Keeping up appearances in 2020

Inspo: New Yorker December 7th 2020

As we all know by now, 2020 has been an insane roller coaster for many of us and what I’m writing about today is how it has changed, or has started a change, in the way that we work. Whether they have been negative or positive changes, or perhaps a combination of both, the last 12 months have really highlighted how much the world of work can, or needs to, change. Wouldn’t you agree? 

I know that everyone will have their own opinions, and different sectors will always have certain requirements, and I’m not here to dispute any of them at all. I’m simply going to put across my view of working in 2020 and how it has changed my way of earning money, being productive and what I envision for 2021 and beyond. It may, however, be another infamous rambling post – feel free to skim read!

If there are any parts you want to discuss with me, I’d love that! Drop me a comment or get in touch on Twitter for a chat, whether you agree with my ideas or not – I want to hear your opinions!


Let’s begin, shall we?

In January 2020 I was moving over to Manchester in hope of finding a school, or at least more job opportunities than Sheffield had to offer. I knew there were plenty of English language schools in Manchester and it took me hours to ring them all, send over CVs and try to arrange interviews with little success. It’s alright. I worked here and there until February, when I finally had an interview with Kaplan. I spent just over a month working for them when the virus hit us and the school closed. I was made redundant, but thankfully I saw it coming.

I’d had ‘English with Claire’ planned for a while by that point, but never knew the right way to start or how to go about it. I was scared, worried and too anxious to take the leap into both online teaching and self-employment, until I suddenly realised that it would be my only option.

I had an unpublished Facebook page, an email account and some photos ready to go, and one Saturday I spent a couple of hours getting organised, emailing family, friends and old students with the news of my new venture.

Once the emails were sent, the next dramatic change needed to take place. Space. I needed space to work in, with a clear background and somewhat decent lighting. This was the tough bit as even in March we hadn’t fully unpacked from our Sheffield move, and in many ways I wish we hadn’t. It unleashed chaos in our tiny little flat and it took even longer to organise it all. But, it did mean I had a clear room to work in.

I was extremely fortunate that my first three students came almost immediately. A former colleague’s son, a recommendation from a student and a random family who answered one of my tweets. It was both exhilarating and terrifying all at once. I was constantly trying to scan worksheets, download free lesson plans and make my own interesting / exciting lesson plans from scratch. I was excited, absolutely, but I was also working 14-16 hours a day. 

I was teaching students from A2 to C2 and had lessons from general English to IELTS to CPE and everything in between with a mixture of business and writing sessions as well. I was taking extra CPD courses on IELTS, Cambridge exams and other teacher training sessions. I didn’t know which way was up, when to eat or how to keep going, and the only way I knew how was to just not stop. 

Throughout this manic year, my focus was on keeping up appearances on my business. I needed to be the best teacher, have the best lessons and make sure my background was spotless no matter what. I wanted to be able to answer any and every question, ensure my students weren’t ever bored and I was itching to share this new experience with whoever was listening.



What I wasn’t paying attention to, however, was my own personal appearance. I was eating whatever and whenever I wanted from ice creams to snacks to pizzas and chips, drinking Fanta and coke and coffees without worrying about how many I’d already had that day. I knew I was gaining weight, but it wasn’t until the hot weather hit that I realised I could not fit into a single item of clothing from last summer. I felt disgusting. So, you did something about it, didn’t you?

Well, that would have been the sensible option but no. I tried to run, do weights and other things but in the end, I just couldn’t stop eating and I still haven’t to this day. I have gained so much weight and I am seriously regretting not being stricter with myself and paying more attention to my own appearance than the layout of my lessons. Anyway, from August onwards I spent more time trying to style my hair and make up so that my face didn’t look as fat as I thought it did, and lived mostly in joggers or pyjama bottoms paired with a nice shirt for teaching. This is why the New Yorker cover really caught my attention (although it was designed to complement an article about companionship). 


Although my home is rarely dirty and hardly ever so messy that it’s become chaotic, (we all have things lying around sometimes) I was able to completely relate to the image that had been designed and I was sure that there were so many other people who would have felt just like me this year. Who would have had to keep up appearances for their job, kids, boss or someone else, and I really think it needs to stop now. Doesn’t it?

Can’t we give ourselves the rest of December off? Can we start again in January and just accept that many of us will have pushed through this year with all of our might and really might not give a sh!t about the dishes for one night, or the overflowing laundry basket or the unhoovered carpet? It doesn’t matter! If you do have it all together then I’m in awe of you, and I’m happy for you, truly. But if you don’t have it all together, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. This year, my weight and the tidiness of my house has definitely suffered. I’m rounder, more exhausted and hungrier than ever before, but you know what? I kept myself afloat all throughout the pandemic without borrowing a penny from anyone, I have taught amazing students, I’m learning Chinese again and have written for this wonderful blog more than I could have imagined. So what if I’m not a size 8 anymore and who cares if the kitchen needs a clean? I’m surviving, I’m progressing and I’m exhausted from pretending I’m excelling at everything.

From right now, I’m going to have pyjama Fridays again. I’m going to wake up late and skip my workout if I want to and I’m going to admit that I’m mentally and physically struggling to keep my sh!t together after the last 12 months. 


Keeping up appearances is tough enough when you go to the office every day and pretend that everything’s fine, when your shirt is itchy or you’ve left your lunch at home, or whatever else is going on behind closed doors. But when you work from home, you have very little escape from what isn’t quite right and it’s even more difficult when you’re on Zoom for 4-8 hours a day, where people can, and will, easily judge you for what’s going on in the background. Working from home absolutely has its perks, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also hard to find that ‘off’ button and relax for an evening (see, I’m writing this now despite promising my boyfriend we’d watch Love Actually), and I’m often envious that people are still in their offices. However, going to the office most likely means having to take public transport and living with a constant worry about whether you or the person next to you might have caught the virus. I’ll stay at home just to keep my sanity intact a little longer. For the two weeks that I did go into work every day, I felt sick with worry. I was constantly sanitising and washing my hands, wiping the tables and door handles and I just couldn’t stay calm.

I wonder if anyone else is feeling as tired as I am? Have you been keeping up appearances for too long? If yes, how are you coping? What are your plans for moving forward?


For me, I don’t think 2021 will be much different. I will be working from home, teaching my current students, and will hopefully gain some new ones too, and I will continue to be on camera for at least half of my working day. What I’d really like is for people to be a little less judgemental about the backgrounds, about the clothes we wear and about how tired we are. The media, the workload and the virus itself is simply exhausting – do we really have to explain why we feel the way we do? Why we don’t really want to put jeans on or wear make up on a certain day? I’m not saying give up, but I’m saying we all need to cut each other some slack a little bit.

I have experienced people who log onto a zoom call IN BED, in their pyjamas with unwashed hair. Whilst I wouldn’t personally go that far, and I’m not sure that’s a professional look, at least they showed up, right? I’ve had people log on to a class with a buffet breakfast and a cafetiere full of coffee next to them, which would never be allowed at work or in school, but so what? They’re there. Despite everything that has happened this year, and is still going on, I think we need to loosen the work rules a little and let people be themselves a bit more when working – whether it’s in an office or at home.


Have you made it this far? I appreciate it as I now realise this was a rambling post, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter(s) if you have any!


Why not join in the conversation over here?

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