed by my response, it was weak. And in actual fact, I had had a week to prepare for the interview and I know that I hadn’t wasted my time. I prepped the shit out of it! I analysed the school website to see what courses were offered aside from what I was applying for, researched the school motto, and the school’s aims to gauge a ‘feeling’ of the place and tried to establish if the school was somewhere where I wanted to work.

Looking back now, I realise that although it made sense to apply for the position (as it fitted my teaching skills and experience) when it came down to it, I have realised that my heart wasn’t entirely in it. Nerves aside, the fact that I couldn’t articulate the reasons why I wanted the job hindered my interview and perhaps allowed the interviewers to see the real me. Having been on the other side of the interview process myself for the past few years, you can spot when someone is not being entirely honest with you or with themselves.

  • GET NETWORKING AND LOOK FOR OTHER OPPORTUNITIES

One of the next steps I took was to reconnect with the group I worked with when I completed the careers course late last year. It does appears a little superficial to have not made contact with the group for some months and then only to reach out when I have been unsuccessful. And perhaps that’s where I have been going ‘wrong’ in some ways, that I haven’t made more of an effort during the better times, such as getting an interview offer in the first place. I certainly found myself genuinely surprised at how long it had been since I last made contact, but what struck me was how wonderfully supportive the group are. There are a few hundred people now, all in differing stages of shifting in their careers – whether it’s moving on to something entirely different or within the same field, everyone has their own story to share. And it’s these stories that help you to keep on moving, to force yourself to put one foot after the other and not to give up with whatever the aim.

For me, it is about getting back on the saddle and moving on. I have caught myself feeling terribly weary and worrying about what the future will hold. I don’t have a crystal ball and strangely, I don’t want one. Where would the excitement be in that?!

NEXT STEPS…

There is a funny kind of irony in that my last post was about accepting rejection and I have experienced a big fat dollop of it this week.

Shortly after Christmas, I applied for a teaching position in another international school. On paper (or the website) the school looked ideal; amazing location both in terms of its place in the world (Hong Kong – where my partner is also based) and literally in terms of bricks and mortar, built into the hills of Hong Kong island overlooking the sea. The school achieves fantastic results and the building facilities looked incredible. I felt as though my application was strong and having spoken to management at my current school, who would ultimately be writing my references, they felt that I stood a good chance.

However, I did experience some serious doubts. Putting yourself through any application and interview process is scary as hell, you are pretty much laying a part of yourself bare for others to stare at and scrutinise. What has compounded matters also is that part of me has reached ‘panic stage’ in terms of my next career steps. Three years ago I was secure in the knowledge that I already had a (teaching) job lined up for the next academic year, which is where I am currently working. Three years later and another three months on… I have nothing.

So following a few tense weeks from submitting my application I was invited for a final interview with three members of the management team including the headteacher. After a shaky start where I was asked some questions related to my reasons for considering Hong Kong and the school itself (I was incredibly but understandably nervous, so I rambled), I got into my stride and felt a little more comfortable with the process. Questions ranged from how I would encourage independent and critical thinking from students, what additional activities and support could I offer to the school and also how I deal with stress. There is another funny kind of irony here when as part of the psychology course that I deliver involves teaching students about the physiological function of stress and how to combat it, yet I struggle with handling stress myself…

The interview lasted around 40 minutes and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was over. So much so that with the adrenaline that was coursing through my body I had to go out for a walk to help myself calm down.

Two days passed before I heard back. Two. Long. Days.

The email was complimentary but to the point: There was a strong list of candidates… the choice wasn’t easy… but there were others who provided a closer fit…

I did become a little upset at reading it and I was disheartened at the rather generic response, but really who am I to complain? There could have been a number of candidates interviewed for a variety of positions and I am sure that the administrative team simply weren’t able to send out personalised responses to all of those who were unsuccessful.

So I guess it’s onwards and upwards… and back to the drawing board in terms of next the next steps in my career.

MAKING A CAREER SIDE SHIFT

I have been relatively quiet on the career change front on my blog for awhile now as I didn’t want to somehow jinx (damn, those gremlins again casting doubt on my actions) what I have been working on.

So what have I been up to?

An actual career shift…well, the first tentative steps.

Yep, I’ve said it and no whispering here! I have even said it out loud, admittedly to myself as evidence of things ‘happening.’ I have been working on something concrete, totally tangible and I have actually received a little money for some of my efforts.

So let’s go back a bit.

Around four months ago, I got in touch with a company that make resources for teachers and students for various academic subjects. My original intention for reaching out was simple; I wanted to find out whether if they would accept some of my academic blog posts to publish on their website. I certainly didn’t expect any remuneration for it, it was more about seeking recognition in a different sense – it was about getting my name out there with some of my work. I guess part of me would have hoped that this would progress to something more, but writing for the love of writing was/is the priority. 

After a few emails going back and forth between myself and the company, a Skype meeting was arranged and to my surprise, I found out that they wanted more; not just blog posts but they wanted physical teaching and learning resources produced that then would be available for purchase.

In the few months since, I have written a number of blog posts, produced some resources and began preparing some training materials that will be delivered in 2017. Baby steps, but they are in a different direction.

There is still part of me that is still cautious about saying too much right now, even to loved ones and even to myself about the work involved, as those gremlins have a habit of tipping huge buckets of water over my parade. But suffice to say, I feel excited and also valued in my contributions so far and I am looking forward (despite some of my gremlins saying things to the contrary) to what 2017 will bring.

AND WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?

It’s been a good few weeks (cough… months…) since I last posted but I have good reason or at least that’s what I am telling myself.

Life kinda got busy.

The new academic year began in earnest and in what seems like a blink of an eye I am already a whole two months and a bit in. And whilst I have welcomed new students, greeted those returning, and got stuck into my planning, I have been reminded of some of the lessons I learnt as I worked through the course with Careershifters. Primarily, I have been wondering where do I want to be, as I have felt myself sink pretty quickly into a familiar malaise with my job once more.

I expected this. But it doesn’t mean that the discontent gets any easier to experience. 

The malaise is nothing new, the chain of thoughts attached are relatively similar to those that I have experienced for some years now but once again I am finding myself struck by some familiar thoughts bubbling to the surface associated with frustration by what part of me sees as a lack of tangible progress.

But if was only one thing that the careers course taught me and it’s that I have made progress. And a few events recently at work as well as the general malaise have led me to make a pretty bold decision. I am finally ready to try something new.

TIME FOR CHANGE

In my current teaching position I am required to provide one years notice to my employers of my future intentions. One. Whole. Freaking. Year.

I can certainly see it from their side, they want to advertise early, interview candidates, essentially find the right people for the job. Be organised and all that.

But a lot can happen in a year! And unless you are sure of wanting to stay (in which case it’s a case of signing on the dotted line and handing in that intentions letter immediately) then it leaves you in a conundrum. For me, it was a case of do I let them know that I have intentions of leaving hoping that something does come up, or do I hedge my bets, see what jobs arise and then hand in my notice if something significant comes up? And potentially have to stay a further year before I can hand in my notice? 

Well, I opted for the former. And I have discovered that my job has already been advertised! A cynical part of me screams, ‘You’re dispensable! I thought you knew that already?!’

So that’s me, dispensable but oh so very happy with the decision. Freaking nervous to the very core. But grinning from ear to ear.

A JOB OFFER AND AN ITALIAN WINDOW

I have just returned from a short vacation where I was originally hoping to carve out some time to write this post earlier. But the tourist bug caught fast and my days were mostly spent touring temples and seeing the sights in the wonderful city that is Seoul.

My head was full of trying to navigate my way around the capital of South Korea and nail some of the basics of the language, so I was grateful that the day before leaving I had made a decision about what to do about an offer presented to me a few weeks ago.

I said no.

No to the offer of a role that could have shifted me in a whole new direction that of a website developer and contributor.

My reasons for declining were built on a multitude of factors, but my main recurring thought was that I wasn’t hungry for it. To be more specific, hungry for that particular position at this point in time.

Fear did play a large part in my decision, but not in the perhaps obvious reason that I was scared to take a chance on something unknown to me. But rather it was the fear that was in my gut of ignoring what I truly feel inspired doing – writing that has meaning to me. There is a strong possibility of sounding arrogant here, as though my writing is ‘better’ than the website I could have been writing for. But this couldn’t be further from reality. Having taken the time to consider the offer actually made me acknowledge the cold hard truth, I have been skirting around what I enjoy doing for some years now.

AN ITALIAN ADVENTURE

A little under ten years ago I went on holiday to Italy and spent nearly three weeks touring some of its great cities such as Rome and Florence and then switching to a car for a journey through the magnificent countryside of Umbria and Tuscany. The trip left a lasting effect on me in more ways than one; it certainly affirmed my love of Italian food, art and culture. Those were given. But it was when I was staying in a relatively remote village near Perugia, Umbria where I would say that I received one of the loudest calls to arms I have ever received in terms of inspiration. Through the haze of my long-term memory, I’ll paint the scene:

I am sat leaning over a circular wooden table with what was a cumbersome and impractical laptop. It was heavy, bulky, and took up the vast majority of my day rucksack, but I had been determined to bring it with me on my travels.

I was doing some work for my relatively new teaching position (only one month before I had completed my teaching training and I was due to begin my first job in the forthcoming September). Academic books were spread out around me like a fan, covering the table and chairs and I was dipping between them trying desperately to focus on one thing and failing miserably, I had a great deal of work to prepare. Initial visits to the school had been exciting, I had met new colleagues and seen what was to be the classroom where I would spend most of my day. But I was also left with a large ball of anxiety in my stomach; brand new courses needed to be planned, existing resources needed updating and I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps I was in a little over my head. I was keen to be prepared or least to obtain a degree of preparedness, hence the reason my laptop had originally come on holiday with me.

At one point, I stood frustrated and decided to take a short break. White-washed walls gave the kitchen the illusion of space, but in truth it was tiny. Adjacent to a metal sink and drainer was a tall corner cupboard that was in turn next to the only window. I went to grab myself a drink and when normally, well at least for the past few hours I would have gone to sit straight back down this time, I took the few steps to look outside. The image was a mirage of green rolling into the distance, the colour varying in intensity as fields were divided by roads and cultivated land. The scene was occasionally interspersed with buildings with some obscured by trees and the hills beyond.

It was as I stood here, that I felt like my brain had been struck with a burst of energy that I had never experienced before. The image that I was looking at was also somewhere else. I was still standing in that kitchen but the scene that played out in front of me and the sensation of standing there conjured a vivid scene in my mind. A male, a boy, an explorer, lost? They were the first things then; adventure, a family member could have gone missing? His father perhaps? As I write those words, they appear abstract and but loose threads of an idea. But for me at the time, as cliche as it may sound, it was as though I was seeing the world around me with eyes that possessed a whole new vibrancy. For the next couple of days, I was lost in a world of my own with a view out of that window writing furiously on my laptop.

The Italian countryside was the inspiration for what came to be my first book. Now I say ‘first book’, as though I am a published author. I am most definitely not (for the moment at least) and I would say that I am also very far away from being anywhere near that. But that feeling of inspiration made me realise that I absolutely LOVED writing stories and in turn, it also made me hungry for more of those moments of absolute clarity and conviction over my creative thinking.

So the offer presented to me a few weeks ago, as amazing in its own ways as it could have been, ultimately deep down wasn’t right for me. I had to sift through a lot of my mental clutter to find the answers, but I knew I had made the right decision when I thought of how much of my time would have been spent doing the job, whilst also working full-time and therefore sacrificing precious time to write for myself. The hunger and the drive both weren’t there in the same way that writing fiction is for me or even the feelings created when I write posts for this blog.

So it was a no for now for a small career shift, but a big step in reminding myself of what I want to do in the long-term.

MAKING A SHIFT

A little over a year ago I signed up to something that would help me make a change. A big change.

Fast forward nearly a full year and I am six weeks into a career shifting program that I hope at some point in the future will result in the course’s (and my own) ultimate intentions – making a move into something new.

I first discovered Careershifters through an online news agency a year ago that was offering an interactive discussion to people who were interested in making a career change themselves. I recall my senses being heightened as the discussions progressed, as though something had been switched on – was it serendipity that I had stumbled upon this?

Whatever the case, the practical part of my brain completed a bit of research about Careershifters as a company and subsequently I subscribed for their weekly newsletter. I began to receive emails with articles aimed at people in a similar position to me, and case studies of people who had made shifts.

As I delved into the website archives, I was surprised by the sheer number of people who appeared to want to make a career move. From those who had shifted from Finance to Design, and Marketing to Charity work. From a selfish perspective, I did steer myself towards those stories from those who had been in the education sector… other people similar to me had done it, so there it was, a signal, a sign, a ray of light.

Anything seemed possible.

It has taken a few years to get even to this point. A point where I even felt ‘ready’ for a change. Jeez! Not just a few. I am talking at least five!

Certainly, five years ago I can recall having a conversation with myself, where I told myself that if I was feeling still unhappy about my current career and path a few years down the line, then I would be looking for my out. In the years that have passed, I have moved organisations a few times but the thought has never left me – I still want my out.

Those feelings by the way five years ago and since include; regular indifference and apathy, occasional dread and a heap load of anxiety. The usual sort of shit when you are working in a job you no longer enjoy.

This post isn’t here to bitch and moan about teaching nor the state of the education system, if that is something that interests you wonderful reader, then check this out (yes, the story for this Ask Audrey article is my own).

However, what this post and some of my subsequent ‘Career’ posts are going to be about is my out and how I am going to achieve it.

I hope you’re able to join me on this adventure.

AUDREY: I HATE MY JOB, WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Audrey,

I have been in the education field for nearly ten years. I kind of fell into the role of being a teacher as jobs linked to the education field run in the family, plus it seemed like a safe choice at the time. My parents often said to me and my brother when we were younger that they hoped that we’d get jobs with security; a steady income, pension plan etcetera. And as luck would have it, we both have, which of course pleases our parents considerably.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been some great moments in my career to date, and occasionally I experience sparks of inspiration and excitement with my job. But why do I feel numb about my future if teaching is still in it?

Prior to my graduation I went to a careers fair, where I recall feeling utterly overwhelmed by the mostly corporate things on offer (having studied a degree in Business and Economics – which I somehow also felt steered into). The one thing I did realise was that I wanted to do something which I felt had some sort of meaning, that gave me some justification for my existence.

Therefore I turned to teaching as a way to achieve this. Over the course of my career to date I have moved schools four times, with each new start I feel fresh and enthused only to find myself a few months down the line feeling fed up and frustrated. I have been slowly beaten down by the crap management, who are more concerned with numbers and statistics than staff and student wellbeing, and the sheer hypocrisy of some of the hoops that I am expected to jump through. I feel like a frigging performing animal. On top of this, it’s as though I am putting on this fake happy, smiley face and persona when at times I just want to scream and shout in people’s faces.

It has gotten to the point where I literally dread going to work and I find myself crying periodically both at home and when I am at work. But it’s not as though the kids are awful (like I have had experience of in the past), in fact they are wonderful! But still each day, I keep thinking the same thing, I am not happy.

I fear that I am turning into one of those people who exist in pretty much every organisation who simply moan at absolutely everything, and worse still drag others down with them. I often catch myself turning perfectly pleasant conversations into something work-related that often started about anything but. I hate those people!

What can I do to stop feeling this way?

From,

Jump, the Performing Animal

 

Dear Jump,

Welcome to Adulthood!

A mystical land of wonder, confusion, a place which holds glimmers of hope and also some downright shitty times.

This land is filled with performing animals, that for one reason or another are more or less always on show. We are all to some extent doing our best performances; whether this is to loved ones, students, and often even to yourself. We all have to put our adult faces on for the world and get out there, sometimes when we really don’t want to or don’t believe in what we do.

The workplace is perhaps one of the strangest arenas for these performances as unlike with friends and family, you are getting paid when you go there. Aside from the financial benefits of being employed, in most workplaces you also get to hang out with people who you may not choose to co-exist with in the world outside.

The characters in this arena are a motley bunch including those who do the bare minimum, who turn up, do their thing and leave. There are also those who may care about their job, but don’t give a diddly-squat about some of the deeper shit that can go on in the workplace, like consideration of other people’s feelings. And then there are also some people who want their work to serve some greater purpose, for it to be fulfilling as well as being able to take the paycheck home.

And you, Jump appear to fit the criteria for the latter.

Forgive my seemingly odd digression and my focus on the roles that we play, but therein lies the crux of your dilemma.

You desire purpose. 

Jobs can often suck and when they really suck or have prolonged sucky periods, everything about them can bleed into other orifices of your life. No wonder you feel beaten down by it all. Perhaps that’s why you want to scream and shout at people? You’re keeping a side of you locked away behind a barred door. And the longer you keep it locked tight, the louder the banging becomes. It’s when the door begins to bend and crack that there is a chance that it may break and with it our adult mask can fall.

Life according to many modern day standards is a tick-boxing exercise, you are expected to be able to do and have it all. Whatever that mysterious ALL is.

We seem to be forever told that we can find careers that are fulfilling, exciting, that give us purpose and our lives meaning, and can possibly pay shit-loads at the same time. Wouldn’t all of that be wonderful?

I am not saying that it isn’t possible, but that in itself is a fuckload of pressure!

I am sorry to burst that millennial bubble, but you will NEVER have a job let alone a career where you enjoy every aspect of it; it could be the workload, the irritating colleagues, your cramped/ugly office space, the lunches provided (I am assuming where you work has a canteen), or all of the above.

It would be too easy of me to blame your situation entirely on what appears to be your lack of motivation to leave your current profession, but it sounds like you are entirely in control but you need that extra kick. Clearly you feel like you would be letting your parents down if you did leave, so that stops you from seeking their guidance. But there other external sources of support available: friends, online groups, getting a careers coach?

What is stopping you from leaving teaching?

You say that you’ve moved around to a few different schools and are fed up with the same sort of annoying issues. Well then, make a plan! What do you like? What do you enjoy doing? What are your passions? I am serious! But in the meantime, do stuff you DO like, whether that is going out partying to your hearts content to detract from the deep festering unhappiness you feel in your working life, or reading about areas you ARE interested in, and CONNECT with some new people outside of teaching.

If your concern is more of financial necessity, still make that plan, but include reference to savings. If you have little to no savings, well that’s going to take a bit longer, but do what you can to actually save and then get out. Many people work more than one job to enable a move quicker. If that isn’t possible, volunteer, get an outlet where you can get back to your day job refreshed and engaged, even if you see those things as temporary fixes. But they are GOOD temporary fixes. 

Which leads me to wonder if you are a betting person. You sound like someone who wants to be challenged intellectually but have up until this point stuck within those relatively safe boundaries instilled from your childhood. But perhaps it’s time to place a stake on some higher odds – ones that are bigger and bolder. Those odds can mean the difference between staying put or taking a leap into the big, scary unknown place known as life. But a life that could be that much better.

The only thing stopping you from doing anything else is you.