Personal stories of reclaiming life from mental ill health

Andy: Show of confidence

I actually enjoy the showmanship of standing up and presenting.

A Teachmeet is literally what it says. It’s where groups of teachers meet each other. If you work in a school, the chance of you meeting teachers from other schools these days is slim to zero, you just don’t get out and meet other teachers, unless you are on a very rare course. It’s free. And you can attend it in your own time. [It enables people to hear ideas] outside their comfort zone.


You get different people, some who run companies linked to education. It’s difficult trying to strike a balance between not making it commercial and making it about teachers. Tonight we had an HLTA, a teaching assistant but higher level, who showed what he does, many more things than many teachers do. Sometimes you get senior management come to them.


Beginning of June I went to Leeds for a one day conference. Lucky, I stayed overnight on Friday. I went to talk in a workshop for 45 minutes, with a friend, and I got to meet friends from Durham and other places in the North East, who I normally talk to on Twitter, who I never thought I’d meet because they were too far away and it was great. I’m never going to meet some of the people that I tweet with in Pakistan, Abu Dabi, New Zealand but if I get the opportunity, it’s great to put a face to the person and quite often, they look nothing like their Twitter picture, which really confuses you. Especially if their Twitter picture is a Star Wars helmet, as I found somebody at an IT show a couple of years ago.


I enjoy the company of the other teachers who go. If you are going to give up part of your afternoon and evening and leave your family at home and come to one of these events then you are keen to learn things from other people and you are open to ideas. You don’t come to them if you don’t want to do something different. You go down the pub or you sit at home, or you’d mark a set of books, whatever. But also I actually enjoy the showmanship of standing up and presenting at Teachmeets. This evening, the technology wasn’t working so I did a presentation without it and cherry picked various members of the audience so it would be useful to watch the video back because it was totally unplanned! I enjoy that thing of presenting to other adults and sharing ideas.


My first one, it was full of IT people and they were sooo geeky and I thought, ‘Urgh! This is a bit much for me.’ The next one I did was [a few years later] I’ve been going to them now two, two and a third years, something like that. So about 28 months and in the last two years I think there are about two that I haven’t presented at, it maybe only one. I’m attending at least 6 a year, probably even more than that. Now I even do [other] things like, somebody contacted me and said, ‘Will you do a video for us?’ So I taught myself how to use two new apps and made a video presentation. It gives me a chance to try out ideas, put things out there. People give me feedback and that’s really helpful.

The whole networking, with Twitter, the Teachmeets and the other conferences I’ve been to is the thing that’s made me feel confident about myself as a teacher again because I’m around people who say ‘You’re doing the right thing.’ It is positive reinforcement. Everytime I go to a Teachmeet I get some positive feedback. The first one [I went to] was one in Redbridge [London] 2008/2009. The 2nd one I went to in 2012, I decided. ‘Oh, I’m going to do a presentation,’ and made up this thing called Mishmash, which within the week became Mishmash learning, which became my blog which I’ve now done for two and a half years. Off the back of that has come all the other things that I do.


I don’t tend to do ones where you have to travel large distances very often.We look at when they come up. [Anne’s] got her choir, she has gigs and they tend to be in the weekend. Some of these [Teachmeets] are in the week so that helps. I always go early and help set up but I’ve tried to start limiting it to one event a month, which works most months. This month I’ve done three already but it’s unusual, as it’s getting near the end of term, so there’s a few more crammed in. People said to me when I went to Northern Rocks, ‘Oh, are you going to Pedagoo SW in Bristol next weekend?’ I said ‘No, I have a family, [laughter] I am not taking another weekend so soon afterwards.’ There has to be an element of pacing in there.

Another good thing is lots of the people at Teachmeets know about my mental health tweets and know about my mental health posts [on my blog] so I actually meet the other Black Dog amigos. That is really good because we actually get to see each other. We give each other big hugs we get to check how people are. Check on others are that one of us might have lost touch with and can ask how they are doing. Again it’s nice because it gives you a chance to talk out about it, with other people. Other people have come out of the woodwork because they know that we are there as a group and they’re quite happy to talk to us and they don’t find it threatening.

I think the most I’ve spoken to at Teachmeets is probably about 120 people. It used to be, if I were speaking in front of 120 parents in a parents evening, that would terrify me. I still find it slightly nervy but these are teachers who interested and if they switch off, they switch off. But they’re not rude about it, they just go quiet and you do your thing. And you’re only there for seven minutes, if that. Sometimes you’re there for two minutes and you do something different. Today, I got a member of the audience, I got people standing up. I try and do something that gets people involved in some way rather than just talking at them and go away with it. I’m generally more comfortable with it. I’ve done a few, tonight and last week, I did them without having technology which is slightly odd as it acts like a prop and a crutch to lean on slightly. I did a presentation at Easter for [a National] conference and because there were so many people in the room, the presentation that I planned changed completely.


I like to be busy. I have nights where, I’ve had the World Cup, sitting down and watching football, which I don’t usually do. Last night I stayed up far too late watching Tunisia vs Germany all the way to the end of the match at midnight. Looking at extra time thinking, ‘Oh dear. Shouldn’t have done that.’ I was researching some lessons about clouds for year 7 while [the match] was on. Most of the time if I’ve got a device in my hand I’ll be doing stuff and I’ll go out for walks and have some time away. Our youngest, C, is always at home as he’s finished his GCSEs so he’s full time at home until he has some things to do in the summer. It varies, we do tend to be busy. I think sitting still for any length of time just doesn’t work. I do sit in the garden occasionally, or sit in the park and not have my phone or anything on and just sit there. That’s something I’m going to do more of when I get to the end of term. The last few weeks have just been manic with lots of different things happening, so that needs to slow down a bit.


I asked the teaching assistants [I work with] to give me some feedback on me and my teaching. So far, I’ve got four of them. They are nice, positive affirmations that I can sit and read, so if some point in the next few months/years I’m feeling a slight dip. I can go back to these things about what I’m like in the classroom. How I’ve helped some of them as parents of the children in the school and it’s a really positive thing to do.

Andy: Show of confidence