Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Stress and lack of support leaving some teachers suicidal

I read today that 'stress and lack of support leaving some teachers suicidal', as highlighted by a report at the NASUWT conference.

See the full report here

A wide range of causes were blamed for the stress being suffered by teachers, including bullying school management, the tick-box culture, targets and difficult pupils. 

As a former teacher I understand fully where this is coming from as both myself and close colleagues have been affected by some of these issues. It is heartbreaking to see formerly well-motivated, highly effective teachers having the stuffing knocked out of them, especially emotionally. I have seen some having to 'go' because they have turned to the bottle in order to cope. They don't get help but hounded out. I have seen grown men, formerly dynamic, capable guys with a passion and flare for teaching reduced to tearful wrecks. 

To those who have never stepped foot in a classroom there will be the usual cry of 'what have they got to be stressed about with their short hours and long holidays?'. In truth as a teacher you never switch off. Most of the holidays are spent doing endless piles of paperwork and planning and evaluation and target setting ... the list goes on and on.

The bullying culture I feel is especially rife out there. Claiming to be off with 'stress' tends to have the senior team and staff room full of disparaging remarks and no sympathy. You are viewed as weak. I did get a lot of support when I was off long term due to puerperal psychosis but that was 13 years ago now. When I left almost 5 years ago the culture and pressures had changed. Along with the comment that if I ever expressed my displeasure at even more paperwork, changes for changes sake, etc. I was accused of still being mentally unstable! Even though I was mentally well and had been off medication for years!

Many of the feelings of severe stress had begun to affect me again - waking at all hours; feeling the car door was locked on arrival in the school car park; being negative to those around me because those above me were always wanting to pull me down or trip me up. Family life suffers because all you can think, eat, sleep is SCHOOL. As a teacher you are no longer empowered to do what you feel is right for the pupils in your care; to seize on their spontaneity for something because you have a plan to follow and woe betide you if you don't meet your targets - even if one of your pupils is suffering from a medically degenerative condition and just breathing is an achievement.

Children are sent into school often unwell and school is powerless to send them home so as a teacher you are in the firing line for every tummy bug, cough, flu, nits, worms that goes round. So physically you are shot at too.

As a result the children are being taught by increasingly poorly people; then supply teachers are called in to hold the fort. It is time that teachers did stand up to the bullying that goes on, in particular. It is unnecessary and quite frankly can verge on the criminal. It ruins and shatters lives. Some senior managers seem to lose their previous human personality as they go up the training ladder and the warm, caring, effective cultures in schools have been turned into 'businesses' at the very real human cost.

I am not surprised to read this report at all. The children are an absolute priviledge and joy to be with. It is the other 'stuff' that gets in the way. How many more families are to be affected by these issues until something is done to change the attitudes out there?

Elaine Hanzak


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