Natalie first taught ICT and Humanities but ever-changing GCSE specifications started to make her workload increasingly unmanageable. She says, “I was working until midnight every night. I had to do more preparation because I was not familiar with the course. And on Fridays I would come home with a bag of marking and spend the whole weekend going through it. The pressure became too great and it took a huge toll on me.”
By Christmas 2014, Natalie felt overwhelmed and had her first breakdown. She reached out to her school’s support network but remembers feeling isolated. “Some staff were very supportive, but others not so much. I was trying to pull myself together, but the school’s support package didn’t suit my needs. This just pushed me right back over the edge again.”
Natalie’s relationship with her young daughter suffered too. As her anxiety about the school environment grew, she felt attending her daughter’s Christmas plays caused her more work. Attending parents’ evening was the most she ever got involved. When her daughter began behaving badly in class, Natalie saw it as a personal insult: “In hindsight I know it wasn’t, but when you’re exhausted, that’s exactly how you feel.”
She vividly recalls the last straw was a lesson after the Easter holidays where her pupils had been exceptionally rowdy. “At that point I couldn’t cope anymore. They’d left the classroom and it was lunchtime. I just totally snapped and had to go home after that. I went to my mum and dad’s and sat comatose at the dining room table all afternoon, drifting in and out of sleep.”
Shortly after this incident, Natalie left her position and spent the next year working on feeling herself again, nurturing positive mental health. During that time, she decided to find a job that drew on her teaching experience and would give her a better work-life balance. “I just happened to see an advert for RED Driving School,” she explains. “I’d started looking at it thinking it might suit my skills, and after various conversations with a very lovely lady at RED, I became a lot more serious about it.” She approached the driving instructor qualifications at RED as an opportunity to work on her anxiety, putting into practice some self-calming measures she had learnt from recent hypnotherapy sessions. Aiming for her final Part III driving instructor qualification gave her a new lease of life and she passed the test in February 2017].
Since becoming a driving instructor, Natalie has managed to rebuild a balanced life for herself. She now attends her children’s’ school plays and sings her heart out on the way to a lesson. She feels healthier, successful and more in control. Thanks to the flexible working hours as a driving instructor, she can also be at home for her daughters when her husband can’t, something she used to feel guilty about. “At the end of the day, my family and my health come before my job,” she explains. “I realise that now and I’m able to take a step back and sometimes have space just for myself. I no longer run around struggling to things for everybody else and instead, I’m able to do what I focus on well.”
Initially, Natalie found the career change a daunting step into the dark. But she wants those who face a similar situation to trust that it will work out. “If you don’t try it, you won’t know that it could be better. I had to take that leap, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have come through the other side. I could have been a lot worse off. I knew that I was suited to being a driving instructor and I’d tell people to first make sure the change is right for them. But otherwise, take the chance, take the opportunity, because life is full of it.”