We need Breakthroughs NOT Breakdowns in Teaching.
The title of this post is inspired by the Education Support Partnership’s Christmas Campaign 2018. Reason being I went through through the latter. I burnt out, broke down and wanted to leave teaching for good. I asked for help, I reached out but it never happened and after two years of the same routine I reached my limit by bursting into tears in front of a class.
During the first 5 years of teaching, I had moments where all I could think about was injuring myself or worse still taking my life so I could end the way I was feeling. This all came back to me yesterday when I saw the following video on the BBC.
I shared the video on twitter with the following comment and spent the rest of the day dealing with an IBS attack. When I eventually viewed my twitter notifications I had over 500 notifications, many of which were associated with this single tweet.
Within 5 years of being a teacher I felt this way. Whether you've been teaching for 1 or 20 years, no one should ever be made to feel like this because of work. @BBCNews – A teacher's story: Eat. Sleep. Teach. Repeat. #breakthroughNotBreakdown https://t.co/BITxjHgK9N — 𝕄𝕣𝕤 ℍ𝕦𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕚𝕥𝕚𝕖𝕤 (@MrsHumanities) January 4, 2019
It was late and the thought of replying to all the responses was a little overwhelming, so instead I decided to write this post.
In response to the tweet there were so many replies from people that were made to feel the same way. Teachers that had loved the teaching element but hated everything else; there were examples of bullying from senior leaders and other members of staff; examples of couples leaving the profession so they could actually see one another; teachers stepping down from roles of responsibility because the pressure and expectations got too much; teachers that have left full time positions and moved into part-time or teaching assistant roles and those that have left all together.
Alongside the examples of teachers that have felt the same way or similar, there were examples of those that were told or made to feel that by speaking up about workload or their struggles that they were weak, a let down, incapable, not cut out for teaching etc. etc. This should never ever be the case. The lack of support and deniability of the problem is causing a mental health problem in education.
On the positive side though, there were also those that talked about feeling this way and coming through the other side. Those that said how leaving teaching returned them to full health. Those that said they’d stepped down, cut back or changed positions that now manage. And those that moved schools, are much happier and enjoy teaching again.
I want to highlight that it is possible to be happier in teaching. It is possible to manage your own workload. It is possible to be a highly-effective teacher with mental health challenges. I know because I’m managing it.
Back in April 2016 when I reached rock-bottom I honestly thought that was it. I thought I was done with teaching. I took time off, I thought that was going to be the end of my time in the classroom. But… I spoke to Ed Support. I asked for help from the Doctors. I went on anti-depressants. I finally opened up to family. I finally acknowledged my position, my choices and took action.
I decided that I’d give one more school a try. One more. I was encouraged to write an application for a position at a top school in the area. I had no confidence that I’d be invited for interview, let alone get the job but I did.
I was still off work when I went for interview. I was still signed off sick. I was still struggling each day. But I went and did what I loved, I taught Geography. I really liked the school. I asked about wellbeing. I was happy with the response. But I worried. I worried my time off would look bad. I worried that this school would be the same; high expectations of staff, limited time to meet expectations, regular scrutinises, Mocksteads, regular observations…. etc. etc.
I was offered the job almost immediately after leaving the site. But I needed time to think. They were happy with this. I’d be leaving behind a department I’d built up from nothing (literally), single handed. My physical and mental health had gone into that department, that school, every resource, every lesson. I’d be leaving behind a major part of me. But when I spoke to the current Headteacher to explain my predicament, I knew then I was replaceable, valueless. My decision was made for me. I accepted the job offer and it’s been the best decision.
I still take anti-depressants, I tried coming off of them and even though I’m so much happier, I manage my time effectively and love teaching again I can’t cope with the general anxiety of the role. I went back on them. I also have periods of highs and lows but that doesn’t make me a bad teacher. It doesn’t make me incapable of being the best teacher that I can be for me students. Instead it has made me more aware of myself, my mental health and more so the mental health of my students. I see things I never used to, I’ve learnt how to support young people, colleagues and friends. Mental health is not a problem, a hindrance.
Help is Available
If you’re feeling like the teacher in the BBC video, please know you are not alone. You never are and never will be. There is help and support out there.
Speak to Ed Support. Speak to colleagues. Speak to friends and family. Never let the job take over your life or worse still take your life. Reach out.
There’s always someone there to listen, to support, to help.
Here are some useful organisations, their websites, twitter accounts and phone numbers
Education Support Partnership @EdSupportUK 08000 562 561 Mind @MindCharity 03001233393 Samaritans @Samaritans 116 123 The CALM zone @theCALMzone 0800 585858
There’s also those that have volunteered to listen via #Talk2MeMH. It’s over on twitter and is pretty simple, if you want someone to talk to search for the hashtag, find somebody that has added it to their profile and contact them. They have volunteered to listen, not as a professional but as a friend.
We need more breakthroughs, not breakdowns.
As a profession we have to reduce the stigma that surrounds teachers mental health, of struggling with workload and the pressures of accountability. We have to listen to those in need.
We have to speak up, accept the problem and work together to improve the experience of many teachers, school leaders and support staff whether new or experienced.
We need to change the system to ensure that teachers and school leaders are able to deliverer high-quality education within the parameters of the working day, without the excessive workload and impact on home life. We need change.
Where do we start?
We start in our own schools. Work together to create a better environment. Workload a problem? What are the solutions? Don’t just moan, be proactive. Offer alternatives. There’s no point saying you want change without a potential solution. What is the problem? How could it be changed or solved?
If leaders don’t listen, leave. Apply for jobs in other schools. There ARE better schools out there with leaders that listen. Go find them.
Campaign. Support action. Unite.
Here’s a recent resource, 20 ways to improve teacher wellbeing, that I produced for TeachIt.
Right I’m going to end this episode of being a keyboard warrior and actually go and do something proactive.