Thursday 13th December 2018

Telling My Story. Chapter Seven. 2018.124.

Telling My Story. Chapter Seven. 2018.124.

Dear Readers,

This is the seventh instalment in Telling My Story. I hope that you are enjoying the blasts from my pasts. I am finding your comments very supportive. This chapter takes us through the beginning of  two years, namely, 1976-1977. You might consider what you were doing then or even if you were alive. I know! It IS over 4o years ago. Are you ready?

But first, let me remind you….I started telling this story almost 2 years ago. Then there was a slight long break while I dealt with the matter of oral cancer. By the few times I wrote though I was smile-added back again!

Photo (#1) For Telling My Story.

Photo (#2) post major cancer surgeries.

Photo #3 for Telling My Story. Post Upper Teeth Prosthesis.

A Teaching Career Means a Move or Three.

By the end of 1975, my clever husband had earned what was called “First List” in the then promotion systems of N.S.W. Department of Education and along with starting a part-time degree, HE was on his way, up the career ladder and I was more than happy to support him as I needed to. This meant the following….

He was offered an Acting Principal’s position in one of the most remote schools in New South Wales. By remote, I mean very and would still be regard that way. Here’s where it gets interesting and would not be part of a job-ad these days. He found out about the vacancy in this school via the travelling N.S.W. Teachers’ Federation Organiser who said “why don’t you take up the offer to go and see it?”. We thought, ‘why not?’. I was happy(ish) teaching, our daughter was now 4 and we could make a change BUT I was still longing for a second child. More about that later.

He Went, He Saw, He Said “We will take it”.

We were ambitious but also professionally-centred and once my husband had driven the many miles to this school, stayed with the then-teaching team, and driven home again to our little one teacher-school and home, he said “let’s do it”. By WE I should add, the pre-requisite that there be a married couple take the two jobs on offer. Teaching Principal and Classroom Teacher. That was because of the extreme isolation and only one place to comfortably live. I saw photos of the place and loved the idea of the new challenge. Our daughter, though under school starting age, would be able to come to school as there was a pre-school year attached to the school which was part of the Principal’s responsibilty.

Special School Indeed.

This school, a two-storey building, had a library underneath and shelter for play, a toilet and shower block and a flat in the school grounds for visitor accommodation. Across the sandy playground was the School Residence, up on stilts too with a garage and laundry underneath. The previous husband and wife teaching team had added in the window air conditioners to the school and to the residence. It was needed. Back of Bourke this is!

The student population, aged from 4 years to around 12 years was, in the majority, from the Aboriginal community which was located on the banks of the Culgoa River, some walking distance from the school. There were ‘white kids too’ including our daughter, the children of the local land lessee and the son of the shopkeeper (one shop which stocked limited supplies but was also the telephone exchange).

Adventures BEFORE Starting School.

By adventures, I really mean ADVENTURES. So, between us, we had organised the movement of our furniture to the new school and house – some 6-8 hours drive from where we had lived. We went back from Mum and Dad’s in Sydney to oversee the packing up and then we followed them in late January 1976 for our belongings would arrive, and we unpacked in the HEAT and went back to Sydney…only a 12 hour drive…which we did in one stint this time. A small respire time in Sydney, then with a very packed station wagon – 4WD were only farm-type jeeps then and we got a new Ford Wagon because we were going to a remote place and needed to have one of the more commonly known vehicles “just in case” (and there was one of those!).

With our daughter safely sat between us with a proper seatbelt harness, and a very, very full wagon, we took off for Dubbo. First stop and where we were most welcomed by the District Inspector (who would be a visitor from time to time) and his family to have a meal and stayed in a motel. All good! Not really. You see, we are talking many decades ago, no mobile phones and so communication was by radio announcements and talking to locals about road conditions. We were due to go to the school via a series of dirt roads after coming off the main road to Bourke…until we knew there had been heavy rains and flooding was expected. My husband got the news to “take the detour via Warren and you should get in to your place”. OK…I admit I had no idea it was a wee bit troubling that this was necessary. Packed (even more!) with some fresh food and more groceries…we got to the school and residence…after a MUCH longer drive and pretty wet conditions.

But WAIT…there is MORE.

So this school of ours was located away from the Culgoa River on a flat tract of land..in fact is all flat. The house and school were on a dirt road (heck everything was dirt) and the Aboriginal camp was next to the river. Just up the road from us was the store and over the road was a tennis court, an airstrip and further over, by the river, on the other side of the bridge over the Culgoa, was the land leased by the family who would give us both support and grief!

The rains came…and came and never left. The River was already flooding from the rains in nearby Queensland (only 14 miles away) and we were in for a LONG stay. School starting day came and two students turned up. Our daughter and the boy whose parents ran the shop. We began the day at school but due to the conditions came back to our place, and the mum of the boy said “if anyone calls from the Dept I will put them through to your place.” The system was helpful as it was a party line but certainly there was no privacy AND the phones only operated 9.00 am – 9.00 pm.

STUCK in the MUD.

Isolation is a new environment but with lots of advice and help from the locals was made better. In fact, we got school started once the pouring rain stopped and the lessee of the property collected the kids from the camp to bring them to school. His own kids and wife had left when they knew the floods would be arriving and went down south. We did not have them come to our school until Term 2. In the end, we got to know the support services very well. The Doctor in the nearest town who had never met us, could consult on the phone when we had a couple of health issues, the Chemist in the town would fill the scripts AND I could also ring the small town grocery store to order food and all of what we could get would be flown to us via the RAAF helicopter or a RAAF carrier plane. Other times, the supplies might land via a large drop off by the helicopter. The store got its supplies which helped us and the Aboriginal community. Sometimes too, someone may be taken to hospital that way.

In the initial days of the flood, we had no power for a few days BUT fortunately keeping the freezer closed and packed meant no food spoilage. We had a portable gas stove for a meal or two. And, the man who had the tractor had us to his house once a week for a cooked meal. He had more options on his property. He would come and get us in the tractor (see my husband in the second shot, with the friendly farmer, walking ahead to check levels and ditches and then on this occasion it was for us to see what things looked like along the way.

In the first photo this is the road to the school and our house is obscured by the school is in the distance. To the left of the photo, out of sight, is the airstrip and tennis courts.

THIS LASTED FOR TEN WEEKS.

In some ways it was one heck of a learning journey and in others it was very very tiresome. It was the very poor condition of the dirt roads because tractors and 4WD had left tracks and bad scarring on the road so no regular vehicle like ours could go anywhere. Somewhere in this time, my parents who had been very concerned about the situation drove up to Moree and chartered a small plane to come and visit us. The air strip had dried out. It was the roads that were impassable. Armed with all the makings of a fresh baked dinner and more my brave Mum and Dad hopped in the little Cessna and came for the weekend. They flew back the same way but with lots of love and hugs from their much-adored granddaughter. 

GETTING OUT.

I admit I became very stir-crazy and whilst it has been a term and a half of learning much about a new community I was determined, somehow to get to town for wait for it…Easter Eggs! How could our daughter miss the Easter Bunny? So one Saturday, our friend with his tractor, went before us, and gave us newbies to this situation, guidance on where to go to avoid being stuck and eventually we were on a better dirt road to town. We got back OK too.

HIGHLIGHTS and LOWLIGHTS and NO LIGHTS!

Just writing about the transition to the place, then what we went through personally and professionally means I am going to write more about the stay (and it WAS only for two years!) in point form:

  • The second term meant a more settled life. Well, in terms of the weather it was. My husband, who was both teaching principal and my supervisor meant “we” had some interesting and challenging conversation about teaching. You see he had not ever taught with another staff member, I had, and my temperament is totally opposite to his. We sorted this with roles and responsibilities (as every school should!) and subject area responsibilities and his work toward his next promotion, called List Two, was what he needed to achieve within his  stay at the school.

 

  • This was achieved by him and his classroom and school management was policy-central and all very much in keeping with educational standards then, and with the District Inspector (friendly man from Dubbo) staying with us too, it was good to know he had succeeded.

 

  • The unfortunate side of such isolation related to both social matters and health matters. My husband became ill for a number of reasons and was even hospitalised for some time and in the meanwhile I was relieving as Principal (and a worried wife!) and the N.S.W. Department of Education sent a replacement teacher from Bourke (almost 2 hours away) to stay and help out.

 

  • We also did our best to mix with the local and wider community, playing social tennis (the afternoon teas were amazing!) and getting together for meals. However, we would always be, as in many country settings “blow ins”.

 

  • Our daughter was socially isolated but as an only child she was quite content with play and reading at home by herself. We did have one young student board with us for a while to be company and to help our daughter too. That same family had our daughter stay when we went to Dubbo for a weekend.

 

  • Getting OUT was important. School terms were up to 3 x 13 or even some 14/15 week terms. We needed the break and so on the last Friday of term, our car would be packed and ready. I must add, that IF any rain fell, we would be delayed. Because of the road conditions.

 

  • The District Inspector allowed us an early Friday finish mid-term so we could drive to Dubbo (6 hours away) and shop and have respite for the weekend.

 

  • On one of those occasions, in Winter, it was meant to be that  we chose a Ford in the year we left Sydney. As we drove along stone filled road, we would get chips on the windscreen but even worse, as we found one almost dark afternoon getting back onto the BITUMEN at Coolabah, our lights were shot. The garage was still open. Yay. He had replacement bulbs. Yay. MY husband installed them. Yay. BUT, our daughter aged 5 was growing worse from a virus and her temperature was high. NO!

 

  • The next town east was Nyngan and we called into the hospital. She was given something to help and we drove through the Dubbo with great relief. Next day, with her health on our minds, we had a doctor call and she got meds. I also “needed” to go shopping and she had a particular wish to have some new sneakers. I got them. What a weekend. Grocery shopping was done too but I chose parcel pick up. THEN at 11.50 a.m. I remembered shops closed on Saturdays and not open till Monday. One ‘fast’ drive to Coles and I loaded them up.
  • The school was a hub for health professionals from Sydney and other places with specialist teams and most would arrive by air. Some came in 4 WD convoys. The professionals would examine anyone including us and in that time we had the late Dr Fred Hollows arrive with his then girlfriend, Gaby, in the team to check everyone’s eyes. We needed to have food at the ready and I often entertained thanks to cooking multiple dishes and freezing them along with my now-regular little cakes.

 

  • I also travelled to Brewarrina to see an Obstetrician who, upon hearing my story of tests done previously declared I would never have another child. See more about that here. It was such a definite and firm view, I mourned what was not going to happen and gave away all of my baby things to the Aboriginal community.

 

  • ABC TV did a story about folks living where we did and we, along with the children in the school were part of that program as were the locals from far and wide.

 

  • We had a grant from Disadvantaged Schools Program which funded the students from the school aged 7 and over, along with family carers and us to fly to Sydney, stay in lodgings in Kings Cross and experience places like Manly beach and the Zoo. Our daughter came with us but stayed with my parents and met up with us back in Manly.

 

  • But….this place got to us in some ways,  particularly access to health services for us both. We announced that at the end of the two years minimum we would be transferring back to Sydney as we hoped to find our first house and have our daughter attend school with more kids than 25.

This news was not taken well by SOME of the community but many also understood our motives. We left the school, and the area on the last Friday of term and with relief, when we got to the bitumen, this (then) 28 year old wife, mother and teacher sighed with relief.

What next?

Stay tuned: Chapter Eight soon.

Denyse.

Joining Kylie for I Blog On Tuesdays here and Sue & Leanne here for Midlife Share The Love linky on Wednesdays.

 

 

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September Stories. #4. 2018.98.

September Stories. #4. 2018.98.

I am glad the September Stories series is coming to an end today. Whilst I really had no idea it would be the subject of 4 weekly posts, I know that I needed to share the story and with more detail than I ever had. Here is the first one, the second in the series and last week’s.

After My Doctor’s Visit on 5 September 2002.

  • My G.P. had known me for almost 20 years and she knew of the many challenges I had managed in my life apart from the responsibilities of leading a school. Her diagnosis of ‘overwork’ in my role as a principal resulted in anxiety and depression and that it was, in her professional opinion a Workplace Accident.
  • Armed with the first of so many doctor’s certificates, I called my ‘boss’ at District Office and told him “I was not to return to school for the foreseeable future and that it would be best (according to my G.P.) that the school doesn’t contact me”. All contact with me could be from him.
  • This felt both liberating and strange. My role at that school was over. I had left, never to return. I needed and got some supportive care at home and with friends and family although my reluctance to share the news was because of the shame I felt at not completing the job I was given.

The Rest of 2002.

  • This was months of to-ing and fro-ing between people who needed to assess my state of health and people who wanted me to return to work.
  • It did not matter, it seemed, that I was so traumatised by potentially being in a school setting again I had to gear myself up even to pick up a grandchild from a school playground, because they, representatives of my employer, wanted me to tick the boxes and return to work of some kind within the NSW Dept of Education.
  • I was in such fear of any kind of contact from my school and any of my colleagues that I stayed secluded at home as much as possible.
  • I attended mandatory meetings, I tried over time to explain to my boss “how I cannot envisage returning” because he thought it would be something I could do. This was the big stumbling block for me as a someone who was trapped in her fear based on my experiences.
  • Many many phone calls, attendance at Return to Work meetings, doctors’ (including a psychiatrist) visits and therapy with a psychologist actually helped little as they cemented the fact in my mind that “I had failed” even though now, I can see the “system failed me”.

Early 2003 and a settlement (of sorts).

  • I did not want my school community to suffer any more disruptions as I had so I volunteered to relinquish my position as its principal. By this stage too, I had some kind messages, cards and flowers from some of my colleagues but nothing from those who had made the original plan to confront me.
  • I was offered a place to work from in the District Office but my shame was still high and it might have been a place where my colleagues would see me. Oh, and only ONE colleague actually did contact me after my incident.
  • Had I been in the old State Superannuation system, I could have medically retired based on my situation. But, as “luck” would have it, I chose to be out of it as a newly married woman, not re-entering a different and newer one till 1985.
  • We still had a mortgage. We needed my income and work cover payments were not able to keep up the payments. I had NO choice other than to resign and seek a partial disability ruling to access my lump sum of superannuation.
  • This story is long, traumatic and not going to be told, but in the end NSW Teachers Federation lawyers took up my case and my money was paid. Mortgage paid out.

2003 into 2004. 

  • Whilst there was relief personally I was only in my early 50s and I needed to be active and re-gain some of my lost confidence. I did this through some art classes, being more confident to visit my granddaughter at school and even travelled to Queensland for a holiday with my husband.
  • People who retire from teaching (and leave by resignation as I was forced to do) usually get ‘an approval to teach’ and I had one and it meant I could consider venturing back into teaching of some kind. I actually missed it.
  • My G.P. and a psychiatrist for the Department and one for workcover all agreed that I was fit to return to teaching but not to an executive role and to work part-time would be ideal.
  • I was fine about this and happy to shed being on workcover…because of its demands. I know it is much worse now, but I seriously thought then, as I do now, that unless you have been affected mentally and emotionally by a workplace you would NOT be forcing people back to work until they knew they were ready.

Always a teacher!

I was ready. May 2004 onwards!

  • Like most things in life, you know when you know and my husband noticed that I was ready to teach a little before I did. I liked that. I gathered some details together with a view to sending them to former principal colleagues who I felt comfortable with but this was not necessary.
  • A simple visit to a friend in her brand new school (5 minutes from home) saw me raise the topic of “do you need a teacher…” and her response was “yes, 2 days a week, want it?” Yes. I began as a Release From Face to Face teacher then and into the ensuing years, I became the school’s first English as a Second Language teacher, even going to Uni part-time to gain T.E.S.O.L qualifications.
  • I was a happy teacher until about 2009 when grandparenting responsibilities called me more and I was fine to officially retire on my terms 27.1.2010. Exactly 40 years since I had begun.

My Teacher’s Certificate

And now.

  • I am pleased to tell the story.
  • I believe now, based on my experience learned in recent years via anxiety and a cancer diagnosis that I would have the skills to return to school even though it was a confrontation I would need to deal with.
  • Nevertheless, I keep an eye on those I know and love who are continuing to teach and lead in schools and see that not much has changed. In fact 24/7 access is more the case as this means parents and schools can be connected.
  • I am pleased to read though, that schools are putting in place policies to ensure that teachers are NOT contactable 24 hours a day and I would hope principals would lead by example.

Thank you for your interest in this story. I know from your comments that schools are not the only placed where work can make someone sick.

Take care of yourselves everyone. I know I could have done that better if I had the skills I now possess.

Denyse.

Denyse.

Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

P.S. I am meeting Leanne next week! How exciting.

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School Holiday Memories. #LifeThisWeek 17/52. 2018.35.

School Holiday Memories. #LifeThisWeek 17/52. 2018.35.

As a teacher from 1970 onwards I remember many school holidays because they:

  • meant a break from the regular work of teaching
  • were often a holiday to my parents’ in Sydney or elsewhere when we lived in the ‘bush.’ See here for more!
  • provided some ‘breathing space’ to read books again, go to the shops for more than the necessary items
  • having time with our children to do family activities such as going to the city for the day or to a local shopping centre for ice-skating.

As a teacher and assistant principal back in the day I should have been able to remember when New South Wales Schools moved from 3 school holidays at the end of 3 school terms, but I cannot.

Maybe one of my younger and more clever readers will recall!

The Difference Made by Moving to 4 Terms and 4 School Holidays.

  • less teacher and student fatigue. In 3 terms a year, sometimes the terms were between 13 and 15 weeks long. Yes. They. Were.
  • greater flexibility for families to take vacations in other states of Australia as the holiday periods are/were different.
  • even though the number of days in which public schools must be open did not change significantly – around 201 per annum –  it seems easier with the 4 term year.
  • instead of a long post Summer holidays term one, ending in May (Autumn) term one would be finished generally by April.
  • then, instead of a long Autumn into Winter 2nd Term, ending in late August, a winter 2 week break with the 4 term year was welcomed.
  • of course, each term is a challenge within itself but a school holiday break every 10-11 weeks helps people – children AND staff. Parents of course, may argue, not because of child care out of school  but that is different argument not for this post.

This building will ALWAYS be the Dept of Education. However, it is now being converted to a hotel. The Dept of Ed is moving to Parramatta.

My School Holiday Memories as a Kid.

I started school in 1954 and left school in 1967.

  • sometimes school holidays, particularly the August/September ones, meant a vacation with my parents and brother. We travelled by car to the North Coast of NSW for a couple of them. In a Holden FJ. Took a few days! I remember the beaches of Yamba and Coolangatta.
  • other times, we were left to our own devices. Back then we might explore the neighbourhood. I wrote about that here too.
  • as I got to teenage years it was MUCH cooler to be hanging out with friends and this meant catching the bus to Manly and going to the beach. Sometimes I would catch the ferry to the city to see a movie or visit Dad’s office…because I also had a school holiday job there too.
  • and by age 17 I was working in a jewellery shop at the end of The Corso (beach end) in Manly for my school (and teachers’ college hols).

A last swim at Manly some years back. Far West Home in the background along with the familiar Norfolk Pines.

My School Holiday Memories as a Teacher, Principal & Parent & Uni Student.

The reasons I have almost all good memories of school holidays are these:

  • it was always great to finish work days, even though it meant bringing work home to do in the school holidays.
  • at times too, there would be days to go into school (no kids there!) and get some classroom prep done or office work too. This was before on-line anything!
  • I liked the idea (theory) of being uncontactable as a principal but it was not to be, as Dept of Education staff were NOT on school holidays so they might ring re staffing matters, the school being broken into (again) and so on. 24/7 role, really!
  • that I was on holidays at the same time as my children meant I could organise appointments at the dentist (fun, not!), and for clothing purchases along with some days out to ice-skating at Macquarie Centre ( I got coffee, they skated!) and to have friends over for catch-ups.
  • as a family we would use part of the January holidays to go away – usually to a beachside location – for a week’s holiday. It was how we became interested in the place we now call home, The Central Coast
  • as a part-time Uni Student (for 7 years) and raising a family AND holding a school executive role, some school holidays which did not match Uni breaks were a time for essay writing and in two instances, attendance at Residential School for my B.Ed and my M.Ed.

Taken recently at The Entrance NSW. We stayed for 6 January holiday breaks in the 1990s in the white unit block with balconies overlooking the pool.

As a fully retired educator, parent and grandparent, I see that school holidays hold opportunties for families if they can take them up. To re-connect. To go away. To have a variation of routine. These school holidays we have had two visits from our families who live in Sydney. I know people who do not work with child-friendly days off etc it can be a challenge in school holiday times. Some schools have Vacation Care and of course family can help out.

I would hate to think of any change to school holidays as I believe the adults AND the children all benefit for the breaks.

What about you?

What school holiday memories do you have?

Denyse.

I hope you link up a post, old or new, on or off prompt for #LifeThisWeek 17/52.

You can link up something old or new, just come on in. * Please add just ONE post each week! * Feel free to go with the prompt for the week to add your ‘take’ on the prompt. Or not. * Please do stay to comment on my post as I always reply and it’s a bloggy thing to do! * Check out what others are up to by leaving a comment because we all love our comments, right! * Add a link back to this blog in your post somewhere. I don’t have a ‘button’ so a link in text is fine! *Posts deemed by me, the owner of the blog and the link-up, to be unsuitable for my audience will be deleted without notice. * THANK you for linking up today!

Next Week’s Optional Prompt: 18/52. Taking Stock 2. 30/4/18


 

 

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15 Years Ago & Now. 2017.104.

15 Years Ago & Now. 2017.104.

Fifteen Years Ago.

As I have written before, and is part of my bio, I was a K-6 School Principal in a N.S.W. Public School from 1999-2003. Before then I had been a relieving principal in two schools from 1994-1998. In 1999 I was appointed, by merit selection, to this school. The brief, once I was appointed, from my boss, the District Superintendent was “Denyse, I want you to bring this school into the 21st Century.” He was correct in that. It certainly was stuck back in probably an era two decades earlier. When I began in January 1999, replacing the former principal who died in the September school holidays earlier, I literally had to start the school’s organisation and planning from scratch. Why? Because the person I replaced trusted no-one and kept all leadership matters to himself,  and died with all the school passwords and information for getting things up and running. I took over a mess.

But I love a challenge and there were some good people who wanted to come along on this journey into the century we were on the cusp of entering. The school executive team was keen and wanted to learn more and  I could definitely help them with this and we formed a good group. Until the end of that first year. It really was a change that I could not stop and is part of what happens in school systems anyway but it made my job more challenging for sure. The school was unique in the area at that time with: mainstream classes, a special education unit of 3 classes, 2 O.C. (gifted and talented) classes and an Autism Satellite Class. Two of the people who were part of the executive team sought and got promotions elsewhere. Yes. I would encourage that of course. However, it left a hole for a bit which I was able to carry myself until I could get some new staff appointed.

Over the next 2 years however, this plan started to waiver. I had appointed a person to an executive role who was not up to the role. I take responsibility for that but it was a most unpleasant time as his continued absence from school due to ‘illness’ meant I had parents (and some teachers) calling for action. In the end, my district superintendent moved this person on and I could fill the role internally. I was relieved for a little while but then my best and most competent person in my team had to leave to have her first child. This was lovely for her and her husband and I wished her well. The remaining executive member who was my age decided to take Long Service Leave for the remainder of the year.

This meant I had NO fully qualified person holding an executive role in my very busy and varied school community.  But what did I do? I appointed people who were staff members who said they would like to learn more about the role and support the school  by taking on relieving roles for the remainder of 2002. This worked in some ways but I needed to take on more of their responsibilities myself or guide them step by step. It was as if I was doing multiple roles. I could sense how much I had taken on in June that year when I ended up writing a casual teacher’s class reports!

 

I did not know what this was doing to my mental health although I probably should have read the signs. I sought time out from the school to attend meetings and to meet with colleagues but at NO TIME did I actually tell my boss what it was like for me. In fact, I had said farewell to the District Superintendent who’d appointed me at his retirement and he was replaced by someone in an acting position. And, it still is the same now, a principal is meant to handle anything and everything that comes up. Well. Maybe in 2017 there might be greater awareness of principals’ mental health but not when I was becoming unwell. Even though I did not know it. I can look back now and see I was quick to anger and showed my displeasure when people did not comply because of their own incompetencies or my ‘view’ of how they should behave in the role. This led to….the following:

On a September evening in 2002 I received a telephone call at home from one of my relieving executive staff. She told me that there would be a delegation of staff coming to me the next day to make a complaint about my manner and behaviour. She said they had contacted our union and that person would be at the school. She also said that there was a rumour it was because of me that the school population was declining and that as that would mean at least one staff member would have to be transferred then I needed to step up. I could and did dispute this as the reason as schools’ populations change for a variety of reasons but instead I reacted personally.

This sure was a bolt out of the blue. But then again, I actually could see how my behaviour had changed and recognised that I was fast losing my grip on being a leader. Within moments of the conversation ending, and letting my husband know what had occurred I broke down. In tears and physical distress I knew I had to protect my health/self and I could NOT face such a meeting. I could not reach my boss and had to wait till the next day. I did not sleep and went to my G.P. as soon as I could that morning. It was very unlike me not to continue to be at work.

That day, 4th September 2002, she declared that I was suffering from anxiety and depression  due to work overload and that she would start the process of a work cover application.

I never went back to that school, that role or saw anyone other than my boss and the local district HR staff again. It was final and I NEVER  could have seen me, a competent and dedicated teacher, finishing my career JUST.LIKE.THAT.

Now.

So much time has passed and yet this time of 15 years ago remains very clear. It is imprinted upon my mind as ‘the time when I failed to do the job I was appointed for‘. Then again  as was  the culture of the time it meant I could not share how I was managing with anyone. Mental health management  in the workplace is hopefully becoming more recognised but there is still a huge stigma attached and shame as well. My shame is decreasing each time I tell my story. It did take courage for me to start to tell my story a few years ago because I did not want to admit my so-called ‘failings‘ as a school principal. I am the one who labelled these, no-0ne else.

The upshot of what happened to me impacts me still in some ways. I did have the claim for workcover met and was paid accordingly. However, as in all workcover matters many steps need to be followed as the recipient and these include ‘return to work’ plans. I simply could not do that. My GP was adamant that I NEVER return to that school nor to the role of principal. Interestingly when I was first on leave I could not even attend my grandchild’s school without a great deal of fear and anxiety.

I was treated by more than my GP. I had to attend meetings with my employer and work cover and to see a psychiatrist and psychologist but what they all wanted me to do I could not. I could not even drive on the road that would lead me to my old school. I was scared!

If I knew what I know now about myself I think I may have been prepared to expose myself to the experience of coming to work at the local district office instead of refusing (avoiding) because I felt such fear and shame. I also think with the knowledge I have now about my mental toughness and resilience that I could have stayed employed.

But no, as I found in early 2003, I HAD to resign my role and give up any rights so that I could, hopefully gain my superannuation lump sum. I was in a scheme which did not medically retire (sadly I had taken myself out of that scheme when we were first married) so the action was to leave under circumstances that were never envisaged by me. Then came an even tougher time when the Superannuation people interrogated me and tested me and declared I was fit and able to return to work. This was disputed by my medical team and it took the lawyers from my union (free for me) to gain my benefit.

For all of 2003 I took time out to explore my creative side, I volunteered at the Smith Family and I met with friends for coffee. I had many appointments to continue my self-styled rehabilitation after I declined to take part in any more of the WorkCover requirements. In early 2004 I needed more. I needed to be with people again and to teach!

There was much more that was good to happen to me from May 2004 onwards which I did for myself by returning to a teaching role in friend’s school and having no executive responsibilities. I was happily engaged in that work from 2004-2009 and had to be careful to not take on too much as I was only to work part-time. But I got my sense of being a teacher again.

So why tell this story?

The stories relating to stress, work overload and anxiety in the workplace need to be shared widely. I now know my personality  type and management style is that I need to be sure of things and want things to be done well and correctly. This was not happening in 2002 but I also held onto the notion that a principal deals with everything without telling the boss how it actually is. I have wondered how it may have worked if I had had the courage to tell someone. I did not even tell my husband.  I became unwell mentally and emotionally because I did not reach out to others and when I was finally diagnosed I was not to return to the workplace. I wonder now, if maybe things could have worked out better for me if I had the resilience I have today.

But we shall never know. I hope that by telling this story I could encourage others to speak up and share if the workload is too much. Tell someone. I know I should have.

Does anything here ring true for you or someone you know?

Denyse.

Joining in with Kylie Purtell here for I Blog On Tuesdays and with Leanne here for her Lovin’ Life Linky on Thursdays.

 

 

 

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