Sunday 26th June 2022

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 26.1.2010. 40 years minus one day 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.



Joining with Leanne for Lovin Life Linky here on Thursdays.

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



  1. I still think it’s sad that your career as a teacher came to an end because your career as a manager did – and was glad that you found your way back to teaching in a different capacity. I get that the management of a school is a business – and, in many ways, needs to be – but find is sad that it gets in the way of the business of actually teaching…and that’s what’s important. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

    • Thanks Jo, yes that was/is part of the problem how someone who is a good teacher becomes a manager of so much more than education in the principal role.

      Nothing has really changed and even talk of bringing people as ‘manager’ types is challenging because there is only one person at the helm who actually ‘gets schools.’… the principal.

      I do know that I did what was my best and that is how I can remain OK.

      Your interest and support has been very helpful too.

      Denyse x

  2. Fascinating story Denyse. How good that you went back into teaching and found new pleasure and learning in ESOL.

    And now all those old teaching skills, or skills learnt during a teaching career, are coming in handy in your busy retirement.

    • Thank you Maureen and I know you have even more reasons to know what I was writing about.

      Yes, teaching is ‘in me’ and I hope to help more via greater involvement in others learning more about and having awareness of head and neck cancers.

      I am looking forward to teaching a small class of adults (if anyone enrols!) something about mindfulness, colouring and mandalas over 4 weeks soon in our local library.

      Denyse x

  3. Thanks for telling your story Denyse. The similarities to my own story (not in teaching though) are very much there again in this post. In.So.Many.Ways! xo #TeamLovinLife

    • Poor Min, when you read these posts, it takes you back too.


      I hope you are feeling better today. You sure have had a rough trot with illness recently.

      Denyse x

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Denyse. I really admire the strength you’ve drawn from the experience and how it has helped you deal so well with life beyond work.

    SSG xxx

    • Thank you SSG. It was frightening to me in the early days after this happened and I no longer felt I could pick up my then 6 yo granddaughter from school because it was too triggering.

      Just as well time and good counselling helped and exploring other pursuits soon brought me back to good health.

      Yes, those times have helped me a lot when I look back.

      Denyse x

  5. We all need down time, so it’s unimaginable to be working 24/7!! I can’t imagine what you went through…

    • Thanks Jodie, I think it seems to fade in many ways as it has for me and now I see how well I am based on what I have learned about myself as a result. I just wish more people could see what it is to be a teacher/principal these days…24/7 social media…yikes!

      Denyse x