This blog appeared in The Guardian at the end of March called ‘Secret Teacher: when does a relaxing glass of wine become a problem?’ I read it and although it’s called Secret Teacher felt that you could easily substitute the profession with any other professional or non-professional job be it mine as a nurse, or another such as accountant, lawyer or doctor.
I don’t remember when it started, but I think it was around my second year in teaching. At first it was just a couple of glasses after work, and then a couple more. I’m now faced with the thought that my relationship with wine has become dysfunctional. It’s become a little too close for comfort.
I’m not saying I’m an alcoholic, but when you’re getting back from work and the first thing you do is pour yourself a large glass of Pinot Noir, then comfortably polish off the bottle before you’ve finished dinner, you know things have maybe gone too far.
Aside from the long-term effects on my body and mind, you would think that drinking so much in the eveningwould make it hard to plough through the tonne of marking and planning I have to do. But the startling thing is that alcohol has become such a regular part of my life that my work output hasn’t really been affected – yet. No one other than members of my family really knows how much I can put away in the evening. Crucially, my students and colleagues haven’t a clue that drinking has formed such a large part of my relaxation regime. That said, my drinking habits fit in comfortably with the majority of teachers I speak to.
One of my former colleagues tells an amusing yet horrendous story of an end-of-year student showcase. You know the type of affair, where students show off their talents on stage for the whole school. One student demonstrated their unique skill for impressions, running through a whole gamut of much-liked teachers. When it came around to impersonating my colleague the student kept chatting about how hungover he was. The teacher in question was shocked that he was hungover so often that it had become a catchphrase.
I’ve heard many a weather-beaten senior pro talk about how they used to nip down the pub at lunchtime for a few pints then head back for year 7 science and frog dissection. It might bring a wry smile to think of Mr Jones breathing Guinness breath over poor Timmy while explaining the respiratory system of Kermit in front of them, but at what point does relying on alcohol to take the edge off stress become a problem?
Teaching was stressful then and it’s more so now. You would have thought that with all these changes in education over the years someone would have given some thought about the people at the chalkface. The fact remains that more of us than we’d probably care to admit find our jobs so hard we see no other way of de-stressing than reaching for a medicinal bottle of vino. It can’t be right that when we know more about the long-term physical and psychological effects of alcohol, it remains such a mainstay in our lives.
As I said earlier, I’ve coped manfully for years hiding the effects of my drinking from those who should be most concerned. But I’m starting to find that some days are a lot tougher than others. There are days when I struggle to find the energy to stand in front of the students, to engage them in the lesson. It’s not that the classes aren’t planned, but just there is lethargy in their delivery. I’m not as clear with my instructions as I could be and my patience levels are taking a battering probably due to feeling so tired and emotional.
I’m asked about coping strategies for stress fairly often by PGCE students. I always give the best possible advice, the professional advice – make time for yourselves and family, and don’t sync your work emails to your personal devices. I’ve never told any of them that my strategy is to get drunk every night; that the best way I’ve coped with marking work is by doing it in the pub with a pint next to my green pen.
I’m going to have to find another coping mechanism. The last thing I want to be is the person in the staffroom, with a red nose and cheeks, who has to ignore the whisperings behind their back from fresh-faced colleagues. “Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him.” If I don’t do something now, I worry someone will call last orders on my career.
The comments after the piece are also worth a view and the majority opinion expressed was concern that the person has an alcohol dependency issue that needs help. This piece could have been written be me and describes myself and many of my now sober friends. If it resonates with you maybe it’s time to look at your drinking too …..