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On Orange Peel and Teachers

By Steve Saville

"You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruit.'

-Arthur Miller

There is a crucial moment in Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman' where Willy Loman realises that after years of employment he is being ‘let go’. His response is to liken himself to a piece of fruit that has had all the goodness sucked away by the system and now, having taken all of the fruit away, he is to be discarded like an orange peel. You can argue about the effectiveness of the metaphor, after all that is what we do with fruit, but the power of the image is inescapable.

Teachers serve, it is what we naturally do, we serve others in our effort to improve the learning outcomes of those we are entrusted to guide and teach. This is noble and vitally important, but it is also relentless. Teaching will take all that we have to offer and, if we are not careful, we will continue to give until we burnout. We will continue to give until our fruit is sucked dry and we are left with only a peel. This is not a pretty image but sometimes it is a brutal reality. Anxiety and burnout are affecting teachers worldwide and all the talk about wellbeing will not necessarily solve the problem.

We need to, as empowered individuals, also take some responsibility to ensure that there is balance in our lives, that there is joy and pleasure as well as work.

I have been thinking recently about a wellbeing survey that was conducted within several schools that I am working alongside. The results from this teachers survey were interesting. Overall teachers in this survey, taken over several schools, felt valued by their school, they felt a sense of purpose and that their needs were generally understood by the leadership. This was very encouraging. The were two areas however, where the data indicated a less positive picture. One being the anxiety amongst teachers about learning loss over the last three years (and what to do about it). This is hardly surprising and another indication of just how much teachers care.

The second concern was the data that overall teachers were abysmally poor in looking after their own hauora and wellbeing. In these demanding times worrying numbers indicated that they were compromising healthy eating, exercising and sleep patterns. In other words, they were making personal sacrifices in an attempt to be the best teacher that they could be.

But surely this can not be maintained. There are times in any school year when it is all hands to the pump as deadlines need to be met, this is sustainable providing it is the exception and time specific and not the norm. The concern is that this lack of balance is becoming a norm and an unsustainable norm at that.

The solution? Well, the opportunity to suddenly transform our lives to ensure balance and the celebration of individuality and personal fulfillment is probably a little too dramatic for most, but we can ensure that we give ourselves little doses of wellbeing each and every day, that would certainly be a start!

What we can do is to identify the little things that give us a sense of personal joy and fulfillment and reward ourselves with them each and every day. Ensure that even for a brief few moments we are indulging our need to be a person of individual worth.

It is not being selfish, it is showing respect to ourselves as an individual. After all if we don't do this for ourselves, when should anyone else value us or care for our wellbeing? We need to find these small doses that, hopefully will add up over time, and eventually redress the balance.

The main thing is to identify these ‘doses’ and identify them from an intensely personal perspective. No one can decide for you what a dose of personal wellbeing should, or could, look like. For some of us it might involve yoga, a trip to the gym, or a massage, all of which would have the very opposite of the desired effect for me personally. For some it might be a shopping expedition, again for me this is akin to entering the seventh level of hell. For me a decent cup of coffee is a small treat that makes the world seem a better place. Completing Wordle over breakfast has a similar effect.

For me taking half an hour in an evening to randomly doodle somehow makes me feel better about everything. For many of us, dedicated time to read, listen to or perform music, garden, walk the dog, or watch a movie constitute small doses. Again for me, reading a comic, or watching my football team (mixed results when it comes to this second activity actually improving my wellbeing) are tiny regular doses that enhance my sense of being a unique individual , ‘me’ time...

What I am trying to say is that these acts are personal, small, and hopefully selfish. Sitting still for a few minutes with a cup of tea, talking to a friend, Lego with the kids. The important thing is the ‘doing’ and not feeling guilty about it.

‘Me’ time, we deserve it, and it makes us better people.

Finally, I have always wondered why, for many of us, a walk through a park or the bush or any natural green environment seems to have such a huge beneficial feeling. For many years I just put this down to some residue hippy genes, but realising, over recent years, that the Japanese have a term for this, Shinrin Yoku, forest bathing. It is a thing that the practice of just walking through trees has positive benefits. See, simply going for a walk can help redress the balance and make sure the fruit is not being sucked dry.

So as we enter the inevitable frenzy of Term 4, as we frantically try to tidy up this year and plan for an effective start to 2023, the question I ask you is, where are your daily personal doses of wellbeing?

It's a rhetorical question by the way, I don’t really want your answers. I am currently busy reading a book of Tom Gauld cartoons and listening to the Snuts new album and wondering whether alongside the hippy genes there are a few dormant Scottish ones that have started to stir.

To help you on your way, please enjoy our FREE tool called 16 Tiny Doses, you can find it here.

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