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'It's relentless and consuming.' The unseen mental load of being a teacher.

Teaching is a hard job. Anyone who says otherwise a) isn’t a teacher or b) isn’t related to one.

There are the day-to-day roles and responsibilities like classroom management, teaching content, report writing and yard duty, but there are also all of the tasks that you don’t see: the teacher’s mental load.

This is exactly why I quit teaching seven years ago and have never looked back. The mental load was by far the hardest component of the job for me; it was the most difficult and complex to navigate, and ultimately what drove me to a professional break-down after five years.

And I know I am not the only one.

Of course, every job has its challenges and pressures. But teaching is a unique microcosm that consists of a very specific set of tasks and expectations that no other profession has. It is these things that make teaching not just challenging but almost impossible to do.

The after-hours phone calls and emails to parents for student updates or to address behavioural issues.

Researching ideas in the middle of the night about how to motivate and engage particular types of students, because you can’t stop thinking about how bored they said they were in your class.

Remembering to order supplies and equipment to run your lessons effectively (on an often very-limited budget).

Remembering to follow up with Jackson for his overdue homework that he assured you he had left on his kitchen bench.

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There is a huge number of pressing elements that contribute to a teacher’s mental load every day, and they are relentless and consuming.

Some are literally matters of life and death.

Each week, sometimes multiple times, updated medical alert lists are sent to the teaching staff of schools everywhere. These lists catalogue the students who suffer from an allergy or medical condition that teachers need to be aware of.

It would include everything from food allergies like milk, eggs, nuts and fish, to environmental allergies like bee stings and bull ants. Some would have minor reactions when exposed, others were severely anaphylactic and would require specific first-aid treatment.

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There were also varying medical conditions we needed to be aware of, from ADHD, depression and anxiety, to vision impairment, colour blindness and even multiple sclerosis. The list was wide ranging and extensive, and in my experience, often featured hundreds of names.

As teachers, understanding these conditions is imperative. There was an expectation for us to be aware of all of these students and to know what needed to be done for each specific case, if something was to go wrong.

This means being exceptionally vigilant at all times, being on hazard control, having eyes in the back of your head, and being ready to step into action at any possible tine.

It is like working in an emergency room with limited medical knowledge and the worst doctor-patient ratio in the world.

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Then there are all the less-serious but still taxing weights to carry.

Teaching usually involves multiple classes of twenty-plus students. Inside each teacher’s mind in an ever-ticking process of remembering which student is which, who owes you work, who needs more challenging work and who never does their work.

Within the over 100 students you usually teach, you need to be aware of their individual differences.

Who struggles to read?

Who lacks confidence and needs encouragement?

Who is being bullied by another student?

Which student is going through upheaval at home and is a bit off their game?

Which one is about to go on holidays for a month and needs to take away work with them to complete?

It involves listening, planning, organising, compiling resources, phone calls, meetings with counsellors, parents and other teachers. It involves lists and record keeping, both physically and mentally. It involves worrying, it involves wondering, it involves caring and it involves emotional investment.

It never stops. Not after 3pm, not on the weekend, not on the school holidays, because it’s not a document to file away until the following day — they are our students.

We need to remember this mental load that teachers carry, because while bearing it, they are also doing one of the most admirable jobs that can be done: shaping our children’s future.

Shona Hendley, Mother of Goats, Cats and Humans is a regular contributor to Mamamia and freelance writer. As an ex-secondary school teacher she has a strong interesting in education and is a passionate animal advocate. You can follow her on Instagram: instagram.com/shonamarion/

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