Opinion: The worst day of my life #timetotalk

Time to talk 2015The worst day of my life was January 12th 2012. I got up in the morning feeling nervous like every day for months on end. I had been prescribed Citalopram for depression, but it wasn’t really cutting it and I was terrible at taking it anyway.

I went into work as normal. My job was to teach 15 year olds who had been expelled from school. I taught at a Further Education College in Kent. I was due to be moved to another department soon because I had said I wasn’t coping.

My manager had spotted the self harm scars on my arms and had asked me to cover up. That along with the disciplinary issues, and feeling like I had no support, had led to the depression and the planned move to another department.

I got into class and began to attempt to teach the lesson. By this stage, teaching wasn’t what I was doing. I was just trying to get through each day. I didn’t care what the students learned, and barely cared what they did, so I thought.

I had a disagreement with some students, I can’t remember who, or why, and I sent them off to break. My heart was pounding and I felt terrified. I knew I couldn’t do this any more so I went to see a senior manager. He wasn’t in his office.

I went to Personnel and the welfare officer wasn’t there either, so I went back to my office. I asked someone to cover the lesson for me. Then I emailed my manager with a statement and waited to see what would happen.

My manager came up and spoke to the class. Then he came in and spoke to me. I tried to explain to him that I couldn’t go back into class. He asked me to come into the classroom with the students for a friendly chat. I foolishly agreed.

The friendly chat involved three students explaining to me why I was being unreasonable in front of most of the department’s staff and the entire group while my manager looked on. It was during this discussion that I broke.

I tried to argue with the students, vulnerable 15 year olds that they were. I raised my voice and told them that their behaviour was affecting my mental health, that because of them I was self harming. My manager told me to leave the room.

I walked out shaking like a leaf, and something snapped. I’ve been a self harmer for years, and I have a temper too, but the rage and frustration I felt in that moment was like nothing I ever felt. I hit a door three times.

The door had a large toughened glass window with metal mesh inside. It shattered everywhere, slicing my arm open in three places. People rushed out of classrooms to see what had happened. I was suddenly utterly unfeeling.

A first aider came and saw to my wounds. I was taken to the local hospital and received ten stitches. It was my last day as a teacher. After two months off sick I returned to the College having been demoted. In July 2012 I left altogether.

Even writing these words down takes me back to that day. It makes me want to cry, to scream, to run away and hide. But I need to write this down and share it. Because I don’t want it ever to happen to anyone else.

* Gary Fuller is on the Executive of the Liberal Democrat Mental Health Association

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  • Helen Tedcastle 5th Feb '15 - 5:59pm

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Gary. I think you are incredible for doing so, because you highlight how demanding teaching is, especially of very difficult youngsters, with little if any support.

    It seems to me that teaching is a collaborative exercise at its core but successive government restructuring and target-setting, have made managers see their role as ‘monitors.’ I know because I was once a manager and monitoring and assessment became a core part of the expectations from higher management and Ofsted. It is not just Gove that has been responsible for this but Labour too, from Blunkett onwards.

    It sounds to me as if you received insufficient support and certainly, you should not have been made to go back in front of the class that day.

  • Mike Fuller 5th Feb '15 - 7:08pm

    This is where living so far away becomes a burden, we were not there. But having experienced similar pressures, with similar results, I can say, it does get better – eventually – as events and remembered feelings begin to blur a little, as one’s bad and sad memories are gradually swamped by better times. We come to value real sensation and emotion over what we think is “expected” of us. Age informs, guides and heals.

    Never knew, ’til now, much of what happened and we know things are recent enough to remain raw. Just know that we love you and are proud to call you Son.

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