On Work Related Stress – Teachers Can Knit Fog and Plait Sawdust (Until they can’t)

In colloquial British English “knitting fog”, is used to describe something which you are trying to do but which proves to be impossible or nigh on impossible.  Despite this I know some amazing individuals, particularly teachers or ex-teachers, who can indeed “knit fog” as they can create meaning, structure and material from mere strands.  Teaching and learning are acquired arts which take time to develop. There’s also an element of mystery to the mastery. It doesn’t just happen. It takes ability, understanding, knowledge, effort, skill, precision, timing and that special edge that defines you as a unique human being.


True teachers are a resourceful lot. Time and time again they show their resilience, exceed expectations and take risks. They are role models who inspire by showing not telling. They are strict but kind. They are firm but fair. They turn the other cheek and take it on the chin. They work on a shoestring and stretch to a challenge. And all this time, when it really counts, they are constantly knitting fog and holding it together…


Until they can’t. Sooner or later the perfect storm catches up with them. Early mornings, lunchtime lessons, after school interventions, assessment cycles, performance management, weekends triple-marking crates of books, late nights.  And still the relentless shower of criticism flows from above.  Eventually you become saturated by self-doubt.  It doesn’t so much creep up on you occasionally anymore; it beats you up, follows you home and spooks you in the middle of the night. And you think that you can’t knit fog anymore.


Nobody needs that kind of negativity in their life. So, what do you do? After 5, 10, 20 years of teaching? Keep going and ignore the blows? Fight back? Get out? Any of these options. Any response is better than transmitting the negativity, pressure and stress downwards on to the children you teach. Don’t tell your students that they are completely useless or inadequate in order to make yourself feel better. Don’t fail to find some thing worthy of some praise or promise. Whatever happens you must respect yourself and trust your ability to balance criticism and praise. Know this: bad teachers fail people; good teachers help people to thrive. The same goes for management.  So, if you have succeeded consistently before, why are you consistently failing now? 


The up side of the perfect storm is the calm afterwards. Remember that when you can knit fog or plait sawdust you can do anything.  Re-build your life. Re-connect, read, write, dance, meet new people.  Get a life.  Get another job.  Do something fun for a while.  And if all else fails: go on supply and teach. The negative feedback culture can’t touch you and you can say goodbye to those extra pressures. Finding people who can knit fog isn’t easy. Those who can teach. It is a kind of magic.

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