Teachers play one of the most important roles within our society.
They not only equip the next generation with the skills needed to thrive in the workplace, but also the life skills needed to contribute positively within their communities.
As the latest Get into Teaching campaign states: every lesson shapes a life.
However in order to have maximum impact in the classroom teachers need to be mentally and emotionally healthy when they enter and leave the school gates.
That’s why the findings of this week’s Teacher Wellbeing Index 2018 should concern everyone.
The report identifies that over a third of education staff feel stressed most or all of the time at work, compared to 18% of the UK workforce overall. A staggering 57% have considered leaving the profession within the past two years because of health pressures.
This must be taken seriously, as teachers are already leaving the profession at the highest rates since records began, with one in three quitting in the first five years.
One of the core reasons cited for this in the Index is the inability of some teachers to switch off. In their minds, they always feel at work, which was a major contributor to a negative work/life balance.
One teacher, Joanna, told our 24-hour free emotional support helpline: “I’ve had night terrors and once a panic attack that saw me sprawled on the kitchen floor and my partner had to pick me up. One weekend it all got so much and I dreaded going into work so much the next day I just sat sobbing on the sofa.”
In the past academic year, nearly a third of educators have experienced a mental health issue such as Joanna’s and over two-thirds (76%) have experienced behavioural, psychological or physical symptoms due to their work, compared with 60% of all UK employees.
Victoria was one. “Anxiety hit as I walked into my classroom one morning - anxiety so crippling I had to turn and walk out. A member of staff caught me in the corridor, asked if I was okay and that was it. Tears streamed down my face, snot poured from my nose, words failed to leave my mouth. The deputy head came to see me to ask what was wrong. I couldn’t explain but I couldn’t be there.
“The job had worn me down, the emotional toll broke me. Eventually I was sent home but I don’t remember how I got there. Did I get a lift? Did I get the bus? Did my sister pick me up? I don’t recall. I’m not the only teacher that’s broken down. And I’m not the only one now needing to take medication.”
As a society, the need for clear measures that protect the wellbeing and mental health of everyone has never been more urgent.
In education, it’s critical.
This is why as a charity we’re constantly expanding our work outside crisis support to influence the structural and environmental factors that can reduce the risk of poor wellbeing and the impact this has on a thriving education system.
One of the key policies we’re advocating for at the moment is the mandatory provision of personal wellbeing, mental health and resilience training within Initial Teacher Training.
Curriculum and pedagogy are essential within the training process. However it strikes me as alarming that emotional intelligence is currently so overlooked. The core challenge facing a newly-qualified teacher is rarely subject knowledge - it’s the ability to manage workload, address student behaviour and respond to setbacks (which are unavoidable in a teaching setting).
It’s about having the mindset not to worry about things you can’t control. It’s about taking responsibility to seek support at the earliest sign of poor wellbeing. It’s about being able to accept perfection is not possible.
We must do more in this respect to develop teachers understanding of their own wellbeing and provide them with the coping techniques (and perspective needed) to handle some of the testing issues within the profession today.
Along with the obvious structural changes and cultural improvements within schools that need to occur, this can be key to halt and decline the concerning trends in next year’s Index.
In essence, it’s about making sure teaching is not turned into an unmanageable task and that every teacher feels respected, supported and resilient.
Otherwise, we risk alienating those with the passion and skill to succeed and even more teachers will leave the profession.
The implications of this will be felt far and wide across the country.
Education Support Partnership is the UK’s only mental health and wellbeing charity for all individuals and organisations working in education. For more information out services for individuals and schools, visit www.edsupport.org.uk.