Category Archives: mental health

Don’t Look At The Train!

In my dealings with a panicky pupil today, I was reminded of an allegorical story I was told when I was a recently-qualified teacher. As those who have read some of my previous posts will know, I have faced my share of mental health issues over the years, and early in my teaching career I was experiencing heightened anxiety and panic attacks.

As I sat in his kitchen with my teacher mentor, a wonderfully wise, gentle man called Bernie Robson, who is sadly no longer with us, he asked me to close my eyes and painted the following picture:

“Along an arrow-straight length of track, a mighty goods train is thundering towards you. In front of you, struggling against their bonds, lies a prisoner roped to the rails. The train driver has seen the impending disaster, and has applied the brakes… but with the weight of wagons behind it, the engine has no chance of stopping in time. It will plough headlong over you and the stricken prisoner in precisely 45 seconds.

The ropes are tied in 8 sturdy but simple knots. Each will take 5 seconds to loosen. So if you retain your composure and focus, untying each knot with single-minded sang-froid, you will have 5 seconds left over to drag the prisoner to safety… The key message, therefore?


Bernie appreciated, of course, that when your mind is playing tricks on you and refuses to allow you the calm and control required to negotiate even the apparently simplest of mundane tasks, such a message is easier said than done.

But I’ve never forgotten it, or him. And at times like this afternoon, when I pass it on to others, I hope it helps them too.


#blimage – Let’s go outside and play!

Rachel Jones (@rlj1981) has thrown down the blimage gauntlet, which Steve Wheeler and Amy Burvall came up with earlier this month, as a fresh way to inspire educational bloggers, via an image sent to them by someone in their PLN.

This is the picture Rachel tweeted out, a day or two ago. I love Calvin and Hobbes, and enjoy receiving cartoons in my Twitter feed. There’s a warmth and a humanity about them – and in the context of the headline-dominating news about Cedric the lion and the hunter/dentist, these four frames take on an added poignancy.

calvin_and_hobbes_off_ritalin source

But when I did a little more digging, I found this:

Calvin and Hobbes - Snap out of it source

So sad… And is it likely to be depressingly prophetic? Not so much in the sense of pupils being increasingly medicated in a bid to control whatever syndrome, but the feeling that more and more kids are losing their childhoods, and finding their lives dominated by homework and assessments…

I aim to take my lessons beyond paper, desks, (even walls and windows) whenever I can, and I like to think that not only do I help my pupils retain sight of the fun and wonder inherent in the learning process, but that they help me to do the same. Let’s go outside and play!

PS I know it’s a bit of a cheat to add a second (bl)image! 🙂

PPS I know the first three panels aren’t by Bill Watterson… 😉

#teacher5aday – end-of-term report

My original #teacher5aday post is here.

As a reminder, Martyn Reah’s suggestion was to try and address the five key areas below, with a view to setting (and perhaps just as importantly, sharing) “resolutions” for 2015, under the umbrella Twitter hashtag of #teacher5aday: I wrote my post on December 14th 2014.






So how have I done? I’m going to try to assess that in the form of an end-of-term report (yup, haven’t written nearly enough of those. lately… Hopefully a little bit less copy-and-paste than the ones lamented in today’s Guardian… and every summer since handwritten reports died out ;))

Teacher5aday Report: Alex Bellars


“Alex has apparently continued to view quantity of tweeting as just as important as quality, and perhaps needs to reassess this area. He has made good strides in meeting some online acquaintances face-to-face, and presenting at ILILC for the first time, however, but work pressure has prevented him from travelling to some conferences that he had planned to attend, sadly.”


“Alex’s participation in hockey has been reasonably regular, and as always his bloodthirsty enthusiasm is welcome compensation for his lack of skill. The advent of summer will hopefully help him address the other target he set himself – namely to get out on his bike, which we can assure him is still exactly where he left it in the garage, under his wife’s horse-riding gear.”


“Alex has had another good term of focusing on the pupils – though not to the exclusion of his own health. Ensuring that he cooks at least three delicious evening meals a week, since adopting Hello Fresh, and always eating together at the table rather than giving into the temptation to sit in front of the TV, munching away, has helped to consecrate at least part of the day to ‘us-time’ with the other half…and redoing the garden together has also meant working together on a project, the fruits of which they can both enjoy over the summer.”


“Alex has perhaps shown greater motivation in implementing the classroom tablets he has been given as a ‘guinea pig project’ than any other area of his life. They have indeed been a great adjunct to the learning and teaching already going on, and there is more yet to come… He now needs to do some more thinking – and blogging – about how to take usage of them to the next level in 2015-16.”


“Alex is to be commended for signing up to the Join In UK movement, and get his name down on the books to help out with the New Forest and District Sailability Club at Blashford Lakes, up the road. A great way to combine his love of sailing with volunteering and reconnecting with his paralympic experiences from 2 summers ago. We will be interested to see how this goes..”

Right. As I said when I finished my #teacher5aday post… Time for a cuppa!

#summer10… and the livin’ is easy…

Here’s the brief, from Rachel Jones: “I wanted to make the summer holidays purposeful and do something that have meaning for me, and the #summer10 was born. Here is the deal, you decide at the beginning of the holidays 10 things that you would like to achieve, and then report back at the end how you did. There is no guilt here – so no feeling bad if you don’t get them all done. I also think one ONE should be work related, you know, to keep the work life balance thing in check. I would really like a lot of folk to get involved with this, and really make the most of a teachers most precious time of the year. Here is mine.”

A little bit like a summertime #Nurture1415 post, then? Well, I’m game for that – it’s probably about time I reviewed my progress on that, too… So – in no particular order but more or less as they splurge out, stream-of-unconsciously:

  1. Enjoy the garden! We spent shedloads on our (ironically shed-free) back garden, this year, and are not going away at all, so plan to get out and make the most of it. Planting is done, weeding is easy because of the way we have designed it, and the built-in sofa is very tempting. All we need is the weather to join in the fun, now…
  2. Get back to blogging. Been a while since I putanything on here, and also want to do a bit more on staffrm
  3. Spend plenty of us-time with @MrsBellacat. We are so lucky with where we live: the New Forest is on the doorstep, the sea is not much further, and we both love it, round ‘ere 🙂
  4. Take care of me. I have had a good “calendar year”, mental health-wise, with no real encroachments from the old black dog. And I am determined to ensure that I set myself up, over the summer, for September’s challenges. Exercise, good food, not too much vino… 😉
  5. And that means, perhaps counter-intuitively, not relaxing SO much that getting back into gear is such a shock, when the time comes. So I will be doing little bits and bobs of work to “keep my eye in”. Keeping the balance*.
  6. Just like Rach, I mean to read. I am a voracious reader, but in term time I find, along with many teachers, that the opportunities and motivation to read for pleasure are buried under the reading that has to be done (for professional purposes). I am currently reading 3 books, with another couple on the waiting list… and none of them has anything to do with education 🙂
  7. Painting. Those of you who know me a bit will know that I love to paint, but I have not done very much at all, this year. I mean to remedy that, over the summer…
  8. Sport… I am writing this with Australia 80-odd for 1 in the Lord’s Test of the Ashes Series, England having whooped them at Cardiff – and TMS on the radio is the back-drop to my summer. Along with the Tour de France on ITV4, and the Open… and so on. Plus of course my hockey on Saturday mornings. Our team fragments somewhat over the summer, but we have started using Doodle to nail down who is and isn’t around for each session: very handy.
  9. Family time. Fun and frolics with my sis and her two (nearly 6 and 2). She’s got them little lifejackets, so we will be able to take them out on dad’s sailing boat… going to be brilliant!
  10. Big August Birthday Bash. My mum, cousin and brother have birthdays on consecutive days in the final throes of August (including my cousin’s 50th, this year), and there will once again be getting on for 50 or 60 of us (featuring newly-borns galore) heading down to the family roots in Angle, near Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire, for festivities in that last week… before everything kicks off again. Bank Holiday Monday is the 31st August (my bro’s birthday), and the first of our two INSET days is the 1st September… so I may well still be covered in sand and full of crab when term restarts once more!

That’s mine. What about you? Whatever you do – enjoy your #summer10! 🙂

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* I am not saying “work/life balance” any more. Work is part of my life… 😉

#ililc5 – Cooking on gas: Lisa Stevens’ final keynote

How do you bring such a fantastic weekend to a close?

No pressure!

If anyone is equipped to do so successfully, it is the phenomenon known as Lisibo! And in the longest, most well-constructed food-based metaphor in keynoting history, Lisa, treated us to a smorgasbord of baking, chef-ing and recipe-creating thoughts over a wide-ranging talk on her approach to learning and teaching.

The emotional heart to her ILILC finale reminisced about her own linguistic hero –  Luz Sanchez-Richardson, her Spanish teacher when she took her A-level, who fanned the love of languages within her to the brightly-burning flame you can’t help but see whenever you meet Lisa. I suspect most of us MFL teachers have our own “language hero”: mine was a real throw-back of a prep-school French teacher called Barry Hartley, who ruthlessly but humorously dragged me and my classmates to well beyond O-level standard by the time we were 12-13. And introduced us to the genius of Hancock’s Half-hour on vinyl….

Lisa has already blogged her own keynote here – including how she came up with the idea in the first place, a Storify of the major Tweetage that was going on during the talk, and a recording of the whole thing.

And she even made cupcakes for us all. Legend. 🙂

#28wordsofwriting – how’s your weak bean?

Aggravating. Bewildering. Challenging. Discombobulating. Enriching. Fruitful. Glorious. Heroic. Incomprehensible. Joyous. Knackering. Limitless. Mind-blowing. Nerve-wracking. Ongoing. Powerful. Quantum-leaping. Radical. Shattering. Tonsil-testing. Unforgettable. Valuable. Weak-kneeing. Xstatic. Yoga-teaching. Zombifying.


And over. 😉

#28wordsofwriting – riding on the shoulders of woodpeckers… #ililc5


I always feel emboldened, revitalised and yet totally shattered after the ILILC weekend! So many wonderful new ideas and techniques to try out… And yet so little energy!